LOCKPORT, NY-- "Troubled.” Edward Gargala doesn't like that term. He’s the residential services director at Wyndham Lawn Home for Children.
The facility has 42 beds for teenagers. The teens are sent there by the courts, sometimes after an arrest, more often after a parent has asked the state to take the child off their hands for awhile.
"If you’ve ended up at Wyndham Lawn, things aren’t running well in your life,” says Gargala.
The biggest on-going problem at the facility is runaways. Tuesday night, the Niagara County Sheriff Department put out a missing child alert for 14-year-old Nathaniel Oyoyo. The alert says he ran away from 6396 Old Niagara Road in Lockport, the address of Wyndham Lawn.
And it has been a bad year for runaways at the facility.
“In the last year, I’d estimate between fifty and sixty kids have gone AWOL. We get most of them back within 12-hours,” says Gargala.
According to Gargala, that’s a increase of roughly 50-percent from the previous year. He insists most runaways are returned to campus within 12-hours and without incident.
There are exceptions. The East Niagara Post reports in September of 2014, eight teens from the facility were spotted off campus by a deputy. At some point, the website says one of teens starting fighting with the deputy before he was apprehended.
Eight years ago, counselor Renee Greco was bludgeoned to death at Avenue House, facility run by New Directions Youth & Family Services, the same organization which runs Wyndham Lawn.
Gargala says the death of Greco prompted a lot of change. He notes there are young people Wyndham Lawn has helped get ready for college and a more productive life.
But asked if there is a solution, a way to stop the teens from running away from Wyndham Lawn, Gargala says,"I’d be a liar if I said to you I had a way to stop it tomorrow.”
And Wednesday afternoon, on the Facebook page for the sheriff department, the information on the missing Oyoyo was stamped diagonally with the word “LOCATED”. No further detail offered.