In hindsight, the younger of the two teens who escaped from Augusta's youth prison seemed obsessed with being a model resident, Director John Brady said.
At the Augusta Youth Development Campus, boys who follow the rules earn privileges - privileges that were key in engineering the escape, according to documents released Wednesday by the state Department of Juvenile Justice.
Tyler Horn - a Dalton, Ga., 16-year-old locked up on car-theft and burglary charges - was always talking about how well he was behaving, how he was following the program, and what rights he was due, Mr. Brady said.
By the time of the Dec. 1 breakout, Mr. Horn had reached "gold level," the highest level of independence. He was allowed to walk about the grounds without an escort and could wear his street clothes instead of state-issued duds.
Wandering the campus alone, Mr. Horn stole three pairs of pliers from a shop classroom and cut through a security fence, which he and another boy crawled through a few hours later. The next morning, officials say the two stole a Toyota Tundra while it sat with its engine running at a trucking company on Peach Orchard Road and made their way to north Georgia, toward their hometowns. A nickel-plated .357-caliber pistol was in the center console, according to a sheriff's incident report.
With his boss, Juvenile Justice Commissioner Albert Murray, sitting beside him in his office Wednesday in a show of support, Mr. Brady acknowledged that he and his staff "dropped the ball."
A counselor and a correctional officer were reprimanded for negligence in not accounting for Mr. Horn's whereabouts while he was cutting the hole.
Mr. Brady also recommended written warnings up the chain of command, including censures for the shift supervisor, a captain, Assistant Director Elliot Norman and himself, saying that as director he bears "ultimate responsibility for the climate and resulting culture of the facility," according to an interdepartmental memo.
Mr. Horn found just the right weaknesses in that culture and took advantage of a program designed to rehabilitate him, Mr. Brady said. "The personal side of me felt let down," he said. "But the professional side of me knew to expect this, that these things happen."
According to the Juvenile Justice documents, on the evening of Dec. 1 Mr. Horn checked out of his housing unit and broke into the YDC's construction classroom by climbing through a broken window.
He broke the lock on a tool cage and took three pairs of pliers, then made his way to the edge of the campus, to a section of the razor-wire-topped perimeter fence in an open, muddy area behind his dorm unit. He cut an L-shaped flap in the fence, then went back to his dorm. That night, as about 18 youths were filing back into the unit after gym, one of them stepped out of line and went to the right side of the building, diverting the attention of the three staffers escorting them.
Mr. Horn and Erik Rosenbaum - an 18-year-old from Ringgold, Ga., whose record includes auto theft, transaction card theft and child molestation - darted around the other side of the building.
One of the officers gave chase, but the two boys disappeared in a swath of uncut grass as high as 5 feet, Mr. Norman said. In interviews after their capture, Mr. Horn told a Juvenile Justice investigator that he had snorted 1,000 milligrams of Adderall - a stimulant used to treat attention deficit disorder - just before he broke into the construction classroom and that he stayed high on methamphetamine the whole time he was on the run.
The day after the escape, the grass was cut, and all personal clothing was taken from "gold level" juveniles. They are no longer allowed to walk the facility alone, Mr. Brady said.
New lighting was put up on the back side of the campus, where the two boys disappeared.
Mr. Murray said that within the next year he plans to have the fence line moved in.
On Dec. 5, Juvenile Justice's Office of Investigations and Apprehensions sent investigators to see Mr. Horn's mother in north Georgia. She said she hadn't seen her son, Director of Juvenile Apprehension Ronnie Lane said. They came back later and noticed an incoming call on her caller ID, which she said was from Mr. Horn's sister, 18-year-old Ashley Dean, Mr. Lane said. That led them to Ms. Dean's mobile home at a park in Murray County. There, they found Mr. Rosenbaum just stepping out of the shower and Mr. Horn pulling up in the stolen truck.
They apprehended Mr. Rosenbaum, but Mr. Horn fled into Whitfield County, where pursuing police lost him, Mr. Lane said.
Later, working from a tip, investigators found Mr. Horn and his sister at a motel in Dalton on Dec. 7. Ms. Dean was charged with aiding and abetting and obstruction, Mr. Lane said. The two boys face escape charges.
Mr. Murray said Wednesday that despite what happened in December, he still has full confidence in Mr. Brady and the YDC, which currently holds 87 juveniles. "Kids are being helped here," the commissioner said.
Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or firstname.lastname@example.org.