Youth camp runaways rarely draw spotlight
October 24, 2015
In a quarter century at China Spring Youth Camp, director Wendy Garrison has only seen one instance where a detainee hurt someone while on the run.
That was in September 1995, when two runaways beat up an angler near the old Power Dam and took off with his vehicle.
Even then, when the boys were arrested in the Midwest, they were only gone three days. That's two fewer days than John Luna was on the run last week, as he eluded deputies by staying with friends and living off the streets.
Garrison said the only other long absence was when a runaway was in jail in California, and the camp wasn't notified.
Garrison said Luna had been at the camp for youthful offenders for a day before he took off. He was missing at bedcheck around 10:30 p.m. on Oct. 10.
"When they run, it's rare that we don't catch them in 24 hours," she said.
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Garrison said that the sheriff's office was notified immediately, as were businesses along the typical runaways path, the 7-Eleven and the Grant Avenue Walmart, and the Washoe Tribe.
Typically, runaways head for civilization, so the sheriff's office looks for them walking across country to Ray May Way or north to Gardnerville.
But in Luna's case, he was nowhere to be found. Garrison believes he was picked up near the camp and given a ride to Indian Hills.
That's where deputies spotted him on Tuesday, near James Lee Park, but he eluded them.
China Spring isn't a detention facility, so it's not hard to leave, but it is about a half-mile from Highway 395 through the Pine Nuts, and three-quarters of a mile up the road, though runaways rarely use that escape route.
The camp is home to around 60 teenagers at a time, though Garrison said the night Luna took off there were only two dozen in the camp.
"We send them home to their parents on the weekends, so they get acclimatized to being out," she said.
It wasn't until Oct. 15 that threats Luna allegedly made to shoot up a school came to light. Garrison said Luna told his acquaintances not to go to school because he planned on doing a shooting. Someone told authorities and after vetting the credibility of the threat, the sheriff's office and the school district issued an alert to the media.
Once the alert made Facebook, there were people looking for Luna everywhere. Tips from a variety of sources led sheriff's investigators to take him into custody at the Topsy Lane Walmart. Luna was arrested three hours after the alert went out.
Luna is in Douglas County custody facing charges related to the threats, and is no longer at China Spring.
Garrison said that most runaways aren't the subject of a countywide manhunt, though deputies in Douglas County do look for them. She said that's more than most jurisdictions do.
China Spring opened in 1983 after a community-wide fundraising effort.
It expanded to include a girls' facility named Aurora Pines in 2002.
The camp accepts offenders ages 12-18 from every county except Clark, which has its own juvenile program. Those juveniles sent to China Spring cannot be convicted of a felony. The camp's capacity is around 60.