Police captured three of four fugitives from a youth detention facility whose escape early Wednesday led five school districts in Atlantic County to close their schools for the day, keeping about 15,000 students from classes.
The one fugitive still at large late Wednesday, Michael Huggins, was at the Harborfields Youth Detention Facility in Egg Harbor City, N.J., on murder charges, and authorities cautioned residents to treat him as "dangerous."
The other escapees were Donovan Nickerson, Raymir Lampkin, and Stephine Woodley.
Officials said Huggins is charged in a 2016 murder in Bridgeton, Cumberland County, and the state police's Fugitive Task Force was looking for him in the vicinity of Southwoods State Prison in Bridgeton. The other three escapees were recaptured in the Bridgeton area, about 35 miles from the facility they fled. Details of how the three were found were not released.
The districts that closed for the day were the Greater Egg Harbor Regional High School District, Egg Harbor City Public School District, Galloway Township Public Schools, Hamilton Township School District, and Mullica Township School District. St. Vincent de Paul Regional School in Hamilton Township also reportedly closed.
Campus police at Stockton University, about seven miles from where the four escaped, also had issued an alert to students to be on the lookout for the escapees.
The Hamilton Township School District said on its website later Wednesday that its 4,400 students could return to school Thursday. Galloway Township Public Schools posted on Facebook that it would reopen schools on Thursday with an added police presence, and if necessary the students would remain indoors. Websites of the other school districts either made no mention of Wednesday's incident, or simply stated that school was closed on Wednesday because of it.
Egg Harbor City resident Imelda Perez, 37, who lives on Duerer Street near Harborfields, said that after 12:30 a.m. Wednesday she heard what she described as a "boom" and then the scream of sirens and the sounds of police vehicles riding up and down the street "almost all night long."
"Nobody got any sleep," said Perez, who was home with her three children after school was canceled because of the nearby jail break. "I'm glad they stayed home to be safe. … It's better to be safe in a scary situation."
The four youths broke out of the detention center around 12:30 a.m. Wednesday and stole a car that they later crashed into a house in the city.
Officials said the teenagers overpowered two correctional officers at the facility and stole the keys to one guard's personal vehicle.
Three of the escapees were wearing underwear when they escaped, authorities said. One is 18 years old, another is 17, and two are 16, authorities said.
According to the Cumberland County Prosecutor's Office, Huggins was indicted in September by a grand jury in the October 2016 shooting death of DeVante Lee, 21, during a robbery in Bridgeton. Huggins was a juvenile at the time of the shooting, and was in Harborfields awaiting a hearing next month.
The Atlantic City Press reported that the mayor of Egg Harbor City notified residents about 3:30 a.m. to report the escape and to urge them to make sure doors and windows were locked, to not open their doors for anyone, and to report any suspicious activity to police.
Surrounded by residential and commercial neighborhoods, Harborfields is a one-story brick building that serves as a 27-bed "secure" juvenile justice facility where male and female youths between the ages of 12 and 18 await court review and disposition on various criminal charges. The facility is operated by the Atlantic County Department of Public Safety and managed by the state Juvenile Justice Commission.
While some neighbors said the facility's day-to-day operations usually posed no problems for them, Egg Harbor City Mayor Lisa Jiampetti said the facility needed to be relocated.
"It just boggles the mind," Jiampetti said of the escape.
She pointed out that Harborfields is across the street from recreational fields used by children and near an elementary school. She said there was an escape from the facility in 2012. "It just should not be there," she said.
Staff writer Robert Moran contributed to this article.