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Gov. claims evidence of abuse found at ranch

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Evidence found at a New Mexico youth ranch for troubled kids corroborates allegations by current and former students of abuse, the governor said Monday.

Gov. Susana Martinez made the comments Monday in defense of the state’s handling of an investigation into the Tierra Blanca High Country Youth Program near Hillsboro ranch.

An Amber Alert and State Police manhunt were launched Friday after officers found the ranch empty when they arrived to take custody of the children.

But the ranch’s attorney, Pete Domenici Jr., accused the state of escalating the situation with the alert, which was issued after he put out a statement saying the children were safe and were being returned to their parents. He took exception to the implication they were missing and abducted, neither of which was the case, he said.

“I will never apologize,” Martinez said. “We felt they were in imminent danger because of what we found in those buildings.”

Authorities have declined to release more details about the allegations or what was found at the ranch, citing an ongoing investigation. The Albuquerque Journal reported this month that the investigation included claims that students were beaten and shackled.

Martinez says officers issued the alert as they moved to verify the return of the children to their parents. The alert was canceled Sunday after law enforcement authorities, with the help of agencies in at least three others states, were able to physically verify the safety of all nine kids.

Martinez says investigators also need to question each of the students.

Police continue to seek the operator of the ranch, Scott Chandler, for questioning. Chandler has denied any children have been harmed. He filed a lawsuit last week accusing investigators of targeting the ranch for closure after a fatal car crash involving students.

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