A lawsuit is in the works against the Tulsa Boys’ Home and DHS in response to the deaths of two boys who ran off from the facility.
In March 2020, 14-year-old Cameron Dail was hit and killed on Highway 51. In December 2020, 13-year-old Rylan Harris drowned in the Arkansas River, which prompted an investigation by the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth.
This story series is not meant to undermine the incredible work the staff and volunteers do at the Tulsa Boys’ Home; to date, they have helped more than 14,000 boys in Tulsa. The focus is on policy, procedures, state law, and safety.
A report from the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office showed in 2020 deputies were called to the Tulsa Boys’ Home 226 times after a child ran off from the facility. The numbers have grown over the past five years: from 93 in 2018 to 101 in 2019.
One of the calls came on March 25th, 2020 when 14-year-old Cameron ran off with a friend in the middle of the night. Cameron was hit and killed on Highway 51.
Tulsa Boys’ Home Executive Director Gregg Conway said it was the first death in the program’s 103-year history.
“When something like this happens to one of our boys’, we feel that acutely,” Conway said. “We feel responsible for that even though everything that could possibly be done.”
Conway said Cameron was privately placed by his parents into the facility’s substance abuse treatment program. Cameron was there for just nine days before going AWOL.
“We had no indication that he would be a flight risk, or an AWOL risk, or anything like that,” Conway said.
But Cameron’s mom, Lindsey, shared Cameron had a history of running away from home and sneaking out in the middle of the night. He was even placed on probation after a run-in with police where Lindsey sail Cameron resisted arrest and kicked an officer. Cameron’s probation officer and judge recommended the Tulsa Boys’ Home.
Lindsey said Cameron was ready to get help and excited about the therapy programs. She said what she does not understand is how after her son died, it would happen again nine months later with the death of 13-year-old Rylan .
News On 6's Brian Dorman asked Conway if Rylan Harris should have ever been at the Tulsa Boys’ Home.
“Never. He absolutely never should have been there,” Conway answered.
Cameron Spradling represents the family of Rylan Harris.
“The family knew that boy for 13 years. They knew what was getting ready to be unleashed in that boys’ home, and they knew something bad—horrible—was going to happen; and they begged for it not to happen,” Spradling said.
Rylan was an addict at birth and experienced meth withdrawals on the way home from the hospital. His adoptive parents, Kim and Ryan, said he was medicated at just 18 months and in and out of psychiatric and treatment programs his entire life. Sometimes he stayed a year at a time.
He was placed in DHS custody after trying to kill his mom in 2019. While she was driving, with her two other children in the car, Rylan tried to smother her with a blanket and then his hands to the point Kim nearly passed out behind the wheel.
Facing a felony and now as a ward of the state, Rylan was placed in a locked-down mental health facility.
“[The family] begged DHS. They said he is not safe to himself in such a place, and he is not safe to others,” Spradling said.
Despite this warning from Rylan’s parents, Spradling said DHS moved Rylan from the mental health facility into the care of Gregg Conway and the Tulsa Boys’ Home.
“I think it rises above negligence. I think this place need to be investigated for criminal negligence because something has terribly gone wrong,” Spradling said.
News On 6's Brian Dorman asked Conway if Rylan should have ever been placed at the Tulsa Boys’ Home.
“Rylan fits the profile of a type of boy that gets placed with the Tulsa Boys’ Home on a regular basis,” Conway stated.
In the eight weeks that Rylan was at the Tulsa Boys’ Home, Spradling said he ran away more than 20 times. On one of those occasions, Rylan stole a golf cart and was arrested while driving down Highway 51, which led to his second felony.
“In the first week he was there, he ran away five times, he went AWOL five times, and then he seemed to settle down and was doing remarkably well here for the rest of the time that he was here up until the time he died,” Conway stated.
The Tulsa Boys’ Home is not a lockdown facility and there are state laws in place that prohibit employees from being able to restrain a child unless they are believed to be a threat to themselves or others.
This means at any time the 40 children placed by DHS, or the 24 privately placed boys in the drug and alcohol treatment program, can essentially leave.
Dorman asked Conway if anything tangible was done to ensure that it would not happen again after Cameron died.
“Not really; because when we debriefed and assessed our protocols, we are already doing everything that can be done,” Conway explained.
In the next investigative story in this series, News On 6 will talk with the Director of Child Welfare and DHS. We'll ask the questions: What role does DHS play in this story? And does the Director feel like a mistake was made by placing Rylan Harris at the Tulsa Boys’ Home?
Click here for the second part in this investigative series.