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Police: 4 teens missing from youth ranch in New Mexico return

By AnneClaire Stapleton and Michael Martinez, CNN
updated 10:38 PM EDT, Sat October 12, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Four teenagers are now in their parents' custody
  • But an Amber Alert continues for other teenagers
  • Police ask the ranch director and parents of other missing boys to contact them
  • The ranch says it works to help at-risk youth

(CNN) -- Four of nine teenagers sought in an Amber Alert are now in their parents' custody, but investigators are still searching for the five other missing boys in New Mexico, police said Saturday.

Authorities confirmed that the four youths were in the custody of one or both parents, the New Mexico Department of Public Safety said in a statement.

The Amber Alert remains in effect for five teenage boys, authorities said.

The nine teens were attending a facility for troubled youths called the Tierra Blanca Youth Ranch, and authorities began searching for them after receiving allegations of abuse, police say.

The Amber Alert for all nine teens was issued despite the fact that an attorney for the ranch director said all the teens were safe.

The incident started Friday, when state police investigators went to the ranch to execute a search warrant and investigate claims of abuse, authorities said.

State police say ranch director Scott Chandler and the nine teens were not at the ranch when police went to look for them.
State police say ranch director Scott Chandler and the nine teens were not at the ranch when police went to look for them.

The youths were not at the ranch and neither was Scott Chandler, the ranch director, the New Mexico State Police said.

Pete Domenici, Chandler's attorney, said the teens had just gone on a trip and nothing was wrong.

"The boys from the Tierra Blanca Ranch have been on a previously scheduled activity away from the ranch for several days," Domenici said. "They are safe and have already been picked up by their parents or their parents are en route to pick them up."

Despite the attorney's statement, the Amber Alert was not rescinded. State police on Saturday urged Chandler and the parents of the missing boys to contact them.

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"This is still an active investigation," said state police Sgt. Emmanuel Gutierrez. "We have not visually seen these kids to confirm their whereabouts, which is why the Amber Alert remains active."

The confusion seems to stem from allegations of abuse of the teens at the ranch, CNN affiliate KRQE reported.

"We have allegations of abuse," New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez said, according to KRQE. "We're required by law to investigate, and when you suddenly show up to the place and everybody's gone, it's of huge concern to us."

State officials were investigating claims that youths at the camp had been threatened, shackled and beaten, the affiliate said.

Chandler has denied these claims, his attorney said, and he has filed suit against the state for the handling of the case, KRQE reported.

The ranch director tried to resolve the situation in court, but a hearing had been delayed, the lawyer said.

The Tierra Blanca Ranch in Hillsboro, New Mexico, is a 30,000-acre facility that bills itself as a "new beginning for troubled at-risk youth," according to its website. "For almost 20 years, this beautiful and historic ranch has been the setting of Chandler family efforts to work with troubled and at-risk youths."

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