(Reuters) - Two of the nine teenage boys missing from a ranch for troubled youth in southern New Mexico have returned to their families, police said on Saturday, and an alert for the other seven will remain in place until they are confirmed safe.
While a lawyer for the ranch said all of the boys were with their parents, police would not confirm their safety.
“No, they have not found the children, as of yet,” Governor Susana Martinez said at a press conference on Friday. “Law enforcement and child social workers did show up with court orders to interview the children and to interview anyone else who was at the residence. There was no one there.”
Martinez said the state had received allegations of abuse at the ranch and that it is required to investigate.
Police issued the following statement: “There is also progress being made with the status of several of the other missing boys. As previously released, they will remain part of the active Amber Alert until we can confirm their individual well-being.”
On Friday, State Police issued an Amber Alert in the belief that the boys, ages 13 to 17, had been abducted from the Tierra Blanca Ranch near Deming, New Mexico.
So-called Amber Alerts are issued in cases of child abductions.
Authorities said they went to the ranch on Friday with a search warrant and court orders requiring operator Scott Chandler to turn over the nine boys to the Children Youth and Families Department, but they found no one there.
Police said they consider Chandler a person of interest in the investigation and have asked him and the parents of the other boys to contact state police.
The program, which operates on a 30,000-acre (12,000-hectare) cattle ranch, offers “a new beginning for troubled and at-risk youth,” according to its website.
The establishment came under increased scrutiny last month after one of the program participants, Bruce Stager, 18, was killed when he was thrown from the back of a pickup truck.
As authorities searched for the boys on Friday, an attorney for the program, Pete Domenici Jr., issued a statement saying they were on a “previously scheduled activity away from the ranch for several days” and were safe.
Domenici and Tierra Blanca Ranch could not be reached for comment on Saturday.
Reporting by Noreen O'Donnell; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Gunna Dickson