On Saturday night, when they were supposed to be locked in their rooms at Echo Glen Children's Center in Snoqualmie, about 25 miles east of Seattle, six inmates knocked a staff member unconscious, locked her in a room and fled, authorities said.
They were captured a few hours later after a helicopter crew using thermal-imaging equipment spotted them in nearby woods early Sunday, according to the King County Sheriff's Office.
"They basically attacked the staff member, knocked her out, took her keys and fled," Sgt. Cindi West said. The teens left the woman unconscious and locked in a room at the facility, she said.
All of the inmates should have been locked in their rooms by 11 p.m., but they somehow managed to get out, said David Griffith, who directs institutions for the state Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration.
"The kids were supposed to be locked in their rooms. It may have been a procedural error, or the youth hid out and she (the staff member) didn't know where they were," Griffith said.
"It's very scary ... We'll investigate what went wrong, absolutely," he added, noting that the agency will address procedural changes if necessary.
He said the staff member was treated and is at home.
The teens were in a maximum-security unit of the juvenile correction facility, which currently houses about 165 youth offenders in 10 separate living units. The units include a small kitchen, living room and classroom.
"We're not sure how it was initiated. It might have been a single person, or a concerted effort," Griffith said. "The kids who assaulted the staff member opened the doors for all kids living in the unit, so there was a potential for the entire unit to escape."
Six fled. Seven decided to stay and they notified security, Griffith said. The King County Sheriff's office said it received word of the escape at about 11:30 p.m. Saturday.
The unarmed staff member was alone in the unit, which is typical after lockdown, Griffith said. She apparently wasn't able to push a panic button or call security for help, he said.
Witnesses told detectives that the staff member was beaten with a chunk of ice frozen in a water bottle, the Seattle Times reported.
"It definitely appears this was planned. The detective on the scene said when they found the boys they had their packed bags with them," West told the Times.
Griffith added: "They had some planning because they had one bed that was stuff. One kid put stuff in his bed to make it look like he was there."
The six males, three 14-year-olds and three 15-year-olds, were serving time for offenses including assault, possession of firearms and burglary, West said.
Law officers on the ground with search dogs and in the air combed the area on the outskirts of Snoqualmie before a helicopter crew spotted them in woods near the center, according to West. All were captured by 2 a.m. Sunday.
"The biggest reason they were apprehended so quickly was the helicopter," she said. "Without that we would have been looking for needles in a haystack. It allowed us to apprehend them before they got into the neighborhood."
Echo Glen Children's Center is a medium and maximum security facility for offenders serving time mostly for felony crimes. The facility is not fenced, but is bordered by natural wetlands. It provides treatment services for younger male offenders and is the main institution for female juvenile offenders, according to its website.
Once the teens were spotted by the helicopter, they split up into three groups and ran in different directions, West said. Deputies in the helicopter were able to direct deputies on the ground, including K-9 units, to where the teens were running or hiding.
One was bitten by a police dog while trying to escape and was taken to a hospital for treatment, West said. The others were arrested without incident and booked on charges of assault, unlawful imprisonment and escape, she said.
"There was no indication that this was coming up," Griffith said.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)