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More questions over Kirsta’s death

Overseas care: Kirsta Simons

Police in the United States were unable to confirm how long a Bermudian teenager who took her own life was left alone by staff at a residential treatment institution because security cameras were switched off.Kirsta Simons died at West Ridge Academy in West Jordan, Utah, last November after she was sent there by the Family Court at the request of the Department of Child and Family Services.A police report into the 17-year-old’s death said that statements made by centre staff to officers revealed that Kirsta had “attempted suicide multiple times in the past”.The 21-page report said Kirsta was on suicide watch and under constant supervision from West Ridge staff, except when she showered and used the toilet.She also slept in a main common area so she could be observed throughout the night.Detective Tyrel Shepherd, the lead officer in the case, reported that a staff member told him that Kirsta had a ten-minute shower on November 14 and when told her time was up asked to use the bathroom. The employee told the officer that Kirsta was given two minutes before she was checked on — but it was too late.The woman staff member and a male colleague performed CPR on the girl before medics arrived and took over. Kirsta was taken to a nearby hospital before she was transferred to Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, but died the next day.Mr Shepherd wrote: “In the halls and main living area, there were cameras observed.“I asked if I could get a copy of the footage to corroborate the times Kirsta was alone while she showered and used the restroom ...”He added: “On November 21, 2019, I responded to West Ridge Academy to receive security footage.”He added that he spoke to Amy Whittaker, the West Ridge clinical director, who told him the DVR system “had been unplugged since September, so there was no footage of the incident”.Sergeant JC Holt, of West Jordan Police, confirmed last week that Kirsta’s death was “ruled as a suicide and the case has been closed”.A spokeswoman for the Utah Department of Human Services, the licensing authority for West Ridge Academy, said yesterday that its investigation into Kirsta’s death was still under way.She added: “Facilities licensed as residential treatment centres in Utah are not required to have security cameras.”Mr Shepherd said in the police report that he was informed that Kirsta had attempted suicide in the same way two days before she died and an incident report was logged by the school, which he was shown after her death.He added that he was told the teenager had tried to take her own life by a different method earlier on the day she made her final attempt to kill herself.Detective Bria McElreath said in the report she interviewed three witnesses — one of Kirsta’s roommates and the two employees.The roommate said she was sitting with staff as Kirsta showered and heard her say “OK” after she was told it was time to get out of the shower.Ms McElreath wrote that the roommate had told her that she talked to the staff members for about three more minutes, but added that “I’m not sure how long we kept talking”.The roommate told the police officer that she noticed Kirsta was still not out of the shower, so she ran to check on her.The girl told the police that Kirsta “never stops talking” about suicide.The male staff member who performed CPR told Ms McElreath that Kirsta “would talk about wanting to kill herself and that no one loved her”.Tiffanne Thomas, an independent social worker, urged the Government last night to rethink its use of residential treatment overseas for vulnerable children in the care of the DCFS.Ms Thomas said: “The death of one child is one too many.”Kirsta’s birth mother said in an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune on Monday that her daughter had been in DCFS custody since 2010, that she had no idea how long Kirsta had been in Utah and had no say in the decision to send her there. She also told Fresh TV last month that she had no idea why her daughter was sent abroad.The woman, who asked not to be identified to protect her younger children, told the Tribune her oldest daughter spent much of her life in foster care because of choices the mother made that she “wasn’t proud of”.She added that she found out where Kirsta was just a month before she died, but was not allowed to contact her.The Tribune reported that West Ridge’s licence was up to date but that it had to submit a “corrective action plan” to the Department of Human Services in 2017 after a spot check found the institution had failed to make a required notification about two allegations of a boy having sexual contact with other residents.West Ridge Academy and the DCFS did not respond to requests for comment yesterday. Bermudian children have been sent to overseas institutions by the DCFS at least as far back as 1984. The Ministry of Legal Affairs said in December that nine children were in placements abroad as part of the department’s psychoeducational programme. Janet Farnsworth, the West Ridge executive director, told The Royal Gazette the same month that “out of home” placements for children were most effective when families could be closely involved.• Anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts or any mental health crisis can walk into the Mid-Atlantic Wellness Institute for immediate attention Monday to Friday 8am to 5pm. People can also call the 24-hour mental health crisis line on 239-1111 or visit the Emergency Department at the King Edward VII Memorial HospitalOn occasion The Royal Gazette may decide to not allow comments on what we consider to be a controversial or contentious story. As we are legally liable for any libellous or defamatory comments made on our website, this move is for our protection as well as that of our readers.