Residents in West Milford alarmed by patients escaping from group home

WEST MILFORD, New Jersey (WABC) -- Residents of a New Jersey neighborhood are frightened and fuming about what appear to be unauthorized absences from a group home for people with psychological disabilities.

The patients have sometimes been showing up outside private homes in West Milford, and residents are demanding action.

"I looked through the side stained glass window in the side of my door and I could see him standing there and he's totally naked," said resident Terry Stern. "Well, you know, and he's banging on my door and me scared to death."

Stern, who lives on Longhouse Drive. was talking about a man captured on her neighbor's security camera, who emerged out of the darkness but was scared off by the homeowner's dog.

"The most fear I've ever experienced in my life," said Stern. "Grabbed the phone, called the police. I was petrified. I was all by myself. The only thing between him and me was the front door."

Stern says it was back in November when it happened. She says he ripped her light fixture off the wall.

He is a patient from a group home for patients with disabilities and psychological conditions, where there is no gate.

Residents say patients will just wander off site and walk down a road, often in the middle of the night when it is pitch-black dark.

They say over the past few years there have been several attempted break-ins and the encounters have even turned violent.

"When they tried getting into my house it was midnight," said resident Dory Kowal. "And he came right up to this front door and he was just trying to get in and shouldering it."

According to the home's website, it serves patients with "aggression, self-injurious behavior, sexually inappropriate behavior, fire setting, property destruction."

"We don't want to hurt a resident. We're all licensed gun owners," said Kowal.

"What we're really trying to prevent is it escalating to the point where somebody, especially somebody God forbid somebody that's not all there mentally gets injured or at worst killed," said resident Glen Kowal.

The state Department of Human Services has launched an investigation. A state monitor is in place.

A state spokesperson says the department can't comment on the details of individuals served.

"The state just doesn't want to talk to us," said Dory Kowal. "They don't want to talk to us until the investigation is complete and that's not good enough for us."

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