North Carolina

How did a 13-year-old murder suspect escape in shackles and elude police for 34 hours?

A 13-year-old North Carolina boy accused in a double murder is back in police custody, but the question remains: How did a child wearing leg shackles manage to escape from law enforcement officers and then elude police for a day and a half?

And how did a boy not yet old enough to drive get caught up in what the sheriff has said were drug-related murders?

A search involving eight public agencies didn’t lead to the teen, who reportedly escaped from a Robeson County Department of Social Services building around noon Tuesday. Instead, the boy’s family turned him in to police Wednesday night.

The state identified the boy only as Jericho W. because of his age. Police do not typically release the names of minors, but the sheriff said state officials said they made an exception and released a photo of the boy to help with the search.

The teen, who has been awaiting trial in a juvenile detention facility in Fayetteville, was at the DSS building in Lumberton for a court hearing, wearing shackles and no shoes, the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office said.

He was in a room with other juveniles when a staff member opened the door and he made a run for it, the sheriff said, according to ABC11.

The N.C. Department of Public Safety Transport Team was responsible for the boy at the time, according to the sheriff’s office.

DPS spokesman Matt Jenkins sent an emailed statement to McClatchy news group Thursday, saying the incident is “under internal investigation.”

“The Department of Public Safety takes very seriously its responsibility to help keep our communities safe, while working to rehabilitate justice-involved children to aid their growth into becoming law-abiding adults.

“While state law prohibits the disclosure of information from a juvenile record, DPS can say that this week’s incident is under internal investigation.”

After the escape, sheriff’s deputies started searching immediately on the ground and with helicopters. They were joined by state investigators and U.S. Marshals, the sheriff’s office said.

The U.S. Marshals Service announced a $1,500 cash reward for information about the teen’s whereabouts, and the state Department of Public Safety said it had a “high degree of concern for both the juvenile and the public, due to a prior history of assaultive and unpredictable behavior.”

The boy and a 19-year-old man, Derrick Deshawn Hunt, were charged in mid-October with first-degree murder in the deaths of two brothers in Robeson County. Hunt also faces charges of conspiracy and robbery with a dangerous weapon.

“Some have questioned our aggressive enforcement efforts regarding drug offenses in the county as this is yet another case that has a drug component attached to it,” Sheriff Burnis Wilkins said in a statement after the arrests. “Unfortunately, some of our youth continue to take the wrong road and while this murder was an isolated incident, no one deserves to be killed in such a manner.”

Wayne Lambert, the boy’s uncle, told ABC11 “the teen showed up (Wednesday) at his house still wearing a shackle and a pair of socks.” The boy said he had been in the woods for hours before he arrived, according to Lambert.

“The uncle took the teen in, fed him and let him take a shower before calling authorities,” ABC11 reported.

The boy “tried to keep warm and he was just trying to find the family so he could turn himself back in,” his godmother, Wanda Bullard, told WPDE. “He was afraid and he had the opportunity to see his family.”

At about 10 p.m. Wednesday, after 34 hours on the lam, “his mother turned him over to the U.S. Marshals Service Fugitive Task Force,” the sheriff’s office said.

Officials have not said if the boy will face additional charges.

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Charles Duncan covers what’s happening right now across North and South Carolina, from breaking news to fun or interesting stories from across the region. He holds degrees from N.C. State University and Duke and lives two blocks from the ocean in Myrtle Beach.