It’s been nearly two weeks since Carol Palmer has heard from her foster son.
On Oct. 10, Doug Faoa, 16, left his home in Albany for a three-month stint at the Inn Home For Boys, a Clackamas County living facility for boys with emotional issues. Palmer said Faoa was in need of “intense treatment” for his emotional issues and his caseworker had been pushing for him to be sent away for treatment.
"He gave me a big hug and said, ‘Don’t worry I’m coming home,'" she said. He promised to call her that evening.
But the call never came. She found out the next morning that Faoa had gone for a walk soon after arriving at the Inn Home and never returned.
Jake Sunderland, a spokesperson for the Department of Human Services, said the agency was informed about Faoa’s disappearance on Oct. 12, one day after he arrived at the facility, and that staff were “concerned.”
Palmer said she feels the case has gotten a lackluster response by both the Inn Home and law enforcement. She said she has taken it upon herself to publicize his disappearance, sending his photo to TriMet and the security at a nearby shopping mall.
After being dispatched to the Inn Home at 1 a.m. on Oct. 11, officers classified Faoa as a runaway juvenile, which requires a different type of investigation than if they believed there was an element of foul play, according to Marcus Mendoza, a sergeant at the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office.
Mendoza said officers believe he ran away due to confidential statements from the Inn Home staff about Faoa’s behavior that day. A resident had also called the Sheriff's Office Tuesday, saying they had given Faoa a ride to the Oregon City Point Shopping Center the same day he disappeared.
Mendoza said the Sheriff's Office gets called to the facility “a couple of times a month,” responding to runaway youth. As of two years ago, the facility had 14 beds.
The Inn Home For Boys declined to comment on Faoa’s disappearance, citing the confidentiality of its clients. The program’s director did not respond to a request for further information about the home, and its website is nonfunctioning. According to a DHS directory from 2016, the program serves boys 16 and older ‘that are in greater need of supportive services due to behavioral and emotional difficulties.”
Faoa’s foster mom, Palmer, believes it’s possible that upon entering the facility, her foster son grew alarmed and fled. During his three years living with her, he had run away once before, camping out at a friend’s house for a week.
Regardless, Palmer believes both she and DHS should have been immediately informed when Faoa didn’t return for curfew.
“How come nobody contacted me?” she said. “I’m not just the foster parent. I am Doug’s mom.”
State Sen. Sarah Gelser, whose district encompasses Albany, said she was “deeply concerned” over how the Inn Home handled the incident, first allowing Faoa to leave so soon after arriving and then waiting until the next day to report it to DHS.
“If he was moved [to the facility] because he had high needs and high risk, it seems you’d be concerned about him disappearing sooner than 24 hours,” she said.
Gelser added that she was alarmed that the “immediate assumption” in Faoa’s case was that he ran away, a designation she believes has lessened the sense of urgency and outcry over his disappearance.
When Gelser first tweeted about Faoa’s disappearance on Sunday, no local media outlets had reported on his disappearance and the Clackamas County Sheriff’s office had made no public statements. It’s a stark contrast to the intense local and national interest in the disappearance of 18-year-old Owen Klinger, a student at the University of Portland who went missing at roughly the same time.
Gelser’s clear that she believes a spotlight on Klinger’s case was appropriate – she just wishes that the spotlight had shone equally bright on Faoa.
“We have this 16-year-old foster kid with black skin, male, who’s disappeared and nothing in the mainstream media,” she said. “Doug is a minor. He is a child that is missing. He a child is in need of protection. The level of concern should be through the roof.”