Joseph French: Tennessee Teen Escapes Juvenile Facility, Shoots Himself In Head [Update]

The body of a Blount County, Tennessee, teen was found this morning with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, which apparently occurred after he escaped from a juvenile facility.

WBIR reports that Joseph Dillon French, 16, attacked a female corrections officer on Friday evening at around 7:40 p.m., while he was being housed at the Blount County Juvenile Center. The teen grabbed the corrections officer’s gun when she took him to the restroom. He took a porcelain toilet seat cover and hit the corrections officer numerous times until she fell down.

According to the corrections officer, the teen retrieved her key to a lockbox, opened it, and took her Glock 22.40-caliber handgun. He fired at her, but there were no bullets in the chamber. The teen then left the juvenile jail, and a searched for him ensued throughout Friday night.

According to the Blount County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO), at around 8:30 a.m. on Saturday morning, the teen’s body was found on the grass near woods, not far from downtown Maryville, with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. BSCO stated that Joseph French was being held in a low-security juvenile facility in Maryville, which doesn’t have a hardware security feature like a high-security juvenile facility. Per Sheriff James Berrong said,

“One is a hardware-secure facility like the correctional facility with locks on the doors. This is a non-secure holding area where we put unruly children. State law demands we not lock that type of individual up in a hardware-secure facility.”

The teen was being held at the juvenile detention center on truancy charges. It was the fourth time he’d been in the detention center. The teen’s parents called police after he went missing from their South Farnum Street home last month.

Prior to finding his body, authorities took out warrants on the teen, including aggravated assault, attempted homicide, felony escape, and fleeing theft.

The corrections officer is in her 60s and has worked at the juvenile center for numerous years. Berrong stated that she was taken to the University of Tennessee Medical Center for treatment after the attack, which left her with severe cuts and bruises.

“She is very, very sore, still very emotional about the situation, but, for all circumstances involved, doing very well.”

The officer was released from the hospital on Friday, with stitches in her head.

Police stated that helicopters, K-9 units, and law enforcement from other town joined in to help. Local radio stations aired the information, broadcasting warnings that the teen was missing and armed.

Joseph Dillon French’s death is currently being investigated by the Maryville Police Department and the Blount County Sheriff’s office. The story is still developing.


The teen’s mother recently spoke out about the death. Tenny French, a Blount County resident, offered her sympathies and apologies to the corrections officer who was injured after her son attacked her. She also spoke about how although her son was going through a rough patch in life, he struggled with bouts of depression and had never been violent before.

“What went on in his mind I don’t we’ll ever know. But he was a good-hearted kid and what you see on tape, what he did to that lady – that wasn’t him. He didn’t do stuff like that. He wasn’t violent.”

When Tenny French visited him on the day of his escape, Joseph French warned her that the facility wasn’t locked and that he’d be leaving soon.

“He told me,’Momma I’m going to walk right out that door I’m going to leave.’ I said, ‘Don’t do it.’ He said, ‘I’m going to leave.'”