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
"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
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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
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
"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
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
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.