All alone, the frightened teen curled up behind a large, dusty tool box at a Homestead auto shop.
The 15-year Honduran immigrant girl— who for three weeks had been held at the Homestead detention center for immigrant minors—had just escaped from the care of facility workers who were taking her to a routine doctor’s appointment Friday morning, Homestead police said.
“As she was getting off the car to go to the doctor, she made a run for it,” Homestead Police Det. Fernando Morales told the Miami Herald Sunday. “The girl then fled, made it into a busy auto shop and then hid behind a big tool box..”
For about an hour, police say, she wept.
“She was very scared and refused to move,” Morales added. “She said she didn’t want to go back.”
The teen girl’s escape was first reported by the Washington Post. The paper said the girl compared the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children — which sits about five miles northeast from the auto shop— to a “prison.” The girl has crossed the U.S. Mexico border alone last month.
The Department of Health of Human Services, the entity that regulates the facilities, in June said that the Homestead detention center was housing about 1,200 immigrant children, including 70 who at the time were separated from their parents at the border.
As the second-largest shelter in the nation, the facility has been a hot-spot for massive protests amid the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy, which led to more than 2,500 children being separated from their parents after crossing illegally.
The Department of Health of Human Services would not comment on the incident and instead issued a statement.
“As always – as a matter of policy, in order to protect the privacy and security of the unaccompanied alien children ... HHS does not identify individual [unaccompanied alien children] and will not comment on specific cases,” HHS Spokeswoman Victoria Palmer wrote in an email.
Citing HHS, The Post says “109 children left detention centers ‘without permission’ between October and May and that the department says ‘most or all’ returned to detention.”
Records show Homestead police received a 911 call from the staff members operating the detention center saying a teen had “ran away from the employees that were transporting her to an eye exam.”
The girl — who has not been identified — was ultimately found inside Gonzalez Auto Center at 129 N. Flagler Ave. in Homestead.
Shortly after, while police canvassed the area, an anonymous person advised officers that the girl was hiding inside the shop.
“She was visibly terrified. She was crying and was refusing to go with the officers. Two officers explained in Spanish that they were not there to hurt her. She knew that but still didn’t want to go back,” Morales said. “At the end she hesitantly cooperated. The officers explained to her that they had to cuff her.”
And so the girl was handcuffed, placed in the front seat of a patrol car and taken back to the Homestead shelter “without incident,” Morales said.
Francisco Gonzalez, the auto shop’s owner, told the Miami Herald he was “too overwhelmed” to discuss the ordeal Sunday.
One of his employees, Elvis Lopez, along with his sister, Bertha Lopez, spoke with the Post Friday.
“She was very afraid. She said she was from Honduras, and she has no family,” Bertha Lopez told the newspaper. “I told her she would be safe, and we would try to help her.”
Lopez reached out to Nora Sandigo, a well-known community activist who helps undocumented children navigate the courts. Sandigo told the Miami Herald she arrived at the scene just as police drove away with the girl.
“We were so close. On the phone the young girl said that she suffered a lot at the shelter, that she felt like a prisoner and that all the other kids were also very sad,” Sandigo said, noting that the girl did not go into specifics. “We know something is happening to her, we just don’t know what.”