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Teen's death shocks juvenile center

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MUNSTER - The children at Lord's Ranch, a juvenile rehabilitation center in

Warm Springs, Ark., were shocked after learning one of their own had been

killed in a car accident Monday.

Robert Westerhoff, 17, of Cedar Lake was killed Monday morning when he fell

asleep at the wheel of the stolen van he was driving and crashed near

Greenville, Mo. Christopher Chandler, 15, also of Cedar Lake, was injured in

the accident.

"Everyone here was kind of numb," said Ted Suhl, deputy director of Lord's

Ranch. "The staff were especially numb because we've never had this happen in

our history in any way, shape or form."

The two boys had escaped from the unlocked facility about 5 a.m., two hours

before the accident near Greenville, Suhl said.

A search for the boys began immediately after they were found missing, he

said, adding he did not know about the stolen van until after the accident was

reported.

There was no report Tuesday as to where the two boys got the van, said

Missouri Highway Patrol Trooper Darrin Tackett.

The two Cedar Lake boys were sent to the long-term residential juvenile

facility in Arkansas by the Lake County court system, Suhl said. The

nondenominational Christian facility accepts children from many states.

This is the first time a juvenile from the center has been killed, and Suhl

said juveniles very rarely run away.

"Children are impulsive and that's why they are sent here," he said,

explaining that usually a child's decision to run is spur of the moment.

"Despite this tragedy we believe we are quite successful."

According to Suhl, 30 percent of the juveniles go on to college and 90

percent receive their high school diplomas.

Fewer than 70 at-risk children ranging in age from 6 to 17 are housed at the

coeducational center, one of the few unlocked juvenile facilities in the

country.

"Our goal is to keep (juveniles) from committing a crime once they leave

here," Suhl said, adding that the center has a 10 percent recidivism rate.

Children are housed in one of seven homes and cottages and the two boys

lived in the same home, Suhl said.

Westerhoff's mother, Cindy Burbage, said Monday her son, who was sent to

Lord's Ranch on Jan. 15, and Chandler were friends. Burbage did not know when

Chandler had been sent to the facility.

"(The boys) had been doing very well actually and had been making

significant progress," Suhl said.

The ranch will have a memorial service in the near future for the boy that

died, he said.

"Our staff was pretty shook up," he said. "They bond with the kids

pretty quickly, even after a couple of weeks. They've been strong for the other

kids."

Suhl did not know whether the boy that survived would return after he is

released from the hospital. The last report he had was that the boy was

improving rapidly.

Visitation for Robert Westerhoff will be held from 2 to 5 p.m. and from 7 to

9 p.m. Thursday at Sheets Funeral Home, 604 E. Commercial Ave. in Lowell. The

family will hold funeral services at the funeral home at 11 a.m. Friday.

Westerhoff will be buried at Holy Name Cemetery in Cedar Lake.

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