by Ted Greenberg
A manhunt and car chase targeting a gang of car thieves came to a surprising end in New Jersey Monday.
Police had no idea that the alleged car burglars they were hunting would turn out to be children.
Police said two boys, ages 16 and 13 and an 11-year-old girl took part in breaking into John Puesi's new pickup truck and at least one other vehicle Monday morning in the parking lot of a Somers Point Shopping Center.
"That's not right, not right," Puesi said. "I don't know what the hell is going on with this country, really I don't."
Police said the minors were using a spark plug to smash car windows and steal cell phones, wallets and other items.
None of the young suspects is old enough to legally drive in New Jersey, but authorities said that didn't stop them from getting around in a stolen car.
Investigators said the kids, all from Atlantic City, were in a Dodge Neon that was stolen in the casino resort three days ago.
"The 16 and 13-year-olds were out surveying vehicles in the parking lot.
The 11-year-old was acting as a lookout," said Somers Point police Capt. Michael Boyd.
When police approached the car at about 10:15 a.m. Monday the 16-year-old driver allegedly led police on a pursuit through Somers Point and Linwood.
Officers said the trio bailed out of the car but were soon caught in a back yard nearby.
That was when authorities said they realized the alleged thieves were actually children.
"That was a little astounding," Boyd said.
All three were charged.
The boys were sent to juvenile detention, while the girl was released to her parents.
"I'm glad they got them," Puesi said.
Police said they found marijuana and a number of stolen items in the Neon, including a GPS unit and radar detector swiped from Puesi's pickup.
"I don't know what kind of parents they've got, but if you're 11 years old, I know my kids are in school. That's where they're supposed to be," Puesi said.
Police did not release the youths' names because they are juveniles.
Why weren't the kids in school? Police said the 13-year-old boy told them he missed the bus.