DETROIT (AP) _ Six times during the past year, a 13-year-old has been charged with stealing cars, at times leading police on chases.

His behavior has confounded prosecutors and his mother.

``This could be a cry for help,'' Wayne County assistant prosecutor Martin Krohner said Saturday. ``On the other hand, he could just be a car thief.''

``I don't know what's going on with him,'' his mother, who lives in a homeless shelter, told the Detroit Free Press for a story published Saturday. The newspaper withheld the boy's name because of his age, and the mother was not identified.

``I don't know what's going on with him,'' said his mother, who lives in a homeless shelter.

After the boy fled an unlocked group home last week, he was caught the next morning with two stolen vehicles, police said. The 5-foot-5, 130-pound teen was placed in the custody of juvenile authorities pending a Dec. 8 pretrial hearing.

The boy's first arrest came last December _ four months before he turned 13 _ when he and a 15-year-old suspect were found inside a parked stolen van, court documents show. The 15-year-old told police the two of them had stolen five other cars in the previous three days.

Two weeks later, before the boy could be brought to court, he stole another car, leading police in Detroit and nearby Fernwood on a chase. When a police cruiser blocked the road, the boy stopped, went around the car, and ran a red light before crashing into another vehicle.

A few weeks later, he was caught driving another stolen car, and was sent to a group home. In August, he walked away from it and stole another car. Soon after, he walked away from a low-security juvenile facility and was arrested again while driving a stolen car.

After each escape, authorities got a court order for the boy's arrest, but court guidelines say juvenile car thieves are less of a security threat than violent children and often are not closely monitored.

``I don't know what it is,'' says Alletea Johnson, an 86-year-old woman who was a foster mother to the boy's own mother. ``He's just been a problem since he was 10, 11 years old.''