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Teacher Found Dead At Youth Center

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VIA THE WASHINGTON POST:

An educator at a state-run juvenile detention center in Prince George’s County was found dead on the facility’s grounds Thursday, and her death is being investigated as a homicide, police said.

Maryland State Police identified the woman as Hannah E. Wheeling, 65, of the 200 block of Portland Place in Bel Air in Harford County.

Another employee at the Cheltenham Youth Facility found Wheeling’s partially clothed body about 7:45 a.m. in a secluded area just outside the Murphy Cottage — a building beyond the facility’s fence that houses 20 boys deemed not dangerous to themselves or others, police said. Wheeling taught general studies at the cottage, police said.

Two law enforcement sources familiar with the investigation said Wheeling appeared to have been sexually assaulted and bludgeoned.

Greg Shipley, a state police spokesman, said it appeared that she had been attacked, but he declined to say by whom or why. He said investigators were questioning employees and youths housed at Cheltenham, which is on Frank Tippett Road.

“Investigators aren’t speculating at this point,” Shipley said. “They aren’t ruling anything out.”

The youths housed in the Murphy Cottage were allowed to walk throughout the building and would have had access to the area where Wheeling’s body was found, Shipley said. Two sources familiar with the situation said all those youths had been accounted for. The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the case on the record.

Wheeling, a twice-divorced mother of two, was a good neighbor and “a good ol’ gal” who seemed interested in her work and prepared diligently each day, said a neighbor, who asked not to be identified to protect his privacy.

Her long drive to Cheltenham started at 5 a.m., but she seemed to enjoy the trip, he said.

“Whatever would happen, with money or whatever, she’d say, ‘The Lord will take care of it,’ ” the neighbor said.

The slaying is a serious setback for a juvenile facility with a checkered past, although it remains unclear what happened in this case.

Cheltenham is operated by the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services and houses about 100 teenagers awaiting trial or sentencing from Anne Arundel, Prince George’s, Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s counties.

It emerged from federal oversight in 2008 after it showed significant progress in reducing violence and providing medical and other services to the youths it housed. A Justice Department investigation had found years earlier a “deeply disturbing degree of physical abuse” by staff members and a lack of suicide-prevention, medical and mental health services.

Despite its progress in recent years, the facility still has problems, according to sources and public records.

A source familiar with operations at Cheltenham said the parking lots are not well lighted, and the facility’s security staff members are often dispatched to do other tasks, such as delivering medicine to the juveniles. The source said the facility has made much progress since federal oversight ended but has a way to go in beefing up security and reducing crowding.

In its 2009 annual report, the Maryland Juvenile Justice Monitoring Unit reported 15 youth-on-staff assaults at Cheltenham, the same as in 2008. An earlier report from the unit says that the facility was overpopulated for much of 2009 and that there was a shortage of “direct care” staff to work with youths.

In August, a youth went missing, then was found to have been hiding on the facility grounds, according to a report from the unit.

Jay Cleary, a spokesman for the Department of Juvenile Services, said he could not comment immediately on the problems reported at the facility, but he cautioned that it was too soon to link them to Wheeling’s killing.

“The investigation has just begun today. We have no idea what the facts are going to be when the investigation does conclude, so I think anything now that we would be trying to link or find conclusions for would be premature,” he said.

Security cameras monitor the fence, cottage buildings and cafeteria areas, according to a source familiar with operations at the facility and the annual report from the Juvenile Justice Monitoring Unit. It was not clear Thursday whether those cameras caught any evidence of the homicide.

Source

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