Kirsta’s family still left in the dark
The mother of a teenager who took her own life at an American treatment centre said she had “no real answers” about what happened to her daughter eight months after she died.
Johnita Simons explained that she contacted agencies in Bermuda as well as West Ridge Academy in West Jordan, Utah, where 17-year-old Kirsta was referred by the Family Court under the care of the Department of Child and Family Services.
She said: “The death of Kirsta has had a great impact on my family as a whole, including her younger siblings: both too young to really understand the depth of what has happened, even though they do ask. Kirsta was loved by so many and is missed dearly by everyone who knew her.”
Ms Simons, who explained that Kirsta was aged 7 when she left her care, added: “I am disappointed in the lack of communication between myself and DCFS. It has been eight months since her death; and still no real answers to what really happened to her.”
Ms Simons wrote to Janet Farnsworth, the executive director of West Ridge Academy, and asked about her daughter’s “mindset” while she was there as well as her pastimes or whether she had favourite classes or teachers.
She received a reply from the treatment centre’s legal counsel who said that privacy laws and “contractual obligations” meant no information could be provided.
He added: “You should direct all of your questions to the Bermuda DCFS.”
Ms Simons said that she requested copies of her file through the Family Court to have “some sort of closure” but that it was denied.
She added that a request was made to Alfred Maybury, the DCFS director, for a copy of Kirsta’s autopsy report but that was not supplied to her.
The 40-year-old added: “We, the family of Kirsta, want closure. We, the family of Kirsta, want justice.
“I, the mother of Kirsta, want to see some type of accountability.
“My daughter’s life mattered.”
Ms Simons, who spoke to The Royal Gazette last month, said: “I haven’t had any contact with anybody and that’s one of my things that I’m so upset about.”
She added that it was not until last October that she learnt her daughter was in Utah. Kirsta died the next month.
Ms Simons said: “I wasn’t told about plans that were made for Kirsta.
“Kirsta would have been 18 this year ... I know once you turn 18 you’re legally seen as an adult and no longer under a care order, so what plans would have been made for her leaving care?
“What was done before she even went to Utah?”
The mother said that she previously tried to find out from a former social worker of Kirsta’s what support was in place for her daughter but that she received no response.
Ms Simons added: “She was removed from my care because I wasn’t doing an effective job, so what are you going to do to make sure that her needs are met?”
She explained: “For me, asking the question for my files or the autopsy report is just to gain some type of understanding of what had happened because up until 2018 her and I were in regular communication.”
Ms Simons said: “I’m proud of the progress I have made; however, I want my story to be heard so that it doesn’t happen again.”
Ms Farnsworth told The Royal Gazette that privacy laws prevented West Ridge Academy, a non-profit agency, from providing “any personal health information other than with the guardian or investigating authorities”.
She added: “We’ve shared information freely with Bermuda DCFS and our local investigating and licensing authorities in this matter over many months.
“I would be happy to release personal information if we have legal authorisation from the guardian or placing agency. In this case, we have not been given this permission.”
Ms Farnsworth said: “I am certain that this tragic loss has been so difficult for all of Kirsta’s family and our thoughts and prayers are with them all.
“We continue to grieve her passing and honour her memory in our own way.
“Just this past month, one of our schoolteachers constructed a beautiful wooden bench in her honour that sits outside the home that she lived in while she was with us at West Ridge Academy.
“It’s a place for the girls and staff that knew and loved her to sit and reflect.”
The Utah Department of Human Services’ Office of Licensing concluded its investigation into the incident earlier this year and found that a staff member carrying out “verbal check-ins”, was outside a bathroom when Kirsta tried to take her life, contrary to a handbook for suicide watch, which has since been updated.
Investigative documents concluded: “According to my follow up with West Jordan Police Department, the detective didn’t have any concerns about any foul play and the medical examiner report ruled this incident as a suicide. No further action required.”
The Royal Gazette asked the Ministry of Legal Affairs, which includes the DCFS, for comment but none was received by press time.
Questions put to the ministry included whether it launched its own investigation, what its next steps would be and whether there were plans to stop using West Ridge Academy for young Bermudians in the future.
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