According to Cindy Downing, who owns the center along with her sister, Kelly Clark, Clark received a call late Monday night from their security company stating that an alarm had been triggered.
Clark told the alarm company to let her check with Downing, who had been at the center earlier on Monday preparing for a tour with grant administrators scheduled for Tuesday.
“The gate was closed and locked when I left Monday,” said Downing.
According to Downing:
When Clark checked with the security company to see what sheriff’s deputies found, she was told that deputies could not enter the facility because of an incorrect passcode. When Clark gave them another passcode to try, the alarm company said that the deputies had left, stating the gate was closed and locked.
Downing said when she arrived at the center Tuesday morning ahead of the grant administrative committee, she found the place had been burglarized.
“It was gutted,” she said.
The door to the administrative area had been “rammed” and an air conditioning unit in the cafeteria had been pushed through, giving the perpetrators entry to the empty girls’ dorm.
Downing said their computer server system was gone, along with their telephone system. Security cameras had been covered with paint and the burglars used comforters from the girl’s dorm to pull items out. She said several computers were also missing and the security system damaged.
She called 911 and deputies responded to the call at 9:12 a.m. on Tuesday, June 7.
“It was 20 minutes before the committee arrived,” she said. “They showed up just as the deputies were putting up crime scene tape. It was very unnerving for them.”
Unnerving for Downing though, is the unanswered question of whether the deputies could have stopped the crime if they had waited on the passcode.
Downing Clark was founded in 2006 to house emotionally and behaviorally disturbed girls. The center is currently eyeing a lawsuit against the county and specifically the Gordon County Sheriff’s Office after an incident in January 2010 when deputies responded a disturbance call and arrested 20 girls on charges of rioting, criminal damage to property and assaulting officers. The center lost its license but the ruling was overturned when another judge decided the “chaos” ensued after deputies arrived and ordered DCC staff not to intervene.
The center hired a company to help re-brand its image after the incident, leading them to change their focus to commercially sexually exploited girls.
“Georgia is one of the top states to have this problem,” said Downing. “Between 7,000 and 14,000 men are in Atlanta every weekend paying for sex with underage girls. It’s not immigrant girls, either, it’s American girls.”
The investigation has been turned over to GBI.
Greg Ramey, the Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the GBI’s Calhoun office, said they are hoping to recover something from the damaged security feed this week.
Downing Clark was founded in 2006 to house emotionally and behaviorally disturbed girls prior to the loss of license after the incident earlier this year. At the time of the incident, the center employed 72 people and housed 42 girls.