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US care centre ‘saddened’ by girl’s death

A US care centre where a 16-year-old Bermudian girl died said yesterday it was “greatly saddened” by last week's tragedy.

Janet Farnsworth, the executive director of West Ridge Academy in West Jordan, Utah, offered condolences to the teenager's family and friends.

Ms Farnsworth said: “Because of US privacy laws and a pending official investigation by police and other agencies, we can only confirm that a student from Bermuda in care at our treatment facility passed away last week.

“We have been greatly saddened by this event. We extend our deepest condolences to the family and friends of this young lady.

“Out of respect to the family and due to the ongoing investigation into this matter, no further information will be provided at this time.”

She added that the organisation was helping authorities investigating the incident, which happened after the girl was referred for treatment under a care order from the Government's child protection services.

Ms Farnsworth said: “We will continue to provide assistance and information to the investigative agencies that are handling this delicate matter.

“We would ask for professional and compassionate communication during this time of bereavement while we work closely with officials from both countries to conclude the investigation.”

Ms Farnsworth also confirmed that there was no one else from Bermuda at West Ridge.

Sergeant J.C. Holt, of the West Jordan Police Department, said on Wednesday that officers were called to West Ridge Academy “on a death investigation”.

He added: “The deceased young woman was transported to our state medical examiner's office for an autopsy.

“We are awaiting their final report on findings, which could be months from now.”

Sergeant Holt explained that police had “responded to many incidents there, which all usually involve issues surrounding the population of youth they serve”.

He said: “There is not any current active investigation of the facility as a result of complaints or misconduct that I'm aware of.”

The West Jordan Police Department told The Salt Lake Tribunein 2016 that there had been several police reports that involved violence among youngsters at West Ridge and two cases of accusations of violence levelled against staff members.

West Ridge Academy was the subject of several lawsuits in 2008 and 2010, where previous students alleged negligence, physical abuse and sexual abuse.

A report by the Utah State Office of Education found no evidence to support the allegations of abuse, but found that several lawsuits against the centre had been settled out of court.

The school has also been criticised for its links to the Mormon church, although the academy is non-denominational.

The Bermuda Police Service confirmed earlier this week that they were liaising with the Government's Department of Child and Family Services, as well as police authorities in the US “in an effort to determine the details of this unfortunate incident”.

Utah's Department of Human Services confirmed that its Office of Licensing was made aware and “all serious incidents are investigated”.

A spokeswoman said on Monday: “We conduct an investigation of any health and safety violations that may have been contributing factors.”

She added: “When a minor enters our state from another state or country, the sending entity — in this case the Department of Child and Family Services of Bermuda — maintains custody and responsibility for the health and safety of the minor with the programme provider they have selected for placement.”

Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs, said in an interview with ZBM on Wednesday that more information about the teenager's death on Saturday would be released when reports are received.

She said the incident was “extremely distressing and very concerning” and the DCFS had made support for the girl's family a priority.

A ministry spokeswoman said yesterday that Ms Simmons would make no further comment “at this time”.

West Ridge Academy's website said that its programme could “help restore your troubled teen and your family to live happier, healthier lives”.

It offers counselling and professional care services across two single-sex campuses at its 50-acre setting southwest of Salt Lake City.

The website explained: “At our core, West Ridge Academy is an all-encompassing programme designed to heal families.

“It exists to create an environment of real change for future generations.

“We provide lasting solutions through comprehensive mental health services for youth and their families. That is where hope begins.”

On occasion The Royal Gazette may decide to not allow comments on a story that we deem might inflame sensitivities. As we are legally liable for any slanderous or defamatory comments made on our website, this move is for our protection as well as that of our readers.

West Ridge Academy logo, West Jordan, Utah (Image from Facebook)

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Published November 22, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated November 22, 2019 at 9:17 am)

US care centre ‘saddened’ by girl’s death

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