PHOENIX — A rifle, guns converted into fully automatic weapons, a firearm hidden inside of a teddy bear, magazines, ammunition, marijuana, and a blue vial filled with pills believed to be synthetic fentanyl.
That's what Phoenix police officers found inside of a room where teenagers in state care are living. The room is part of a North Star group home which is paid by the state to provide a safe environment for some of our community's most vulnerable teens.
Instead, that room was home to an arsenal of weapons, and days after the grim discovery, police say one of the residents was shot and killed by another.
Phoenix police said they received a call for service around 10:35 a.m. on August 29 for a report of a fight at the group home, which houses up to 46 young adult males ages 16 to 20.
Staff had told police they saw two firearms in one of the rooms and were afraid to return to the room until police arrived.
Phoenix officers arrived and saw one of the residents grab a blanket from a room. They then observed him pull two firearms out from underneath it and hold them over his waist.
At that point, police decided to obtain a search warrant to do a more thorough search of the room where guns were originally seen.
Search warrant records outline the long list of what they uncovered.
They found nine guns, magazines, ammunition, marijuana, and a blue vial filled with pills believed to be synthetic fentanyl. One of the guns was an AM-15 rifle. Another was hidden inside a teddy bear. Police say one of the guns was equipped with a Glock switch to convert it into a fully automatic weapon.
All of this was found in just one room.
Records show six residents were detained by police during the search. One resident, T'revonsay Sales, was taken into custody on an outstanding warrant and was released a short time later.
Sales wouldn't survive the week.
“These kids' lives should mean something to somebody and not just dollar signs"
12News showed the search warrant records to a former North Star employee.
“I was appalled when I found out, and I heard four guns!” said Kent Miller, a former North Star employee.
Miller stopped working at North Star a few weeks before the incident. Current employees told him about the disturbing discovery of weapons and relayed that four guns were found.
Miller was stunned when he learned it was nine.
“These are young kids' lives who are affected because someone’s not doing their job," Miller said.
Miller questions why security changes weren't made at the facility after Monday's incident when it was made clear gun possession was a problem.
“They’re kids’ lives! Someone’s gonna get hurt by these guns, and it’s not an issue? Well, shame on everybody, for crying out loud," Miller said.
North Star has denied multiple requests for an interview. On Thursday, a spokesperson passed the buck to the Department of Child Safety, which licenses the home. He said they requested that DCS remove all residents involved in the incident. He said DCS was notified about the guns and drugs found but only removed one resident. He claims the others were under review.
DCS has declined to comment, citing an ongoing investigation.
Less than three days later, one of those residents under review, T'revonsay Sales, was shot and killed at the facility.
“These kids' lives should mean something to somebody and not just dollar signs," Miller said.
Miller has been raising safety concerns for months, and he has many of those complaints documented in emails.
Miller said at the Mountain View facility, there is no security, and residents come and go as they please. They are supposed to check in with the officer and have their bags searched, but Miller said that rarely happened.
“DCS that can close the place down. I mean, they've closed places down for sexual abuse of a minor," Miller said. "But they're not going to close a place down for someone who dies?”
12 News has attempted to speak with North Star's owners, Thurston Jennings and Adam Titus, as well as CEO Tom Delehanty. None have responded.
“I truly wanted to send TJ, Adam, and Tom a bar of soap and say this is to help wash the blood off your hands because this should be on you," Miller said.
Mayor Gallego released the following statement regarding the incidents at the group home:
“This was a deeply disturbing incident that points to serious issues that exist nationally and throughout Arizona. I’m particularly concerned about the increase in violent gun crime in Phoenix, which is why the Phoenix Police Department has partnered with ATF and the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office on Operation Gun Crime Crackdown. It has already successfully removed hundreds of guns from Phoenix streets, yet we know there is much more work to do.
Oversight, licensure, and investigation of group homes like this one is a responsibility of the State of Arizona. I applaud the Phoenix Police Department for diligently working to provide the State with the information it needs as quickly as possible. As always, we are available to provide any additional information requested as the State moves forward with its investigation.”
Governor Doug Ducey's office declined to comment.
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