Trip to Eden for runaway teens ends in Durham
They met on Facebook when a 15-year-old Michigan boy typed, "I want to run away and I need people to run away with."
It ended on Highway 70 in Durham on Thursday about 1 a.m. when a Durham County Deputy stopped a Cadillac Escalade for driving erratically.
When he looked in the SUV, he saw five kids ranging in age from 13 to 15 and two men in their 20s. Their plan, as it slowly came to light in juvenile court Thursday and Friday, was to pick up a couple of other kids, drive to California, start their own community and call it Eden.
Durham County District Court Judge Marcia Morey required the parents to come to court to hear their children tell them what they had done.
The Herald-Sun does not print the names of juveniles involved in the court system, and one parent asked that her name not be used since it would identify her daughter.
The story was told in court by Boy #1, who said he contacted other kids online and planned the trip with them.
"On Monday night, I packed my bags and stole my mom's car," he said.
When he packed his belongings, he took two .22 rifles from his home and a filet knife, then drove north to Ann Arbor, Michigan. Since he was just learning to drive, it was a difficult trip. He got lost several times and ran into a light pole as he tried to negotiate a roundabout.
In Ann Arbor, he picked up Girl #2, a ninth-grader who waited outside the public library. When Boy #1 arrived, she jumped in the Cadillac with $15.
Boy #1 and Girl #2 hadn't ever met before in person, but they headed east together to Hazleton, Penn., where they picked up Ryan Tyler Wurzel, 20, and Hang "Alex" Wu, 22, at a bus stop.
Next on to Colesville, Md., to pick up Girl #3, a 14-year-old eighth-grader. She brought along $24 in pennies.
While in Maryland, they also picked up Girl #4, who had just turned 13 two weeks earlier. Then on to Durham to pick up Girl #5. She slipped out of her house after midnight, and they picked her down the road from her home.
With Wurzel at the wheel, according to Boy #1, they were on their way to Florida to pick up another boy, Boy #2. The next day in court, however, it was revealed that wasn't the truth. Boy #2 wasn't in Florida. He was in California and they planned to pick him up there, stopping along the way to pick up more kids they had met on the Internet along the way.
But they didn't get that far.
The deputy who stopped the Escalade on Highway 70 took all the juveniles into custody and let Wurzel and Wu go.
In court, the judge made Boy #1 turn to his father and tell what he had done.
The father, who had flown in from Detroit that morning, was aghast.
"You call your friends and say goodbye," the father said. "We think you're going to kill yourself or something. You have rifles."
The father also asked him how he could have driven so far.
"You don't even have a license," he said. "You could have killed somebody."
The mother and siblings of Girl #3 drove in from Maryland and arrived during the middle of the hearing. The mother told her daughter that after she discovered her daughter was missing, she called the sheriff, went online begging people for help, called everyone she knew, printed photographs and posted them around their town.
"Am I going to have to go identify your body somewhere?" she asked.
Also during the hearing, the father of Girl #5 walked into court, along with Wurzel and Wu. He and his former wife tricked the pair into thinking they were stopping by the courtroom to pick up Wurzel's wallet.
Morey asked them to step forward, and when they did Detective Ron Christie, and a court deputy cuffed Wurzel and Wu and took them into custody.
Wurzel, wearing tattered jeans hanging low on his hips and a white tank top, had something to say.
Wurzel told the judge that he had known people who had committed suicide. "I know running away isn't the best, but it's better than dying," he said.
On Friday morning, another hearing was held for the father of Girl #2, who had driven to Durham from Michigan to pick her up. Christie explained to him what his daughter had done, and he broke down in tears. She had run away before and he didn't know what to do, he said.
Because she had shown signs of mental illness, juvenile court authorities huddled with him to develop a plan to help him get treatment for his daughter.
The mother of Girl #5 also came to the hearing. She had talked to her daughter and done research on the Internet. Wurzel, she said, was the mastermind behind the plan.
"These boys basically brainwashed them," she said.
"We can go live in our own little community and we'll call it Eden," she quoted him as saying on a website. "You girls were going to be used as his little Eves!"
Christie agreed, saying that when he interviewed Wurzel, he was reminded of the Manson family. The plan was to start a community out in the woods of California and live off the land, and Wurzel was going to be the leader.
"For him, you all were his family," Christie said.
One girl was left in the courtroom; the small girl who had just turned 13. Her mother wouldn't be able to come pick her up, she said, because their car was broken down.
She was afraid, she said. Morey assured her they'd take care of her and she was in no danger.
Meanwhile, Wurzel and Wu made their first appearance Friday morning. They each were charged with possession of a stolen vehicle and possession of stolen firearms. Wu also was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and he was held for staying in the United States after his visa had expired.
Each was being held under a bond of $53,000.