Authorities on Sunday said they apprehended a Honduran man who escaped over the weekend from Stewart Detention Center, a federal immigration detention facility in South Georgia. JEREMY REDMON/jredmon@ajc.com

Officers capture escapee from S. Georgia immigration detention center

Humanitarian group: Police said he escaped by climbing three fences

Authorities on Sunday morning apprehended a Honduran man who escaped from a barbed wire-rimmed federal immigration detention center in South Georgia over the weekend.

An officer searching for Erlin Gutierrez-Maradiaga told a humanitarian organization in Lumpkin the detainee climbed three fences to escape Stewart Detention Center.

Gutierrez-Maradiaga disappeared at about 7:20 p.m. Saturday, according to CoreCivic, the corrections company that operates Stewart through an agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Calling him a “low-security detainee with no criminal past,” CoreCivic said he was captured Sunday morning after he was spotted walking along U.S. 27 near Stewart. 

“Facility staff immediately notified our government partners and local law enforcement,” CoreCivic spokeswoman Amanda Gilchrist said in an email about the escape. “ICE officials immediately began an investigation of the circumstances surrounding the incident. Simultaneously, the Stewart County Sheriff’s Office began a search for Gutierrez-Maradiaga in the area around the facility.”

Gutierrez-Maradiaga is the first person to ever escape Stewart, according to CoreCivic. 

Authorities could not immediately provide statistics on escapes from other immigration detention centers. But in March of last year, Jose Manzanares Montalavan escaped ICE’s Prairieland Detention Center in Alvarado, Texas, by scaling a fence, KXAS-TV reported. He was recaptured. And in December, Emrah Gocekli, a Turkish national, escaped from the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Facility in Bakersfield, Calif., by climbing two razor wire-topped fences, according to KERO-TV. ICE’s records indicate he is still at large, has convictions for battery and burglary and should be considered armed and dangerous.

Located just outside the small city of Lumpkin, Stewart is a sprawling facility with capacity for 1,900 detainees. It has locked up people from more than 140 countries and nearly every continent. Two detainees have hanged themselves at Stewart since May 2017 amid lapses at the facility.

MORE: Mexican man hanged himself amid lapses at ICE detention center

On Saturday evening, a police officer searching for Gutierrez-Maradiaga visited El Refugio, a humanitarian organization in Lumpkin that provides lodging and meals to people visiting their loved ones at Stewart. Loyda Paz Perez, a volunteer coordinator with El Refugio, said the officer told her Gutierrez-Maradiaga was seriously injured by barbed wire while climbing three fences to escape Stewart. Perez said she hasn’t heard of any other escapes from Stewart.

“It took us by surprise,” she said.

El Refugio had no contact with Gutierrez-Maradiaga or his family, said Marie Marquardt, a founding member of El Refugio.

“We have had no communication with this person,” she said. “He is not a person that we had sent people to visit with. We were not aware of his presence inside the detention center. We have no communication with his family.

“We, obviously, are very concerned for him. If, indeed, he was able to escape the facility, I am sure he is very injured.”

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