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Four of nine New Mexico teens missing from a Sierra County ranch for troubled youth are back home with their parents. But New Mexico State Police said Saturday that an AMBER Alert will remain in effect until authorities can confirm the five others are safe.
New Mexico's child services department confirmed Saturday that at least one teen was at his parents' home.
"The safety and well-being of the missing boys is our priority, and we continue to call upon the public for assistance,'' police spokesman Sgt. Emmanuel Gutierrez tells USA TODAY.
State police want parents or relatives of the missing boys to contact them at 575-382-2500.
Gutierrez said Ryan Sibbett, 16, and Michael Rozell, 15, were back with their families.
New Mexico State Police confirmed late Saturday that David Easter, 17, and Charlie Lamb, 13, were also safe. Authorities are still looking for Mayson Meyers, 13, Peter Adams and Evan Kogler, both 16, and Bryce Hall and Oscar Ruiz, both 17.
New Mexico State Police executed a search warrant at the 30,000-acre Blanca High Country Youth Program ranch Friday. The youths were last seen with program operator Scott Chandler, who is being sought for questioning.
Ranch attorney Pete Domenici Jr. said in a statement Friday that the boys had been "on a previously scheduled activity away from the ranch for several days. They are safe and have already been picked up by their parents, or their parents are en route to pick them up."
Gutierrez says until parents or relatives confirm the teens whereabouts, the AMBER Alert will continue and police will treat the matter as an ongoing investigation.
"We want to find them, and we want to get this resolved," says Gutierrez.
The Albuquerque Journal reported last week that the state is investigating claims that teens were beaten and forced to wear leg shackles and handcuffs for minor violations of rules at the unlicensed program. The Journal also reported that investigators had found evidence of pervasive medical neglect, systematic emotional and psychological abuse, potential criminal sexual contact and shackling, handcuffing and hooding of children — in some cases for prolonged periods.
Program operators had been ordered to send the kids back to their parents or surrender them to the state.
Gov. Susana Martinez said Friday afternoon that officials were concerned the teens had been moved to keep them out of state custody.
Domenici accused the state of escalating the situation by failing to agree to an emergency hearing in a lawsuit the ranch filed earlier this week over what the suit contends was an improperly handled investigation.
Chandler has denied harming any children. In the lawsuit, he accused investigators of targeting the ranch for closure after a fatal car crash involving students.
The operators also claimed investigators have been illegally interviewing students and telling parents to pull their children from the program by Friday or face abuse charges. Their lawsuit said at least one family was contacted directly by Gov. Martinez, a claim her office denies.
During a press conference earlier this week, Chandler said Tierra Blanca has been operating for nearly 20 years. Its website promises a program for unmanageable kids that offers a balance of love, discipline and structure.
Contributing: The Associated Press