JUPITER, Fla. — A Jupiter Farms family is hoping to reunite with their teenage son who was arrested after he was found with a pellet gun in his backpack at Jupiter Community High School.
But there’s more to the story: His family and police say the high school senior used it for protection because he was homeless and living on the streets.
David Yarde Sr. was expecting to see his son, Drew, walk across the graduation stage this month.
"He's been doing well," he told WPTV in an interview at his home.
A picture of 19-year old Drew Yarde's senior picture hangs on the wall in the family living room. Just below it sits a photo album filled with pictures of a smiling boy with a troubled past.
Yarde has spent the past week sitting in the Palm Beach County Jail after he was found with the pellet gun in his backpack on May 9.
“It was devastating," said Yarde Sr. “It was an honest mistake. He’s a good kid. Not like he was described in social media."
Yarde told officers he only had it because he needed it to protect himself. According to the police report, he spent most nights homeless because he recently chose to run away from home.
“We are decent, abiding citizens. We agree in 100 percent compliance of the law,” said Yarde Sr.
With Drew being of age, Yarde Sr. said it was hard to control his son's choices.
“When he was arrested, we didn’t find out until the [we watched] the news," he said.
Yarde Sr. said his son suffered from years of mental health and behavioral problems after he and his sister were taken away from their mother in Georgia. The Yarde family, who has two biological sons, were stationed in Georgia while Yarde Sr. was stationed there for the military.
She was arrested shortly after his birth for having drugs in her system. The same thing happened to Drew's sister, who is 11 months older than him.
“He was diagnosed in the hospital with fetal alcohol syndrome and crack cocaine toxicity," said Yarde Sr. “We decided that we were going to take the risk. We knew that there were the unknowns because kids who have gone through that level of alcohol and drugs, they have many challenges in life...We knew of the challenges that it presented.”
The Yarde family said they adopted Yarde and his sister as infants and gave them a good life. Despite years of therapy and special programs, their past always lingered.
“They just kept running away. The first time drew ran away, he was 9 years old. He spent the entire night hiding in a dumpster," said Yarde Sr. “They have this fight or flight syndrome. Whenever they perceive that they’re going to have conflicts or challenges, they usually run.”
Yarde said his son left the family home in March to hang out with friends, but never returned home.
“That same night that he left, I jumped in my truck and drove around for three-and-a-half hours looking for him. We called all his friends that we know and none of these kids claimed to have seen him,” he said.
The family said they were told he was with staying with friends at the time of the incident.
“He was not with us at the time it happened. Based on what we were told, he was staying with friends, which was an arrangement that was made by school resource personnel and his counselor."
Drew Yarde is an example of the type of youth that non-profit Vita Nova wants to help. The organization runs a drop-in center in West Palm Beach called The Spot for homeless teens and youth ages 18 to 25.
“We want to make sure the teens know this is their safe space," said Alejita Rodriguez, community services director for The Spot. "We’re here to connect them to the supports they need."
The organization said they actually reached out to Drew Yarde to offer their services, but it was too late. When they didn't hear back from him, he had already been arrested.
“They can’t do it on their own," said Rodriquez. "A lot of times we think, 'Oh they’re 18.' No, that’s just a number. We need to really work with them and give them the tools so they can be successful."
On Wednesday morning, a judge changed the terms of Drew Yarde's bond, given his unique circumstances. He will be released from jail on his own recognizance under supervised released.
Drew's father said he will be able to receive his diploma but will not get to walk the graduation stage due to pending litigation. His family hopes he will continue a job corps program he enrolled in at Palm Beach State College.
“We hope this will be a learning process for him so he’ll never make the same mistake twice," said Yarde Sr.
Vita Nova of West Palm Beach connects at-risk youth with career services, tutors, housing and even a place to wash their clothes, do homework or eat.
If you know of a teenager or youth who is homeless or in need of help, call 561-689-0035 or visit www.vitanovainc.org.