State probes apparent suicide of foster child, 7

Miami Herald
A work group has been appointed to investigate factors leading up to a 7-year-old foster child’s apparent suicide.
BY CAROL MARBIN MILLER
cmarbin@MiamiHerald.com

Florida’s top child-welfare administrator has appointed a work group to look into the April 16 death of Gabriel Myers, the 7-year-old boy who took his own life at a Broward County foster home after a stormy nine-month odyssey through the state foster-care system.

At the top of the priority list for Department of Children & Families Secretary George Sheldon will be an examination of the state’s reliance on psychiatric drugs for children in state care.

`CHEMICAL RESTRAINTS’

The issue has troubled the department since the early 2000s, when a Broward child advocate claimed the drugs were being used as ”chemical restraints” on unruly children.

Sheldon has asked administrators to begin reviewing the files of 2,200 children, or about seven percent of those in state care, to determine precisely which medications the children are being administered, he said. Gabriel, who was originally from Ohio, had been prescribed a handful of mind-altering drugs in his final months, DCF has said.

”I have serious concerns about a 7-year-old on the number of medications he was on,” Sheldon said. Because DCF acts as the parent for foster kids, Sheldon said, the agency must ensure that children are being administered only the medications they truly need.

”It is difficult for any of us to comprehend how a child so young could have deliberately and consciously made the decision to end his life,” Sheldon said. “But in order to help prevent this type of tragedy from happening again, it is critical we review all available information to determine the factors that led to Gabriel’s death.”

Overseeing the work will be Jim Sewell, a former deputy commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, who has been working with Sheldon in recent months. Sheldon said he expects the review to be thorough, and he hopes Sewell’s law enforcement background will help the team dig deeply into the boy’s troubled past.

Gabriel came into state care in June when his mother was found nearly unconscious in a car with the boy in a Denny’s parking lot. Inside the car were several prescription drugs, including Xanax. Reports said Candace Myers had dozed so deeply she did not notice that officers had taken the boy.

BOUNCED AROUND

In coming months, Gabriel lived with a maternal uncle, then moved to a foster home, and then to another home in Margate, and through it all his condition worsened. On April 16, he got into a squabble with the 19-year-old son of his foster father, announced his intention to kill himself, and then hanged himself from a detachable metal shower cord.

Sheldon said he also will ask the work group to study the state’s handling of children who have been the victims of sexual abuse, and who then go on to seek other victims. Records show Gabriel had been molested by an older boy in Ohio, and had begun to act out sexually among other children.

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