Refugees charged with carjackings after fleeing Des Plaines

Two teenage Guatemalan refugees being housed on the campus of Maryville Academy are facing charges of vehicular hijacking after taking cars from people in Des Plaines and the Quad Cities, then leading police on a chase that ended Wednesday in Iowa, authorities said.

The suspects, who are 16 and 17 years old, were due to be extradited to Cook County after being detained in an Iowa jail. They are expected to be charged as adults, authorities said.

Both juveniles were being housed on Maryville's Des Plaines campus as part of a program run by Heartland Alliance, a social service agency that contracts with the Office of Refugee Resettlement in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The pair were awaiting immigration proceedings.

"We are shocked and feel terrible with what happened," said Susan Tredeau, Heartland's managing director of youth and residential services. "We feel for the victims of the crimes. But we point out it was an isolated incident. We can't excuse the actions of the children and are very sorry for what happened. But it's not typical of these facilities."

It all began at 6:50 a.m. Wednesday in the parking lot of Nazarethville, a nursing home at 300 N. River Road in Des Plaines, when the two suspects threatened an employee about to get into her Toyota Camry, pushed her away and drove off, officials said.

The teens told the employee they were armed but did not show any weapons. The employee was not injured, according to Pat Favia, a spokeswoman with Presence Health, the nursing facility operator.

Hours later, authorities say, the duo turned up in Moline, where they ordered a 91-year-old military veteran in a Walmart parking lot out of his Buick LeSabre. The man, leaving the store after picking up his prescription, was uninjured, according to Detective Scott Williams of the Moline Police Department.

The suspects rammed a vehicle as they left the parking lot and headed west on Interstate 80, authorities said. Some 20 miles west of Iowa City, police set up stop sticks, which blew out the tires of the Buick.

Police later found the Toyota Camry abandoned outside Rock Island.

Maryville's campus is located about a mile north of the Nazarethville nursing home on River Road. Heartland Alliance has leased buildings at Maryville from the Archdiocese of Chicago since 2008, taking in those under the age of 18 who are picked up by federal authorities at the border. Currently 25 detainees are housed at Heartland's Des Plaines facility, one of nine centers the nonprofit operates in the Chicago area.

Typically, detainees awaiting immigration hearings to determine whether they can stay in the country spend 30 to 45 days at a facility while officials try to locate family members in the United States.

Kenneth Wolfe, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, said Friday federal officials will stop placing youth at the Des Plaines facility "until a safety assessment is conducted and actions are taken to improve security measures."

And, Wolfe said, officials are contacting all other agencies who have a contract for housing refugees to ask that each shelter undertake similar security assessments.

Des Plaines aldermen, meanwhile, have scheduled a meeting of the city council's public safety committee next Thursday to discuss safety in the Maryville area with members of the police department.

"I would like a little more information about who is up in Maryville. … What kind of security do they have?" said Alderman Mark Walsten, a member of the committee. "If they're having some kind of housing of people of a criminal element, I want to know about it."

Tredeau said Heartland officials would be reviewing safety procedures and hoped again to earn federal approval to accept additional immigrants.

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.