I’m Not Going Away, Would You?

October 9, 2006

I’m not going away, would you? Cynthia Allen asked that question the other day.

Though I would like to write about the boy Joey was, about how everyone loved him, and about how much he wanted to get better and lead a normal life, I feel compelled to write about what really happened to Joey Aletriz and how his mom feels about it.

I stopped to think about her question, and these thoughts came to mind:

Imagine how it would feel if you had a teenaged boy who needed help to cope with issues in his life. You and he together sought help and you thought you’d found it. You enrolled him into a residential treatment program for kids with the promise that within six months they could help him overcome his issues. Two months after you put him in the program you receive a phone call, “I’m sorry, Mrs. Allen, but we don’t think Joey is going to make it.”

Imagine your pain and the feeling of disbelief, the thoughts rushing through your head as you remember your son’s words about a boy who had died there just weeks earlier. Imagine rushing to the hospital to find your child lifeless, laying on a bed, his face bruised nearly beyond recognition. Being a nurse, you understood all that was being said and all that was going on around your son. You watched as they continued to try to revive him, only to give up when they knew there was no way he was going to come back to life. Imagine holding your child in your arms when there was no life left – this is the tragic scenario Cynthia was forced to endure.

Cynthia was told her son was restrained because he did not want to give staff back the hooded sweatshirt he was wearing. But Cynthia recalls the sweatshirt met their dress code and that her son should have been allowed to wear it. She also recalls it was cold that February day. She remembers the barrack-style rooms the boys slept in and how cold it was there. Why was there an issue about his hoodie, his mom wondered?

Being a nurse Cynthia knew what happened to her son was more than simply a restraint. She has been trained in restraints and has had to perform restraints. If restraints are done according to policy and procedure they do not cause the types of injuries her son sustained. She understood when she read the preliminary autopsy report. She was dismayed to learn the stomach contents of her son were in his nasal cavity. One side of his face was black and blue and the other side had a hemotoma from his temple to his jaw. His organs were damaged and he had bruising consistent with that of a slug or kick on different areas of his body. The list went on as her anguish grew.

Joey’s mom lives with the memory of that day every day. She cannot shake what has happened to her son. She cannot allow his death to be in vain. She cried last week when she said, “They never even said they were sorry. No one has ever told me they were sorry for killing my son.”

I feel Cynthia has good cause to be concerned and to want to seek justice for her son, Joey. She is not only concerned about what happened to her son, but what has happened to the countless others. Her goal is to see to it other parents do not have to endure the agonizing pain she has had to endure, and continues to endure. She said, “I don’t know what I’m going to do, it’s almost the holidays. I don’t know how I will survive them without Joey this year. I will have to hold it together for Alex”. Alex is her older son who, too, is grieving for the loss of his little brother.

The juvenile justice system did not protect Joey when they suggested his mother place him in a facility operated by a company with a history of abusive practices, some leading to death.

Below is a list of sixteen seventeen children who have died just over the past year while they were in youth programs (that we know of, there are undoubtedly others):

On September 11, 2005, 12-year old Shirley Arciszewski was restrained and died of asphyxia at the Charlotte Group Home in South Carolina.

On September 13, 2005, 12-year old Alex Harris died of dehydration and blow to the head, allegedly when he was dropped on his head at Hope Youth Ranch in Minden.

On September 18, 2005, 14-year old Linda Harris was physically restrained by a male worker at the Chad Youth Enhancement Center. She stopped breathing and later died.

On October 8, 2005, 13-year old Kasey Warner was found dead in 12″ of water at the ViaQuest Warren Avenue group home. Kasey was an autistic boy who had never spoken a word. Though is mother was promised he would have round-the-clock care and supervision and that he would never be left alone, he was left alone and drowned in a bathtub with 12″ of water.

On October 13, 2005, 17-year old Willie Durden, died at the privately managed Cypress Creek Juvenile Offender Correctional Center in Lecanto, in Citrus County. An autopsy concluded Willie died of ventricular arrhythmia, due to an enlarged and diseased heart. A recent report says guards waited about 20 minutes after discovering the limp teen before calling 911 and beginning CPR. A guard told investigators he waited to begin CPR because teens sometimes “play pranks.”

On December 5, 2005, 12-year old Michael “Mickey” Garcia was placed in a basket hold restraint by a staff member at Star Ranch facility in Texas. Mickey stopped breathing, could not be revived, and later died.

On December 12, 2005, 16-year old James White lost his life at SummitQuest Academy, in Ephrata, PA. According to newspaper articles his death is being investigated. Allegedly he fell during exercise and died.

On December 26, 2005, 14-year old Johnny Lim complained of an excruciating headache, vomited, and fell to the floor in his cell at the King County Juvenile Detention Center in Washington. The county’s medical examiner ruled the death a “spontaneous brain-stem hemorrhage” attributable to natural causes. There are many unanswered questions by Lim’s family and attorney representing staff and the center.

On January 6, 2006, 14-year old Martin Lee Anderson died at a Pensacola hospital one day after guards at the Bay County Sheriff’s Office Boot Camp punched, kneed, and applied pressure to his head in an attempt to force him to continue running laps. An autopsy ordered by a special prosecutor concluded Martin died of asphyxia after guards covered his mouth and shoved ammonia capsules up his nose. A use-of-force report said the guards had thought Martin was malingering.

On February 4, 2006, 16-year old Giovanni “Joey” Aletriz died after being beaten and restrained at SummitQuest in Ephrata, PA (details above).

On May 26, 2006, 7-year old Angellika Arndt lost her life at the Northwest Guidance and Counseling Center in Rice Lake, WI. Angie had been restrained nine times in the month she was there, each restraint lasting one to two hours, one time she was restrained for “gargling milk”. She was restrained again the next day, and the following she died as a result of the restraint.

On May 31, 2006, 12-year old Lenny Ortega drowned during an outing at Star Ranch in Texas. The facility was under investigation for the death and alleged abuse of other children there; the facility has been shut down pending an investigation.

On June 17, 2006, 13-year old Dillon Tyler Peak died after becoming ill at the Peace River Outward Bound wilderness camp in DeSoto County, Florida. Officials say Dillon apparently died of a severe case of encephalitis. The death remains under investigation.

On July 16, 2006, 16-year old Elisa Santry died after hiking in the wilderness in 110° weather while attending an Outward Bound wilderness expedition. She was separated from her group for 10 hours before being found, dead, alone on the side of a canyon. She had complained she did not feel well early that morning, yet she was allowed to hike alone.

On July 31, 2006, 16-year old Natalynndria Lucy Slim was found by a friend hanging from a computer cord. Her death is being investigated and is considered a suicide at the Adolescent Residential Treatment Center operated by the Presbyterian Medical Services.

On August 4, 2006, 14-year old Danieal Kelly died during a heat wave. She was bedridden, infested with maggots, and nearly paralyzed with cerebral palsy. She died in extreme heat, dehydrated, weighing just 46 pounds when she died. She wasted away in bed with bedsores, under the nose of the city’s social service agency, according to an October 25, 2006, MSNBC article, 14-year-old Pa. girl died of dehydration; workers failed to notice neglect.

On August 12, 2006, 16-year old Alex Cullinane died of dehydration at Back to Basics Christian Military Academy. His death is under investigation. He did not eat for days, according to other children, and complained of stomach pain. He died in the middle of the night after getting up to use the bathroom.

Below are two children who died this past year who were allegedly abused during their stay at Tranquility Bay in Jamaica. Both boys were featured in the June 22, 2006, “Rough Love” article:

On June 6, 2006, Kerry Layne Brown was found dead in his bed. Layne spent nine months at the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs (WWASPS) program, Tranquility Bay, where he was tortured – he was pepper-sprayed multiple times a day for months (a staff member admitted to it on videotape), his genitals were scrubbed with toilet brushes. His life was never the same and he died at the young age of 24. His death is under investigation.

On June 7, 2006, Carter Lynn was found dead hanging from the rafter in his home. Carter had been interviewed about his experiences, also at WWASPS’ Tranquility Bay program in Jamaica. His death is also under investigation.