- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 8, 2001

Several Maryland state legislators yesterday called for shutting down a group home for troubled youth in Germantown after one of its residents was charged with taking a knife to school this week and two others are charged with various crimes over 10 days in December.

Lawmakers said they are concerned that administrators at the group home, known as Crossroads, have failed to adequately supervise its residents, which include both juvenile offenders and youngsters who have been removed from abusive situations.

The home is in the 22700 block of Ridge Road, near Wacomor Drive in Damascus.

"No one wins in this situation," said Delegate Jean Cryor, a Republican whose district includes the Crossroads home. "The state has to close it down."

Last night, the state Department of Juvenile Justice announced that it would suspend placement of youths in the home while it reviews operations there, department spokesman Bob Kannenberg said.

Crossroads is run by Norfolk-based First Home Care Corp., which operates eight group homes, including two in Maryland. Crossroads accepts children referred by several state agencies, including the Departments of Human Services and Justice.

A telephone message left yesterday afternoon seeking comment from a First Home Care administrator was not returned.

Recent trouble at the Crossroads facility, which houses eight residents and opened in the rural community about two years ago, began in December when two of the home's teen-age residents sneaked out and went on a crime spree that included burglary, vandalism and setting a fire, police said.

In all, the boys 16 and 17 years old committed 16 crimes, according to police. They have been charged with 36 counts of burglary, theft and vandalism.

Since then, the two teen-agers have been removed from the home and are currently in a juvenile detention center.

It was only after the boys were arrested that neighbors found out that the group home they once were told provided shelter only to abused teens also housed juvenile offenders, some who were convicted of sexual crimes.

"I was shocked," said Jerry Fee, who has lived on Ridge Road for 24 years. "We have a granddaughter that comes here, so you

never know what might happen."

Mr. Fee is one of the many homeowners along the winding two-lane road who is urging the state to close the group home. He said the two teen-agers broke into his backyard shed sometime in December and stole a pair of bolt cutters. The teen-agers also broke into his truck and stole about $20 in quarters and sunglasses, he said.

"It's sad that we have something like this in our neighborhood," Mr. Fee said as he stood outside his rambler home. "Hopefully, we've raised enough Cain for the state to do something about this."

Other neighbors said their cell phones or bikes were stolen. One family found that the two boys broke into their home, stole money and ate pizza while the family slept upstairs, neighbors said.

Shortly after the crime spree, more than 700 Damascus residents signed a petition last month urging the state to shut down the facility.

News of the latest incident, in which a 17-year-old was charged Tuesday with bringing a knife to Damascus High School, prompted renewed calls to close the home.

"We can't allow this anymore," said Pamela Pendergrass, who lives across the street from the group home. "Somebody is going to get hurt if we don't stop it now."

Elected officials said yesterday they are sponsoring several pieces of legislation they said would change policies under which group homes throughout the state would operate, to avoid repeat occurrences.

Montgomery County House Delegation Chairman Kumar Barve, a Democrat, has introduced a bill that would specifically prohibit juveniles convicted of crimes of violence and sex from being placed in group homes. The bill would expand Megan's Law to require disclosure of juvenile sexual predators in the community. It also calls for issuing a fine against group home administrators if residents commit crimes.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Cryor introduced a bill last week that would require the director of a group home, operated by the Department of Juvenile Justice, to inform local police and school districts of a home's location, the number of youths living there and their backgrounds.

The home's administrators, in turn, would need to provide local and state officials with documentation stating they informed the community of their presence. Currently, group homes are not required to notify communities of their presence, state officials said.

The same bill also would require that home administrators undergo a public hearing before allowing such a home to be opened in a community.

Mrs. Cryor is planning to introduce by tomorrow another bill that would require criminal background checks for all employees of such facilities, so that no one with a felony conviction would be allowed to work at an adolescent group home.

Sen. Jean Roesser and Montgomery County Council member Nancy Dacek, both Republicans, also are calling for the closure of the home. Mrs. Roesser and Mrs. Cryor sent a letter to Maryland Juvenile Justice Secretary Bishop L. Robinson asking him to revoke the home's license in the interests of public and the residents' safety.

"I have every confidence the home will be closed," Mrs. Cryor said.

• Margie Hyslop contributed to this article.

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