RENO, Nev. (AP) — Authorities are investigating a riot at a juvenile rehabilitation camp in rural western Nevada where two buildings were set on fire, four staff members hurt and 10 youths briefly escaped before they were recaptured over the weekend.
No one was seriously injured, but one staff member at the Rite of Passage Silver State Academy near Yerington had to be treated at a local hospital after Saturday night’s incident, Lyon County Sheriff Al McNeil said Tuesday.
The state fire marshal is investigating the arsons, and Yerington Tribal Police are probing the cause of the riot — the fourth uprising in four months at the school for at-risk teens, McNeil said. The camp is on tribal land about 8 miles north of Yerington and 70 miles southeast of Reno.
Six of the escapees were captured shortly after the riot that broke out about 8 p.m. Saturday, and the other four the next morning, he said. One building housing the laundry and another with a maintenance shop suffered an undetermined amount of fire damage.
McNeil said he’s increasingly concerned about the safety of the community and is pressing officials at the school to make changes so it doesn’t happen again.
“I’ve had public safety concerns over the years because there is no fencing to keep them on the property,” McNeil told The Associated Press. “They break into my citizens’ homes and steal keys and steal cars. My community is at its wit’s end right now.”
“This is rural Nevada, and every home has a gun. My biggest concern is one of these kids will go into a house at 2 a.m., and there will be a farmer or a rancher there — and we’ll have a fatal shooting. In Nevada, that would be a justifiable homicide, but nobody wants to see that.
“We’re all supportive of the program and want to see it succeed. But we need to find a way to do it better.”
The academy is a nonprofit, licensed and accredited charter school operated by the Rite of Passage Adolescent Treatment Centers and Schools, which is based in Minden, Nevada, and sponsored by California’s El Dorado County Office of Education.
Rick Wright, corporate human resources director for Rite of Passage, said he couldn’t comment on details or the status of the youths who were involved because of confidentiality requirements regarding juveniles.
“We had an unpredictable situation,” Wright told the AP. “We are studying the events of what happened so we can prevent them in the future.”
“We were well staffed up, but we’ve upped the staffing as a preventative measure,” he said Tuesday afternoon from Minden about 40 miles south of Reno. “Operations have gone back to normal. Everything was back to normal by Sunday.”
The school is required to have one staff member on site for every eight youths, “and we were well in excess of that — approximately 3-to-1,” Wright said. He estimated that there were about 25 youths at the school at the time.
He said he couldn’t comment on what sparked the uprising. “I’m not at liberty to say. It’s still under investigation,” Wright said.
Officials for the El Dorado County Office of Education in Placerville, California, did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.
John Dibble, chairman of the school’s advisory board, said school officials are considering changes to improve safety at the facility that opened in 1987. “I’m devastated that once again we were a threat to the community, and that’s not something we enjoy being,” he told KOLO-TV in Reno.
The school’s website said it provides counseling, educational, vocational and athletic programs for boys ages 14 to 17 “with a troubled past.” The majority are sent there on court orders as an alternative to prison.
“We are disappointed with the actions of a few of our students, and those responsible will be held accountable,” the school said in a statement on its website. “We are still positive that our program benefits disadvantaged youth and will be evaluating future admissions.”
Most of the youths are sent there from neighboring California, McNeil said.
Yerington Tribal Police did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
McNeil said several youths “made a bunch of improvised weapons,” but he had no further details about the incident or nature of the minor injuries.
“You break a table leg, and then you have a club,” McNeil said. There were three less serious riots during a two-day period at the school in December, he said.