MARION, Va. — After three patients made an “unauthorized departure” from the Southwestern Virginia Mental Health Institute in Marion on Monday night, authorities located the group in nearby Wythe County on Tuesday morning.

The three men appeared to have walked about 17 miles overnight from the institute to the Rural Retreat community, where they were taken into custody around 8 a.m. Tuesday and returned to the mental health care facility, according to Marion Police Chief John Clair.  

The men were primarily at risk for self-harm and authorities were concerned about their safety, Clair said.

“These aren’t criminals who broke out of a prison,” he said.

Local police started searching for the men around 8 p.m. Monday evening after they were reported to have made an “unauthorized departure” from the institute, Clair said. He said the men were patients receiving court-ordered treatment at the Southwestern Virginia Mental Health Institute, a 179-bed state psychiatric facility operated by the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services.

Local search efforts Monday night involving K-9s and search teams proved unsuccessful and the Town of Marion published a news release on social media identifying the men as Jay Scott Reed, 28, of Radford; Derek Allen Malcolm, 26, of Pulaski County; and David Adam Willis, 32, of Wise County.

Authorities later located the three men in Wythe County and it appeared they had traveled on foot along the railroad tracks and nearby wooded areas, Clair said. They were taken into custody without incident and returned to Southwestern Virginia Mental Health Institute on Tuesday morning.

Investigators believe the men had coordinated their departure prior to Monday night, Clair said. 

State officials confirmed Tuesday that the patients were returned to the facility and that the institute is conducting an internal investigation into the situation.

“Staff followed all procedures in accordance with policy, including prompt notification of law enforcement agencies,” Meghan McGuire, a spokeswoman for the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, wrote in an email to the Bristol Herald Courier. “SWVMHI is currently conducting an internal investigation to determine how this occurred and to prevent it from happening again. Ensuring the safety of the individuals at SWVMHI and at all state hospitals is critically important.”

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