Cops: Two teens found, 1 still missing from group home

Police confirmed Missing Persons Squad officers found Shakeem

Police confirmed Missing Persons Squad officers found Shakeem Smith, 14, center, Gabriel Hernandez, 16, right, on Jan. 27, 2014, but said detectives are still trying to locate Jonathan Acevedo, 15, left. (Credit: NCPD)

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A 15-year-old boy who left a Syosset group home Sunday night in the bitter cold remained missing Tuesday night, though Nassau police found two companions in Bay Shore and returned them Monday night, officials said.

Police confirmed Missing Persons Squad officers located Shakeem Smith, 14, and Gabriel Hernandez, 16, but said detectives were still trying to find Jonathan Acevedo, 15.

The trio disappeared from the MercyFirst group home on Convent Road in Syosset about 8 p.m. Sunday -- especially alarming, police said, because Smith has a cognitive disability.

Gerard McCaffery, president and chief executive of MercyFirst Group Homes, said by telephone the two boys were just "hanging out" when they were found by police.

He provided no further details about where they were located. Bay Shore is about 22 miles from Syosset.

"We are happy to have the two youths back and will keep doing all we can to find the third youth and have him returned as well," he said later by email.

Such incidents were not "infrequent," he said, and typically involved youngsters who want to be with family or friends.

"They went AWOL; they wanted to be someplace other than us," McCaffery said.

One of the teens who was retrieved "triggered this," he added.

The one teen's disability handicap prompted the police to issue a Silver Alert, the way they would for an adult suffering from Alzheimer's or dementia, a Nassau police spokewoman said.

"We are certainly pleased with the heightened attention our situation received," McCaffery said. The group home for about 120 children is one of several programs for at-risk youths operated by the Syosset-based nonprofit MercyFirst, an offshoot of the Sisters of Mercy Catholic organization, throughout Long Island and New York City. It serves about 4,000 youngsters overall, including those who go to its after-school programs, and has a budget of about $45 million.

Only the buildings' entry doors are locked; not exits, McCaffery said. State Office of Children and Family Services regulations allow group homes to use locks to keep entries secure but prohibit locking residents inside.

Though families are allowed to visit, McCaffery noted, teenagers sometimes don't follow all the rules. "They walk out the door, that's just a fact of life."

The Syosset campus gives children the most intensive help MercyFirst offers, from counseling and supervision to attending its school.

"They are with us 24/7 on-site," McCaffery said.

"They're with us until they stabilize, get themselves back into school, are able to handle conflict with their peers, are able to handle conflict with adults."The youngsters, often recovering from neglect or abuse, usually stay less than a year before they are placed in other group homes or with foster families -- or returned to their families, he said.

Detectives said anyone with information about Acevedo's whereabouts could contact the Missing Persons Squad at 516-573-7347 or call 911.

With Laura Figueroa

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