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Teen Who Bolted When Ordered Returned to Mother Still At Large

September 8, 1985

DECATUR, Ill. (AP) _ Police on Saturday were searching for one of two teen-agers who bolted from a courtroom and fled a day earlier when a judge ruled they must return from their father here to their mother in Tennessee.

Rodney Harrelson, 16, on Friday eluded pursuers who caught his sister, Traci, 13, in the Macon County courthouse.

Rodney later called a television station and said he feared being beaten to death by his stepfather or put in a reformatory if returned to his mother’s mountain home about 30 miles from Chattanooga.

The teen-agers had lived with their mother, Judy Earles, and stepfather, Steve Earles, for about five years before running away to join their father, John Harrelson.

Spectators, many of them relatives of the children, urged the boy and his sister to run after Macon County Judge W.A. Sappington announced his decision. The pair dashed from the courtroom.

People rushed around in a hall in the Macon County Building as deputies caught Traci, who was turned over to Tennessee authorities. Her brother darted from the building and was being sought Saturday, police said.

Rodney called WAND-TV about two hours after he fled.

‴If I went back to Tennessee, I’d go back on the mountain, where I was facing being beat to death or be put in a reformatory,′ ″ reporter Kathy Balamos quoted him as saying.

‴I didn’t feel like facing either one of those. So when they told me to go back, I just ran out,‴ he told the reporter.

Rodney said his stepfather ‴told me before I left if I did what I wanted to and had fun, he’d beat me to death,‴ according to Ms. Balamos.

″Would you go back to a place where my son is afraid for his life?″ Harrelson asked in a choked voice after the courthouse drama. ″Would you run away?″

Mrs. Earles has legal custody of the children. A court order from Tennessee directed that the children be returned to her and her husband.

Despite Rodney’s claims of abuse, an official with the Tennessee Department of Human Services said his agency had interviewed the children several times and found no grounds to remove them from their mother’s care.

″It has to be rather urgent and the threat of injury or harm must be established to take them from a parent,″ said the official, Ray Neil.

Joe Darflinger, an attorney who represents Mrs. Earles, said courts have recognized her right to her children and found her fit to care for them.

″You cannot grab two children and run to another state and demand a hearing,″ he said.

″We still love our mother, of course, but it would not be hard to leave the mountain,″ Rodney said in an earlier interview. ″We’re going to keep running away if we have to go back.″

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