BRANDON, Fla. — Four girls placed pillows under their sheets to make it appear they were sleeping before apparently climbing out a window and scaling a 6-foot fence to flee a facility for foster children near Tampa, officials said Friday.
Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Col. Donna Lusczynski told reporters during a news conference outside A Kids Place that the girls — ages 13, 11, 10 and 4 — were last seen at 10 p.m. Thursday. They were reported missing after a bed check just before midnight.
Lusczynski said law enforcement officers went door-to-door in a rural neighborhood east of Tampa, looking for the girls. They also made contact with every registered sexual predator in a two-mile radius.
Officials have also been checking with relatives of the girls. The three younger children — 4-year-old Allison Nelson, 10-year-old Anabella Gonzalez and 11-year-old Heavenlynn Gonzalez — are sisters who have been at the facility since March. She said 13-year-old Ashlyn Smith has lived there since February.
Investigators interviewed all the children and staff at the facility and learned at least two of the girls had discussed running away with others, Lusczynski said. Sheriff’s officials are working to obtain search warrants for the computers the girls use to see whether they corresponded with anyone about running away.
She urged everyone in the area to be on the lookout for the girls.
“They are young kids and we don’t want them out on the streets by themselves,” she said, adding that they are especially concerned about the safety of the 4-year-old.
Lusczynski declined to give details about why the girls were at the home, citing privacy issues. She said many times children end up there because of abuse or abandonment.
Officials at the home told authorities they didn’t know what the girls were wearing when they disappeared. They have no medical issues or disabilities and don’t take any medication.
A woman who answered the phone at A Kids Place declined to answer a reporter’s questions.
A Kids Place opened in 2009. It was described in local news reports as a $5.2-million, 60-bed facility that serves as a temporary shelter for children from birth to 17. The facility is where law enforcement brings children in the first traumatic hours after they are removed from their homes.