All five children who walked away, without permission, from a children’s group home in Linda Vista on Tuesday were found hours later.
San Diego Center for Children official say staff followed state guidelines and protocol when the children left the center.
The San Diego Police Department (SDPD) said five children between the ages of 10 and 12 had walked out of the San Diego Center for Children, a nonprofit that serves more than 1,000 children and families daily at several locations across the county, at around 8 a.m.
By around 9:35 a.m., SDPD had begun canvassing the area along Armstrong Street by ground and helicopter.
SDPD Lieutenant Dan Grubbs said that the children were tracked to the Kearney Mesa area and then to Morena where they were seen crossing the San Diego River on foot.
Officers spotted the group at around 4 p.m. at the Old Town MTS trolley station and were able to grab two of the children. The remaining three took off running in an unknown direction, Grubbs said.
SDPD said that it had found the last of the group at around 9 p.m. but didn't offer any details regarding the circumstances of their discovery or if they were injured.
SDPD Lt. Charles Lara said the group walked away from the facility at around 8 a.m. The center was unlocked but the children did not have permission to leave. The facility is supervised, so police are still trying to determine how the children were able to leave undetected.
Investigators are sifting through surveillance video captured at trolley stations.
NBC 7 learned that two children in the group left the facility last November.
Richard Davis, a volunteer with Southwest Search Dogs, said that he was part of a K-9 team that searched for the two children. They were found in El Cajon knocking on doors asking for help nearly 10 hours after they left the property.
According to Davis, they made it to El Cajon by trolley, which is likely the reason El Cajon Police Department (EPD) officers were staged at local trolley stations Tuesday.
The San Diego Center for Children serves children with psychological and behavioral health issues, per the facility's website.
Due to confidentiality laws and the ages of the children, Lara said police cannot disclose why the children were admitted to the center.
“Obviously, these are children who are at risk and we want to make sure that we’re employing every possible resource to make sure that they’re found safely,” said Lara.
On Wednesday, the San Diego Center for Children released this statement:
"We are grateful to the authorities who located the youth who left our facility today without permission. As an unlocked, state-licensed child care facility providing therapeutic care to youth with mental, emotional and behavioral disorders, we adhere to Community Care Licensing state guidelines that regulate the range of actions that staff can take in response to a youth attempting to leave the campus without permission. Per our safety protocols, supervising staff immediately contacted 911 to request police assistance. We collaborated closely with SDPD to locate the youth who are now safely returned. We are thankful for our partnership with SDPD, and the additional support from the community and MTS."