UPDATE: Place of Hope issued the followed statement saying Gary Kitchings has been fired from his job at a group home.
Mr. Kitchings was a house parent at Place of Hope’s Kid Sanctuary campus, licensed by DCF and contracted through the local community-based care lead agency, ChildNet.
While Mr. Kitchings was not licensed by DCF as a foster parent, his employment as house parent was under Place of Hope’s group home license provided by DCF.
This structure of care is in full conformity with the requirements of the state of Florida. Place of Hope is a comprehensive children’s services organization, whose services include operating state-licensed group homes.
Mr. Kitchings is no longer employed by Place of Hope.
Kitchings was a house parent at the home licensed by the Department of Children and Families.
He remains in jail with no bond.
An Uber driver was arrested Monday evening in Jupiter after a female passenger was picked up at SunFest, kidnapped and then sexually battered early Sunday, according to local police.
Police said the Uber driver, Gary Kitchings, 57, a house parent at an all-girls home in suburban West Palm Beach, picked up the victim at SunFest around 12:30 a.m. Sunday.
After dropping off two other women, the victim was alone and said Kitchings flirted with her and tried to run his hand up her shirt.
A police report said that after refusing to touch his groin, she tried to escape. Kitchings then kidnapped the woman and told her he would kill her if she did not do what he asked.
Police said Kitchings forced her to perform oral sex and then raped her inside her house. The victim, who said she took a picture of Kitchings' license's plate, was able to call 911 for help around 2 a.m.
After conducting an investigation, police arrested Gary Kitchings for kidnapping, sexual battery and burglary.
Kitchings is a former member of the U.S. Navy and has a long history in social services.
Kitchings lives at the KidSanctuary Campus, a not-for-profit organization committed to providing a safe home for abused, abandoned and neglected children.
In a YouTube video on the Place of Hope website, Kitchings can be seen talking about what it's like to be a foster parent.
“My wife and I, we’ve been house parents for 17 years," Kitchings said in the video. “So right now the house is occupied by six young ladies. It’s an opportunity for me and my wife to teach them all sorts of different things. Whether that’s following instructions or accepting no.”
His employer, Place of Hope, says they have put Kitchings on leave pending the outcome of the criminal proceedings.
Place of Hope released this statement:
"Our first priority is for the care and security of children and youth placed with Place of Hope.
Place of Hope takes any allegations of assault or abuse very seriously, given our mission to protect the vulnerable from abuse, neglect and abandonment."
Jupiter police said the Florida Department of Children and Families has been notified but officers are not aware of any other victims.
The Department of Children and Families released this statement:
"This is a deeply disturbing incident. We have high standards for the individuals who work in the child welfare system as their jobs are extremely important in ensuring the safety of children. DCF staff is working closely with ChildNet and Place of Hope and has opened a child protective investigation to ensure that no children were harmed as a result of this individual’s alleged illegal actions.
Mr. Kitchings is a house parent at Place of Hope’s Kid Sanctuary campus, contracted through the local community-based care lead agency, ChildNet. Mr. Kitchings is not licensed by DCF as a foster parent. Place of Hope is a state-licensed group home operator. Any questions regarding Mr. Kitchings’ employment should be directed to Place of Hope."
Uber released the following statement regarding the arrest:
"What the rider reported is deeply disturbing. The driver has been removed from the app."
Uber states on their website that drivers have to pass various background checks including a criminal background.
Records show that Kitchings has no prior arrests or convictions in Palm Beach County. He was denied bond during a Tuesday morning court hearing and ordered to have no contact with the victim. If convicted, his offenses are punishable by life in prison
Anyone with further information regarding this incident is asked to contact the Jupiter Police Department at (561) 746-6201 or Crime Stoppers of Palm Beach County at (800) 458-TIPS (8477). You can remain anonymous and may be eligible for a reward of up to $1,000.