2 Teen Escapees Arrested in Ventura

Times Staff Writer

Two teenage girls were arrested Wednesday in Ventura after fleeing a San Jose home for juvenile offenders, where they allegedly had assaulted their counselor and kidnapped another girl, authorities said.

A third girl was arrested in Stockton.

The three youths who initiated the escape were expected to be transferred to the custody of San Jose authorities.

A statewide Amber Alert was issued for the alleged kidnapping victim after her alleged abductors fled San Jose in a van belonging to the group home where they lived. Juvenile offenders who had violated probation were assigned to the house.

Police were able to find the girls after the youths telephoned the group home from a restaurant and a coin laundry in west Ventura. The teenagers were scared and wanted to know what kind of trouble they were in.

"They were trying to get information," said Ventura Police Department spokesman Sgt. Sean Conroy. "It was the girls who initiated contact."

Tracing the call to the Main Street restaurant, officers discovered the 2001 white Dodge van a few blocks away and later tracked one of the girls, age 16, and the 15-year-old kidnapping victim to the coin laundry on Olive Street.

Another girl, age 17, was found at a relative's home in the 1200 block of the same street, police said.

The van, loaded with snacks, notebooks and garbage bag suitcases, was found in the 2000 block of Main Street, police said.

Two of the girls arrested in Ventura are considered suspects and the other is being treated as a possible kidnapping victim, San Jose police officials said.

Another girl, who turns 18 today, was arrested in Stockton early Wednesday after the others apparently dropped her off there, police said.

The counselor at the group home told police she had been attacked by the girls late Tuesday morning. Brandishing a kitchen knife, San Jose police said, the girls threw her to the ground and bound her hands and feet. They allegedly stole the keys to the van and about $100 from the counselor's pockets and from a locker before fleeing.

Police believe the fourth girl was taken from the home against her will because the counselor had heard the three suspects arguing with her when she refused to go.

"Right now, we're still treating it as a kidnapping," said San Jose police spokeswoman Gina Tepoorten.

The girl arrested in Stockton told police that the girls were armed with a gun, but no gun was seen during the attack on the counselor, and Ventura police did not recover any weapons, authorities said.

Police said they could not comment on the girls' backgrounds but said they had been placed in the group home for failing to meet probation conditions.

They could face charges including kidnapping, assault with a deadly weapon, robbery and possession of a stolen vehicle, San Jose police said.

Ventura police were scheduled to meet with police in San Luis Obispo to hand over the girls, Tepoorten said.

At the Launder Land Coin Op Laundry in west Ventura, no one had taken much notice of the girls who walked around, sat on benches and made several phone calls for about an hour Wednesday morning.

"I thought they were washing clothes because, hey, I don't interview people who come in here," said the manager, who gave only her first name, Ruth.

Ruth said she always watched the news and was teased by her husband for her obsession with the television program "America's Most Wanted."

"I always say, you never know who can walk in here," she said.

But Wednesday morning, she had awakened late and hadn't watched the news. She had no idea that the nervous young woman who asked to use her bathroom was the focus of a statewide Amber Alert.

"All of a sudden, police come. One of them grabbed the telephone and puts it down and they handcuff these ladies in my laundromat, " she said.

After the commotion had died down, the manager received a phone call from a woman in Delaware. The woman said her daughter, whom she said she hadn't seen in months, had called earlier that morning and left the laundromat's number.

"I told her to call police because her daughter is in handcuffs," the manager said.

Times staff writer Marisa Lagos contributed to this report.

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