$5,000 reward in case of 4 girls who fled foster facility

  • 0

BRANDON, Fla. -- A $5,000 reward is being offered for information about the whereabouts of four girls who apparently ran away from a facility for foster children near Tampa.

Hillsborough County Sheriff's Col. Donna Lusczynski said during a Friday afternoon news conference that detectives have interviewed school classmates and other foster children.

"Our concern obviously gets greater the more time they're gone," she said.

The girls - ages 13, 11, 10 and 4 - were last seen at 10 p.m. Thursday at A Kids Place, east of downtown Tampa.

They were reported missing after a bed check just before midnight.

Lusczynski said law enforcement officers spent the day going door-to-door, looking for the girls. They also made contact with every registered sexual predator in a two-mile radius.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Federal Bureau of Investigation will also be placing alerts on Florida billboards about the missing children.

Officials have also been checking with relatives of the girls. The three younger children - 4-year-old Allison Nelson, 10-year-old Anabella Gonzalez and 11-year-old Heavenlynn Gonzalez - are sisters who have been at the facility since March. She said 13-year-old Ashlyn Smith has lived there since February.

Investigators interviewed all the children and staff at the facility and learned at least two of the girls had discussed running away with others, Lusczynski said. Sheriff's officials are working to obtain search warrants for the computers the girls use to see whether they corresponded with anyone about running away.

"We don't have any reason to believe this is an abduction," she said.

She urged everyone to be on the lookout for the girls.

"They are young kids and we don't want them out on the streets by themselves," she said, adding that they are especially concerned about the safety of the 4-year-old.

Lusczynski declined to give details about why the girls were at the home, citing privacy issues. She said many times children end up there because of abuse or abandonment.

Officials at the home told authorities they didn't know what the girls were wearing when they disappeared. They have no medical issues or disabilities and don't take any medication.

A woman who answered the phone at A Kids Place declined to answer a reporter's questions.

A Kids Place opened in 2009. It was described in local news reports as a $5.2-million, 60-bed facility that serves as a temporary shelter for children from birth to 17. The facility is where law enforcement brings children in the first traumatic hours after they are removed from their homes.