Margate 7-year-old’s sad journey began 10 months ago

Sun Sentinel
DCF is examining whether psychotropic drugs could have played a role in foster child’s hanging death
By Jon Burstein

FORT LAUDERDALE – Six-year-old Gabriel Myers and his dog, Travis, sat together in the back seat of the sedan parked outside a Denny’s one morning. His mother was in the driver’s seat — passed out over the steering wheel with a purse full of painkillers and a crack pipe.

That’s how Hallandale Beach police found them, beginning Gabriel’s sad 10-month journey through Florida’s child welfare system that ended last week with the 7-year-old boy found hanging in the shower of his foster home.

State authorities say all signs point to suicide.

While Margate police continue to investigate Gabriel’s death, the Department of Children & Families is examining whether psychotropic drugs could have played a role.

Gabriel is believed to have been taking two mental-health drugs at the time of his death, Jack Moss, DCF regional director, said Wednesday.

The agency is looking not only at the drugs Gabriel was taking, but the dosages, and whether they were appropriately prescribed, Moss said. DCF officials declined today to detail what drugs Gabriel had been prescribed.

ChildNet, a private agency under contract with DCF, received a report in late March that Gabriel returned home from school with bruising around his neck, according to The Miami Herald.

”However, he tried to blame it on another student,” case notes say.

Gabriel acknowledged to a team that was sent out that he was thinking about killing himself, and also wanted to kill a toddler who also was living in the foster home, the Herald reported, citing sources knowledgeable about the case.

The agency decided the boy did not meet the criteria under Florida’s involuntary-commitment law, called the Baker Act, to be placed in a mental hospital for evaluation, Moss said.

ChildNet moved the toddler to another foster home without young children, according to the Herald.

Jon Myers, Gabriel’s uncle, said the boy needed structure, not medicine. Last year, Gabriel was off of any mind-altering drugs for several months and was getting all As and Bs in school, Myers said.

“He had behavioral issues, but the drugs were not going to modify his behavior,” said Myers, who took the boy into his home from June 2008 to October 2008.

More details of Gabriel’s final months will be coming out soon. Today DCF successfully petitioned a Broward judge to unseal his case file in response to media requests.

An attorney for the state agency said releasing the approximately 2,000 pages of reports was necessary for the public to understand what happened. Broward Circuit Judge Thomas Lynch agreed.

“I think it’s important for the public to know what’s contained in the records,” he said. “It’s a very sad case.”

Moss said today there’s one thing he hasn’t seen in the reports — any indication that Gabriel had suicidal tendencies.

Gabriel had been home sick from school on April 16 when his foster mother went to the drug store, leaving him in the care of his foster father’s 20-year-old son, Moss said. Gabriel got upset about what he was having for lunch, locking himself in a bathroom. By the time the young man broke down the door, he found Gabriel with a shower hose wrapped around his neck, DCF officials said.

The 20-year-old called 911. Gabriel was pronounced dead an hour later at Northwest Medical Center in Margate.

Gabriel had been living in the foster home for three weeks and was set to be reunited with his grandfather in Ohio.

Moss said the foster family is heartbroken. The foster father is an assistant principal at a school for special needs children, and the foster mother is a registered nurse.

Gabriel’s mother, Candace Myers, 37, is incarcerated in Ohio after serving a stint in the Broward County Click here for restaurant inspection reports Jail following her June 29 arrest outside the Hallandale Beach restaurant. When a police officer woke her from her stupor, she got out of the car and passed out again, according to court records.

Gabriel told the officer that his mother was sick, court documents show.

She ended up pleading guilty in January to four felony drug charges and a misdemeanor count of reckless driving, agreeing to a 364-day jail sentence.

Jon Burstein can be reached at jburstein@SunSentinel.com or 954-356-4491.

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