HOMESTEAD, Fla. – A 14-year-old boy who died Wednesday night, after a police chase ended in a crash, previously ran away from a Children's Home Society office in Cutler Bay with his siblings, a Department of Children and Families spokeswoman said Friday.
"We are greatly saddened by the death of this teen, and our hearts go out to his family and all those who cared for him," DCF spokeswoman Jessica Sims said in an email.
Authorities said Hightower and his siblings, Takira Brown, Nehemiah Brown, Takiya Brown and Tamyiah Brown, ran away from the Children's Home Society in Cutler Bay in October 2015.
The children, who were ages 16, 14, 13, 6 and 5 at the time, were found by authorities in Florida City.
Miami-Dade police said a judge ruled that the children should be removed from the custody of their adoptive grandmother and placed into the custody of DCF. She said the children asked to go to the bathroom while the case worker was doing paperwork. When workers went to check on them, they were gone.
The children's mother, Takiva Brown, told Local 10 News after the incident that her children called her and said they were running away, telling her that they weren't going to let anyone split them up.
Brown said she fed them, put them to bed and called police. She said she lost custody of her children when she was living on the streets.
Authorities said Hightower died Thursday after he was involved in a couple of armed robberies in Homestead.
Police said they received multiple calls early Wednesday from different victims who said they had been robbed while walking in the area of Northwest 15th Street and Krome Avenue.
The victims gave police the same description of the getaway vehicle, and officers attempted to pull over the driver a short time later.
Police said the driver refused to stop and led police on a chase.
Authorities said the driver lost control of the car and crashed in the area of 1500 Palm Drive.
Hightower, who was sitting in the front passenger seat, died at Kendall Regional Medical Center. Another suspect was injured in the crash.
"I cannot sleep. I cannot get over this. This is eternal hurt for the rest of my life," Brown said.
Brown told Local 10 News reporter Liane Morejon that her son wasn't a perfect child, but was still a "good boy."
"Ain't no child perfect, and I don't claim that he's perfect," Brown said. "But you know, he was a good boy. He liked music, he loved to play, he liked to hang out. You know, he liked clothes. He liked fashion."
Brown said she witnessed her son die in the hospital.
"I saw them work on him until he took his last breath," she said. "And they pulled the cord, and they closed the curtain, and told them, 'Can I please go back in and tell him goodbye?'"
Authorities said three juveniles have been arrested on first-degree murder charges in Hightower's death.
Brown said she blames her son's death on DCF.
"For them to take him for me and he loses his life. How am I supposed to settle that as a parent and move on? I am hurt. I am traumatized. My son is gone," Brown said.
Hightower's mother has planned a candlelight vigil Friday night for her son.