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Sheriff: 12-year-old boy, 14-year-old girl broke into a home, found weapons, opened fire on deputies

(CNN) — Deputies in Volusia County, Florida, shot a 14-year-old girl on Tuesday night after she and a 12-year-old boy broke into a home, found multiple guns inside and then opened fire on deputies, according to Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood.

The girl was shot in the abdomen and the arm and is fighting for her life in the hospital, while the boy surrendered and was not injured, Chitwood said.

“I don’t know what to say. Where have we gone wrong that a 12-year-old and 14-year-old think it’s okay to take on law enforcement?” he said.

The children had run away from the Florida United Methodist Children’s Home (FUMCH), a group home where they had been staying, authorities said.

“This situation is tragic and is the result of the system failing our children,” Kitwana McTyer, the President and CEO of FUMCH, said in a press release. “These children are in desperate need of care in the appropriate setting, which is a higher level of care than we provide.”

According to Chitwood, the children ran away around 5 p.m. Tuesday and evaded police for hours. At about 7:30 p.m., a passerby told deputies he heard glass breaking at a home nearby, and deputies found there had been a forced entry into the home, according to the sheriff’s office.

Deputes contacted the homeowner, whosaid that nobody should be home and that there was a handgun, pump shotgun and an AK-47 inside, as well as a large amount of ammunition, the sheriff’s office said.

As deputies surrounded the home and tried to establish a rapport with the boy and girl, they were met with gunfire, the sheriff said. The sheriff’s office said the children fired at deputies on four separate occasions over about 35 minutes.

At one point, the 14-year-old girl emerged from the home and threatened to kill Sgt. Donnie Maxwell, Chitwood said.

“We try to deescalate, we throw a cell phone into the house to try to talk to them. The 14-year-old comes out of the garage with a pump shotgun, levels it at deputies, and despite warnings to drop it, she walks back into the garage. She comes back a second time, and that’s when deputies open fire,” said Chitwood.

He said officers took multiple rounds of gunfire before “they were left with no other choice but to return fire.” The officers had nowhere to hide but behind trees, he said.

After the girl was shot, the boy, who had been armed with an AK-47, surrendered to deputies, according to the sheriff’s office.

At least eight deputies were involved in the incident, the sheriff’s office said, and body-camera footage is expected to released on Wednesday.

The home, a 30-acre farm in Deltona just north of Lake Monroe, belongs to AJ Bedizel, who told CNN he and his two daughters had gone to a Publix grocery store Tuesday evening before the break-in. When he returned, he saw police had surrounded the place and heard them scream into a megaphone for those inside to come out with their hands up.

He said he did not know the two children who wreaked havoc on his home. They broke windows, shot up into the ceiling and destroyed his side of the house, he said. Bedizel said he was thankful that nobody was home at the time, but he hasn’t been allowed to return home and has nowhere else to go.

“We’ve been violated, and I I don’t know what the next step is, the healthy step for me, for my girls to get past this,” he told CNN. “I don’t know if my girls will feel safe. I don’t know what to do. I really don’t. I’m at a loss.”

Children’s home to put moratorium on emergency shelter program

In his press conference, Chitwood praised his officers for their restraint in the face of waves of gunfire.

“Deputies did everything they could tonight to de-escalate, and they almost lost their lives to a 12-year-old and a 14-year-old,” he said. “If it wasn’t for their training and their supervision… somebody would have ended up dead.”

He also denounced the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice in particularly harsh terms, calling the department a “failure” and a “fraud.” The sheriff’s office said it handled close to 300 calls at the FUMCH in 2020.

“The 14-year-old was arrested for stealing dogs, for larceny, she then got teen court, and was sentenced to a halfway house in Flagler County,” he said. “She burned that halfway house down on April 10 of 2021 and the Department of Juvenile Justice placed her in Florida United Methodist Children’s Home.”

McTyer, the children’s home executive, said the two juveniles had been in the Emergency Shelter Care program, which currently serves three children.

“As a result of this event, we will be placing a moratorium on our campus Emergency Shelter Care program for the next 30 days and then will cease to provide that service until such time if/when that we feel that we can do so in a safe manner for the children coming into care and simultaneously protect our staff who do a valiant job at caring for our children every day,” McTyer said.

“At this juncture, the level of children who are being sent to us through Emergency Shelter care at times is beyond the scope of our capabilities to provide the care required and limits who we can serve as part of our mission.”

McTyer said the group home has seen a higher level of children who repeatedly come through the system with “escalated behaviors” in recent years. Still, she noted that the home is required by law to contact law enforcement if a child leaves the property, so many of the 300 calls to the sheriff’s office in 2020 were not emergencies.

The FUMCH was founded in 1908 as an orphanage and continues to provide care for children, and McTyer emphasized in the statement that the Emergency Shelter Care program is only one part of its services. “We are a child welfare facility, not a secure care facility,” McTyer said.

The Department of Juvenile Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating the officers’ use of force at the request of the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, according to FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger. The FDLE will examine the facts of what happened, develop a time line and then provide information to the state attorney, who will make a determination about whether the use of force was justified, she said.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Wednesday his office is looking into the incident.

“Obviously, it is a really problematic situation to have that,” he said.

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