PINE TOWNSHIP – A former George Junior Republic employee faces felony and misdemeanor charges for allegedly helping a resident leave the Pine Township facility.
Raegan Leigh Smith, 22, of Slippery Rock, was charged Wednesday by State Police with interference with custody of children, a second-degree felony; interference with custody of a committed person, a second-degree misdemeanor; and concealing the whereabouts of a child, a third-degree felony. She was taken to Mercer County Jail, after failing to post a $25,000 bond.
State Police helped locate the teen, who was receiving counseling but not under a court order. Because he was not under a court order, the boy was considered a missing person, not an escapee. His case was filed with the National Crime Information Center. The boy is safe.
Smith, a behavioral health technician, was immediately suspended and has since been terminated, Nathan Gressel, chief executive officer of George Junior Republic, told The Herald. A non-profit residential center, GJR provides housing, education, and other services to at-risk boys and young men from multiple states.
On July 5, GJR officials reported a 16-year-old boy missing from the center at 233 George Junior Road.
GJR staff and police reviewed security videos from July 5, which showed the boy entering an unlocked employee's car at 1:40 p.m., appearing to climb into the backseat.
The employee, later identified as Smith, was seen on video about 20 minutes later getting into the car.
There appears to be movement in the backseat, and the sunroof opens. After about 30 seconds, Smith left the car, then returned to the vehicle just after 3 p.m. and drove away.
Police on July 7 were unable to locate Smith at her apartment. A property manager said she was reportedly staying at a relative's home in McDonald, Pa., but she was not there, either.
Police called her on July 8; Smith said she was "in the area" but would not say where.
She agreed to meet police at the McDonald home but did not show. Smith met with troopers at the State Police barracks in Washington, Pa., where she denied helping the teen leave GJR.
One of Smith's relatives told police that Smith had not been at the family's home on the dates she indicated.
An attorney representing Smith contacted police in Washington on July 13 to report that the teen was at Smith's apartment.
The boy was found in Smith's bedroom; he reportedly said he had been staying with her since he left GJR on July 5.
The two had developed a friendship when Smith started working there in April, the boy said. He said he no longer wanted to stay at GJR, and Smith said he could stay with her.
Gressel said the boy is from Ohio and is in a facility there.
"I'm happy to hear the young man is safe," Gressel said Wednesday.
He said he's pleased with how his staff responded to the incident. GJR staff continually reviews security camera videos; all proper protocols were followed.
All prospective employees must pass background checks and complete training before starting a job, Gressel added.
Smith was arraigned by District Judge D. Neil McEwen, Pine Township; a preliminary hearing is set for 9:45 a.m. July 21 with McEwen.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Suspects are to be considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.