SAN DIEGO (NEWS 8) - Five children enrolled in treatment programs at a Linda Vista group home for special needs youths who disappeared from the facility Tuesday have been found safe following an intensive law enforcement search.
The youngsters -- two boys and three girls, ages 10 to 12 -- were reported missing from the San Diego Center for Children in the 3000 block of Armstrong Street shortly after 9:30 a.m., according to San Diego police.
Officers searched neighborhoods and open areas around the facility -- which serves children with mental, emotional and behavioral challenges -- by ground, aided by service dogs, and aboard a patrol helicopter.
About 3:45 p.m., police located a pair of the youngsters in Old Town, several miles to the south of the group home, Officer John Buttle said. They were believed to be unharmed.
It was unclear how the two children had gotten to the spot where they were found, Buttle said.
Later on Tuesday night, the three remaining children were seen around Old Town Square.
Augustine Lehecka told News 8 he spotted three children outside his neighbor's home and knew something was wrong. "we saw three kids. They were hungry. They were cold - huddling together and I left they needed help and I called 911."
Exclusive video from News 8 captured the moment the three children were found. The video is out of focus because they are minors.
Two girls and a boy, ages 11 and 12-years-old, were found near a stairway in the 3600 block of Keating Street. One of the children was barefoot.
They were all eating food neighbors had given them.
Statement from the San Diego Center for Children regarding the safe return of youth in care:
"We want to again thank SDPD, MTS, and the community for the tremendous support we have received in ensuring the safe return of youth in our care. We take the safety of youth in our care very seriously, along with protecting the privacy and confidentiality of the youth and their families. Our residential program is an unlocked treatment facility licensed by Community Care Licensing to provide therapeutic care to youth with severe mental, emotional and behavioral disorders. Youth leave our campus supervised and with permission daily to attend school, community activities, recreation, and family time. Yesterday, as the youth left our campus without permission, our staff immediately followed our safety protocols to contact SDPD. We actively partnered throughout the day with SDPD to locate and return the youth to our care. We are grateful for everyone's efforts and concerns."