Scott Chandler, program director for the Tierra Blanca Ranch
New Mexico officials confirmed that two of the nine boys who were reported missing from a New Mexico ranch for troubled youth have been returned to their families, after the FBI volunteered their help in the search.
Federal investigators offered their help late on Friday night regarding the incident at the Tierra Blanca High Country Youth Program, but so far local and state authorities have not asked the FBI to participate, a law enforcement source in New Mexico told NBC News. A search warrant was executed at the Tierra Blanca ranch on Friday amid an abuse investigation, the Associated Press reported, and the boys aged 13 and 17 were found not to be on the property.
New Mexico State Police issued a release Saturday afternoon that said they “have visibly confirmed” that two of the boys, Ryan Sibbett and Michael Rozell, are in the custody of “one or more of their parents.”
“There is also progress being made with the status of several of the other missing boys,” New Mexico state police said in the release. “As previously released, they will remain part of the active Amber Alert until we can confirm their individual well-being.”
“It’s a very active investigation. We are treating it with the utmost urgency,” State Police spokesman Emmanuel Gutierrez told NBC News earlier on Saturday.
A spokesman for the state’s Children, Youth and Families Department said that at least one boy had been returned to his family by Saturday morning, and said that the agency was working closely with the state police.
An Amber Alert was issued on Friday evening for the missing boys, who were last seen at the ranch in Sierra County, N.M. The ranch serves “troubled or at-risk youths,” according to its web site. Sibbett and Rozell have since been removed from the current active Amber Alert.
Scott Chandler, the program’s operator, is a person of interest, according to authorities. The ranch sprawls over 30,000 acres, according to a Dun & Bradstreet business report, and lists two employees. An attorney for the ranch, Pete Domenici, Jr., did not immediately respond to a request for comment from NBC News on Saturday.
Domenici issued a statement on Friday in which he said that the teenagers had been “on a previously scheduled activity away from the ranch for several days. They are safe and have already been picked up by their parents, or their parents are en route to pick them up,” according to the AP.
Police said that until they were in a position to physically confirm the well-being of the missing boys, the Amber Alert will remain active.
“When we issue an Amber Alert, you can’t just cancel it or remove people from it based on a phone call. We as officers are obligated to make that decision on our own,” Gutierrez said.
The Amber Alert is still active for 7 boys: Charlie Lamb, 13; Bryce Hall, 17; Mayson Myers, 13; Peter Adams, 16; Oscar Ruiz, 17; David Easter, 17; and Evan Kogler, 16.
Gutierrez said they are requesting the parents of the missing boys to contact the State Police by calling 575-382-2500.
“It’s so important that they call, so that we can start getting this case resolved and get statements from the children missing from the ranch,” he said. “The more they can help us with that the better we can help the investigation.”
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