PINE TOWNSHIP — An attorney for the former George Junior Republic employee accused of taking a 16-year-old resident claimed Wednesday that his client was unaware that the teenager was in her car July 5 when she left work.
But state police said the boy was at her apartment a week later, and a district judge on Wednesday ordered charges against her held for court.
Raegan Leigh Smith, 22, of McDonald, Pa., formerly of Slippery Rock, is charged with interference with the custody of children, interference with the custody of a committed person and concealment of whereabouts of a child. She was released on bond after the preliminary hearing before District Judge D. Neil McEwen of Pine Township.
McEwen dismissed a charge of luring a child to a vehicle.
During the hearing, Smith pleaded not guilty and her attorney, Phil DiLucente of Pittsburgh, asked for the two interference charges to be dropped. He said Smith didn’t knowingly or recklessly take the teen from the Pine Township facility.
On July 5, Smith had been a behavioral health technician at George Junior Republic, a residential school in Pine Township for at-risk male youth that provides education and behavioral and other services.
DiLucente accepted the concealment charge, which alleges that Smith knew the boy was at her Slippery Rock apartment, even while telling police that she knew nothing of his whereabouts.
John Horgan, vice president of operations at GJR, told Rob Hartley, a Mercer County assistant district attorney, that he didn’t know Smith before July 5, when GJR officials reported that the 16-year-old boy was missing.
A review of security videos showed the teen entering Smith’s vehicle that afternoon. When administrators at GJR questioned her, Smith said the boy must have entered her vehicle without her knowledge.
“She said she had no idea he was in there,” Horgan said.
About two hours after the boy entered the car, the video shows Smith getting into the driver’s seat and opening the sunroof. She leaves the car, then returns after her shift ends and drives away.
GJR staff contacted state police to report that the boy had absconded, Horgan told DiLucente.
Some residents are placed at GJR on court order. However, the boy was not under court adjudication and therefore is not accused of escaping from GJR.
Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Joseph Snyder told Hartley that police reviewed the videos to try and figure out how the boy left the campus.
“She was a likely suspect at that point,” Snyder said of Smith.
He noted that Smith opened the sunroof as an indication that she knew the boy was in her car. Snyder said that, if the boy was in the back seat of the car on a hot day, the heat could have adversely affected him if all the windows had been left closed.
Snyder said he tried unsuccessfully to contact Smith at her Slippery Rock apartment and at her family’s home in McDonald, Washington County. On July 7, Snyder told Smith’s husband that police needed to talk to her, and the husband said he would pass the message along.
A day later, on July 8, Smith contacted police but did not say exactly where she was. She eventually agreed to report to state police in Washington County for questioning. She denied knowing the boy’s whereabouts, and she was not at her family’s home in McDonald when she claimed to be, according to her father, Snyder said.
“It seemed she was attempting to hide her location,” he said.
State police in Washington reported on July 13 that they had been contacted by Smith’s attorney, who said the boy was at her apartment. Police took the boy into custody, and he confirmed that he had left GJR in Smith’s car.
The boy said that he and Smith were friends at first, then their relationship turned sexual after they left GJR, Snyder said.
McEwen later said he believed Smith knew the boy was in her car when she drove away from GJR.
Nathan Gressel, chief executive officer of GJR, said previously that Smith was suspended then terminated, and noted the boy is staying at a facility in his home state of Ohio.
Smith is scheduled to be arraigned 9 a.m. Sept. 21 by Mercer County Common Pleas Court Judge Ronald D. Amrhein Jr.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Suspects are to be considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.