This story was updated with additional information on Thursday, June 17, 2021, at 7:20 p.m.
The Chattanooga Police Department is looking for a 16-year-old boy who went missing from a Highland Park shelter housing unaccompanied migrant children.
Elisa Myzal, department spokesperson, said the child was reported missing on the evening of June 14. The case is assigned to the department's Missing Persons Unit, and the child has not returned or been located, Myzal said.
The facility near downtown is a state-licensed facility housing unaccompanied migrant children. The Georgia-based Baptiste Group operates the facility with a federal contract through the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
In the past three months, local leaders, including the governor and members of the state's congressional delegation, have expressed outrage about the movement of migrant children through the state to facilities like the one in Chattanooga. The shelter was licensed by the state last year, a license that was renewed in February.
The news of the search comes after it was revealed Wednesday that the Highland Park facility is being investigated by state and federal authorities for potential child abuse. Jennifer Nichols, commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Children's Services, told lawmakers during a Government Operations Joint Subcommittee meeting on Education, Health and General Welfare that a child at the facility told inspectors he witnessed abuse.
One of the six children interviewed during an announced visit to the facility in late May "disclosed that he had witnessed an act that in our policy would substantiate and require an investigation into that act taking place," Nichols told lawmakers.
DCS, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and local law enforcement are conducting the investigation.
On June 3, Nichols signed a letter along with three other state commissioners telling Tennessee House Government Operations Committee Chairman John Ragan the state did not have information or the authority to investigate the Chattanooga shelter.
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Reaction to report of abuse
Redemption to the Nations Church, the church leasing out an unused building to house unaccompanied migrant children, said in a Thursday afternoon statement the investigation of potential child abuse at the facility is extremely concerning.
"Our church has recently been made aware of a child abuse investigation at the La Casa de Sidney home for unaccompanied migrant children operated by The Baptiste Group, which is a Tennessee licensed and Office of Refugee Resettlement vetted organization for the operation of the home," the church said in a statement posted to Facebook. "These reports relating to the investigation are extremely concerning to us as they involve precious immigrant children who must be cared for and shown the love of God. Based on the limited information we have been provided, it is our understanding the Tennessee Department of Children's Services and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are conducting the investigation, and we are anxiously awaiting further information from the authorities. Our church does not operate the home and is not affiliated with The Baptiste Group. The church leases its property to a company, which has subleased the property to The Baptiste Group for the housing of the immigrant children under The Baptiste Group's sole care. The authorities conducting the investigation have the full support and cooperation of Redemption to the Nations. Redemption to the Nations' top concern is the protection and well-being of these children."
Senator Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, in a statement placed the blame for the current surge of unaccompanied migrant children on President Joe Biden.
"Hearing about child abuse at a Chattanooga migrant facility is a heartbreaking reminder of the reality of Biden's border crisis," Blackburn said in a statement. "This incident must be thoroughly investigated. Until we secure our southern border, every town is a border town and every state is a border state."
Senator Bill Hagerty, R-Tennessee, offered his support for the state and federal investigation on Twitter Thursday afternoon.
"Any & all reports of child abuse should be fully investigated," Hagerty wrote on Twitter."This situation is upsetting & only corroborates the dangerous effects of Biden's border crisis that's putting the safety & security of countless individuals at risk. We must secure our border now."
— Compiled by Wyatt Massey