Broward foster child, age 7, hangs himself after tantrum

Miami Herald
Depressed and filled with rage, a 7-year-old Broward foster child hanged himself Thursday. Authorities are searching for answers.
BY CAROL MARBIN MILLER
cmarbin@MiamiHerald.com

By the age of 7, Gabriel Myers had lost his mother to the ravages of drug addiction and incarceration, had been shuttled between an uncle and two foster homes, and had been in limbo for months as child welfare administrators in two states sought to reunite him with a grandfather.

His sad odyssey ended Thursday after he locked himself in the bathroom of a Margate foster home, announced his intention to kill himself and then hanged himself before the 19-year-old son of his foster father broke down the door. Child welfare administrators say Gabriel used the cord of a detachable shower head.

Administrators of the Department of Children & Families, which had custody of the youngster since June 2008, say they are investigating Gabriel’s death. Representatives of several agencies and service providers met late Friday to begin gathering records and looking for answers.

”It’s tragic every time a child dies, but it’s particularly difficult when you have a 7-year-old whose life ended so tragically,” said Jack Moss, who heads DCF’s Broward operations.

”We had over 30 people at the staffing this afternoon representing every agency that worked with the child,” Moss said. “At times, there was not a dry eye as we discussed the case.”

Candace R. Myers, 39, who has a long history of drug arrests and incarcerations in two states, lost custody of Gabriel when police found her passed out in a parked car in a shopping center — with Gabriel in her care, Moss said.

Myers is currently in custody at the Scioto County Jail in Portsmouth, Ohio, charged with theft from the elderly, driving under the influence, possession of drug paraphernalia, and probation violation, said Scioto Sheriff’s Capt. Shawn Sparks.

Myers declined to speak with a reporter Friday. ”She’s having a difficult day right now,” Sparks said. “She broke down real hard.”

Gabriel was a sweet little boy who was also consumed by rage, Moss said. In the throes of a tantrum, the youngster could destroy his own room.

”There were times when he was the most loving, mild-mannered child that one could ask for,” Moss said. “And, then there were other times when his behavior become uncontrollable.”

Initially, the boy went to live with an uncle, who was unable to keep him.

`TOO DIFFICULT’

From Oct. 13 until three weeks ago, Gabriel lived in another foster home, Moss said, but that placement also failed when the foster family said the boy was ”too difficult” to handle. DCF was working with child welfare administrators in Ohio to unify Gabriel with a grandfather there, but the details had yet to be worked out.

On March 19, DCF was notified by the grandfather that he had been approved by Ohio authorities, who had conducted a home study at DCF’s request, said Robin Ullman, DCF’s contract manager with ChildNet, which oversees foster care in Broward. ”It was getting very close to actually happening,” Ullman said.

In recent weeks, Gabriel was living with a foster mom and dad in the 5200 block of Northwest Ninth Street in Margate. Child welfare administrators declined to identify the foster parents, except to say the mother is a nurse and the father is an assistant principal at a school for children with special needs.

Moss said he was troubled that foster children such as Gabriel often have difficulty forming bonds with the counselors and psychologists who treat them because their sometimes constant moves from home to home result in a revolving door of therapists. Gabriel was being treated by a new therapist.

”The department and the federal government are very concerned about the number of moves” foster children make, Moss said. “The concern that I have is that, in addition to changing from foster home to foster home, they frequently have to change therapists, as well.”

”It takes time for a foster child and a therapist to click, for the therapist to understand the child, and for the child to have confidence in the therapist,” Moss added. “You have to start all over again. For therapy, that’s not good at all.”

CRISIS INTERVENTION

As recently as last month, a mobile crisis intervention team was dispatched to the foster home to decide whether the boy should be involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital for treatment, Moss said. The team decided the boy did not meet criteria for commitment.

On Thursday, Moss said, Gabriel stayed home sick from school. Both foster parents went to work, and the youngster was left in the care of the father’s 19-year-old son. At lunchtime, the boy became upset over a bowl of soup the teenager prepared for him and had a tantrum.

Gabriel stormed into the bathroom, announced his intention to kill himself, and locked the door, Moss said. The teenager called the foster mother for advice and was told to break the door down.

But by the time the young man got into the bathroom, Gabriel already was in distress. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.

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