Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Utah sends Caleb Jensen to wilderness program in Colorado where initial reports indicate he died of medical neglect
Died: May 2, 2007, 15 years old
Program: Alternative Youth Adventures, Colorado
Cause of Death: Preliminary cause medical negligence
Caleb's last letter to his mother, just a week ago, read:
"I wish I could go back and be a good little boy, a nice little naive church boy who couldn't steal bubble gum without feeling bad about it. I want to wear Sponge Bob PJs and Teddy Bear slippers and cuddle with my Mommy. I used to think I was too hard of a gangster that nobody could break me, but they found my weakness and I want to go home. Tell Heather and Marie I miss them. I miss you and love you all so much. Please write back. I love you. PS - I want my Mommy." Love, you're baby boy, Caleb
* NOTE: CAICA President, Isabelle Zehnder, has read many letters from children to their parents and has seen a pattern where children appear to be completely broken, begging for "Mommy", pleading to come home. These are not normal letters written teenagers. These are letters written by teenagers who have been broken and who are desperate for help. Sadly, some not only never get the help they need, they have died in the process.
Mother: My son fought to live Last letter home before death at remote camp reveals 15-year-old's pain, hope
May 16, 2007
By Nancy Lofholm
"I want my mommy." Dawn Boyd said her son Caleb Jensen's letters said he was feeling better about his life but badly wanted to come home. (Special to The Post)In a last letter to his family from a wilderness camp for troubled youths, Caleb Jensen wrote about the difficulties of surviving in the wild and added a postscript: "I want my mommy."
Caleb's mother, Dawn Boyd of Salt Lake City, received the letter from her youngest child during the week before he died of an untreated staph infection. He was participating in a court-ordered wilderness therapy program through Alternative Youth Adventures near Montrose.
The program's license to operate was suspended after the 15-year-old died May 2.
Boyd said she believes camp staff ignored her son's assertions that he was sick and needed to go home. She also believes the Utah Division of Juvenile Justice Services, which placed her son in the rough and remote program, failed to take into account his frequent problems with staph infections.
"He should have been cared for. He should be alive today," a sobbing Boyd said during a telephone conversation from her home. "I know my baby told them. He always knew when he had a staph infection."
Boyd said her son's letters from camp recently said he was feeling better about his life but badly wanted to come home, "so he could get in his SpongeBob pajama pants and his big slippers and curl up with me and his sisters to watch TV."
Caleb described a different life in camp. He wrote he had to climb mountains every day until he was exhausted. He was able to wash only twice a week using tiny amounts of water. He had to clean his dishes after meals by licking them and then using dirt to scour them.
"That's not how he should have been treated - like a dog or a lizard," said his grandmother, Ella Reese of Troy, Idaho.
Caleb expressed some optimism along with the complaints. "Mom, I think I'm going to make it this time," he wrote in a letter.
Caleb died of a methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus infection. The bacterial infection traditionally is seen in hospitalized or very ill or elderly patients. Caleb's mother said he had been treated for numerous staph infections since he was a toddler and suffered a related skin problem called impetigo. He was treated for three infections while he was in other juvenile justice programs in Utah before being sent to the camp, she said.
"When I saw my son in the casket and looked at his little face, there was a sore on each side of his mouth under the makeup. ... I knew," she said.
Actions at camp defended
Carol Sisco, a spokeswoman for the Utah Department of Human Services that oversees the juvenile justice programs, said Caleb passed a physical before he was sent to the camp March 28. She said he had a physical in the field the week before he died and a session with a therapist the day before his death. No one reported that he was ill. His mother said he did not report being ill in his last letter.
Caleb's family has been unable to get much information about his death. Reese said they pieced together information that shows Caleb was sitting on his sleeping bag in the camp during a rest day on the day he died. Caleb, who had been exhibiting behavioral problems for several days before his death, told a counselor he didn't feel well and needed to go home. After the counselor moved on, Caleb slumped over.
Less than 10 minutes later when a counselor checked on him, he was dead, Reese said.
Bill Palatucci, a spokesman for Community Education Centers Inc., the Roseland, N.J.-based company that created the youth camp, said complaints from troubled youths are common.
"They hear a lot that youths want to go home. The staff is taught to sort through those and determine the genuine issues and the non," Palatucci said.
Palatucci would not reveal the amount of medical training the four camp counselors have. He said their training meets state licensing requirements.
Community Education Center is contesting the Colorado Department of Human Services suspension of its license to operate the camp. A hearing is expected to be scheduled within the next month. The other 26 participants in the camp have been moved to youth-detention facilities in Utah and Colorado.
Mother gets few answers
Boyd said she is working with an attorney to try to find out more about the death of a son who had been in and out of state custody "for anger issues" since she and her children moved to Salt Lake City in 2004.
She said a representative of Alternative Youth Adventures phoned her to say her son was dead more than five hours after his body was airlifted out of the remote camp. She received few details and no offers of help. A week later she received a two-paragraph letter of condolence.
It ended: "The memory of Caleb will inspire us to continue our good work on behalf of all the juveniles in our care."
Utah human services authorities gave Boyd $1,500 to help with transporting Caleb's body to Utah and with the cost of the funeral. She has not received her son's belongings.
Sisco, of Utah's Human Services agency, said officials there can't help Boyd without more facts. "The hard part is that we don't know all the answers yet. We don't know yet if there was staff negligence or if this was something that couldn't be caught," she said.
Staff writer Nancy Lofholm can be reached at 970-256-1957 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Utah teens back from wilds after boy's death
May 12, 2007
By Angie Welling
Three Utah teenagers who had been placed in the same youth wilderness program where a 15-year-old Salt Lake City boy died earlier this month have returned home.
Staff members from Utah Juvenile Justice Services, which had custody of all four boys, drove to southwest Colorado on Thursday to pick up the teens, agency director Dan Maldonado said. Two of the teens had recently completed the 60-day program for at-risk youths and were ready to come home, while the third will be placed in another program based on his needs.
On the orders of state officials, Caleb Jensen entered Alternative Youth Adventures in Montrose, Colo., on March 28. He died May 2 from what the Mesa County coroner has determined to be natural causes.
Concerns about whether Jensen suffered from an untreated staph infection, however, have led Colorado authorities to suspend the facility's license pending an investigation by the Montrose County Sheriff's Office.
Utah has a long history with Alternative Youth Adventures, contracting with the facility when it was located near Loa, Wayne County, and continuing the relationship when it moved to Colorado, said Carol Sisco, spokeswoman for the Utah Department of Human Services.
"We've had a very good track record with them," she said.
The state has placed 20 youths in the Alternative Youth Adventures program since July 1, 2006, according to Maldonado. The facility is the only wilderness therapy program with which Utah Juvenile Justice Services currently contracts, though that three-year contract was set to expire on June 31.
The agency typically has custody of about 1,300 youths under the age of 21 who have been referred to them by the juvenile court system. It places the children in a variety of programs, depending on an assessment of their individual needs.
"We have a wide array of programs, and most of them are much longer custody programs," Maldonado said. "Something like a wilderness program is indicated for someone whose offense profile suggests that we might be able to have a shorter-term custody arrangement."
In this case, staff members advised that Jensen be placed in the wilderness program and a juvenile court judge accepted the recommendation. The teen was placed with eight other at-risk youths for a two-month "outing" with four AYA staff members to take part in character-building exercises intended to build their self-esteem and communication skills, said Bill Palatucci, senior vice president of Community Education Centers Inc., which operates Alternative Youth Adventures.
"This is a well-known, well-regarded program and so this incident is really out of character and unprecedented for AYA Colorado," Palatucci said. "That makes it all the more difficult to explain."
Jensen passed a physical exam the day he arrived at the facility, as well as a checkup the week before his death. He also visited with a counselor the day before he died in the base camp, Sisco said.
Staff members are trained to identify medical conditions in the youths, according to Palatucci, and medical assistance is always available.
"They're very used to adolescents with behavioral problems, but also with claims of medical conditions," he said. "They have to know how to recognize symptoms and problems and the track record has been that they've been able to do that very well.
"Our contention is that this medical condition was just something that was not easily detectable."
Maldonado is in daily contact with Colorado authorities and is awaiting the outcome of the investigation there before taking any action in Utah.
"The nature and depth of our review will be contingent on the results of the investigation that comes out of the county sheriff's office," he said. "At this point, what we are waiting for are some answers from Colorado about their judgment about staff error or negligence."
The director has also been in contact with Jensen's family, who are understandably struggling with the young man's death.
"They are not doing very well at all. My staff tell me that mom is having a very difficult time with this," he said. "There are people in our staff that are having a hard time and there are people in Colorado having a hard time, too."
Son died in wilderness program
A mother seeks answers She says authorities in Utah and Colorado remain vague on what happened to boy
May 12, 2007
By Nate Carlisle
Caleb Jensen was not an innocent teenager, his mother admits, but he was supposed to get better.
A wilderness camp in Colorado was supposed to improve the 15-year-old's behavior and make him more respectful, said Dawn Boyd, Jensen's mother. That's why a Utah court sent him there.
Now Boyd wants something else out of the camp: answers as to how her son died.
"What's important to me is other mothers don't ever have to go through this again," Boyd said, "because this is the most horrible thing a mother can ever go through, losing a baby they think is going to get better."
Colorado authorities say Jensen died from a staphylococcus infection. Personnel at the camp, Alternative Young Adventures, observed signs of the infection, according to a state agency, but neglected to properly care for it.
The state of Colorado suspended the company's license this week.
Boyd suggested the state of Utah bears some responsibility, too. Speaking from her Salt Lake City apartment, Boyd said Jensen had been susceptible to infections, particularly on his face, ever since he was a toddler and contracted impetigo, a common skin infection in young children.
The state of Utah had Jensen's medical history, Boyd said, before it sent him to the camp. "He would get [an infection on his face] one day and the next day his face would just be swollen huge," Boyd said.
Boyd described her son as being somewhat different than the average teenager. He could have a bad attitude, the mother said, two or three times worse than other kids.
But the Bryant Middle School student also was smart, Boyd said. He was a writer, composing something between poetry and rap lyrics.
He was funny, too. "Maybe he could have been a comedian," Boyd said. "Maybe he could have been a lawyer. He could have been anything. He was so smart."
Boyd declined to give specifics of what her son did to get in trouble with the law, but said it was not violent, nor an egregious crime. "He was one of those kids that wanted to fit in with everyone," Boyd said, "and he got in with a group of kids and they dared him to steal something and he got caught."
A juvenile court issued a sentence, Boyd said, but Jensen did not follow the terms. The court then sent Jensen to the Youth Adventures camp near Montrose, Colo. Boyd said the court informed her of what was happening to her son but did not give her a choice in the matter.
Jensen arrived at the camp on March 28. He wrote once a week to his mother or two sisters. "He just mainly spoke of how they hiked up big mountains, and how tired he was from hiking everyday," Boyd said. "He was so tired and he just explained to us that he was optimistic to get out of the program and do what he needed to do to come home and get back right with his family," she added.
Then on May 2, Boyd received a telephone call from someone at Youth Adventures. A man on the other end told her Jensen had been placed on a helicopter to be flown to a hospital and he died.
Boyd said she asked the man what he was talking about. Then she realized what he was saying. "It was all blurry," Boyd said in an interview. "I lost it.
I handed the phone to my fiance." Her fiance, Boyd said, learned from the man Jensen had been on a "down day," where the kids take a break from hiking to attend lectures and counseling sessions.
Jensen was sitting on his sleeping bag speaking to a staff member, the man said. Five or 10 minutes later, Boyd said the man told her fiance, someone called out to Jensen and he didn't answer. At some point, the boy slumped over.
The family does not know where her son was pronounced dead. Boyd said she did not receive any information from the coroner investigating her son's death until she hired an attorney.
Then, Boyd said, she had to make the arrangements to bring her son's body to Salt Lake City.
At some point she received $1,500 in checks, but in her confusion she didn't note whether they came from the state or from Youth Associates.
Boyd said she saw her son's body for the first since he left Utah on Tuesday, the day before his funeral. He had sores on the outside of his mouth, Boyd said. "It wasn't even until the day before my son's funeral that I was overnighted a letter from [Youth Associates] with an apology," Boyd said.
Boyd declined on Friday to say who she holds responsible for her son's death. Instead, she just talked about the answers she's seeking. "I don't know any of the details [of Jensen's death]," Boyd said. "I'd like to know what my son's last words were."
Utah teen's wilderness camp death may have been due to staph infection
May 10, 2007
By Christopher Smart
A 15-year-old Salt Lake City boy may have died from a severe staph infection while enrolled in a youth wilderness program near Montrose in southwest Colorado.
Colorado authorities continue to investigate the May 2 death of Caleb Jensen in a rugged, mountainous area while at an Alternative Youth Adventures camp.
Autopsy results may not be available for another week or more, said Scott Wagner, chief investigator for the Montrose County District Attorney's Office. But a spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Human Services said the youth "showed observable signs of staphylococcus infection that were neglected."
"We suspended their license yesterday," said Liz McDonough of the outdoor program. "That obviously is very serious, and we took what we believe is appropriate action."
A spokesman at the Roseland, N.J., headquarters for Alternative Youth Adventures said the program's staff had acted appropriately. "We are at a loss to explain this at this point," said William Palatucci. "We are cooperating fully with the investigation. We know this is a good program. We've never had any fatalities."
Preliminary indication from Mesa County Coroner's Office is that he died of "natural causes," Wagner said, meaning his death was not homicide, suicide or due to accident.
"That leaves it pretty wide open," Wagner said. "The cause of death has not been determined."
The youth died near the Montrose County/Mesa County line. Mesa County authorities were first to respond. It was later determined that Jensen died in Montrose County.
Jensen's death is being investigated by the Montrose County Sheriff's Office. But Undersheriff Kevin Walters referred inquiries to the DA's Office. The investigation is standard procedure, Wagner said. No "request for prosecution" has been made, he said Thursday.
Utah authorities enrolled Jensen in the two-month Alternative Youth Adventures program, according to Carol Sisco, spokeswoman for Utah Juvenile Justice Services. "He had gone through the courts in Utah and was ordered into our custody," she said. "We placed him in the Colorado program."
Jensen passed a physical exam when he entered the program on March 28, Sisco said. "This is a program we've used in the past," she said. "And as far as I know, this is the first fatality. According to the Web site for Alternative Youth Adventures, the program "provides a healthy, protective environment within which troubled youth will have the opportunity to achieve.
Utah teen's death has wilderness therapy program under scrutiny
May 11, 2007
By Christopher Smart
A 15-year-old Salt Lake City boy who was ordered by Utah officials into a wilderness therapy program, where he died last week in southwest Colorado, may have been killed by a severe and untreated staph infection.
Colorado authorities continue to investigate the May 2 death of Caleb Jensen in a rugged, mountainous area near Montrose while participating since March 28 in a course for troubled youth. Autopsy results may not be available for another week or more, said Scott Wagner, chief investigator for the Montrose County District Attorney's Office.
But a spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Human Services said the young man "showed observable signs of staphylococcus infection that were neglected."
"We suspended their license yesterday," Liz McDonough of Alternative Youth Adventures said Thursday. "That obviously is very serious. And we took what we believe is appropriate action."
Utah authorities enrolled Jensen in the two-month Alternative Youth Adventures program, said Carol Sisco, spokeswoman for Utah Juvenile Justice Services.
"He had gone through the courts in Utah and was ordered into our custody," she said. "We placed him in the Colorado program."
Some wilderness-based teen-therapy programs have come under scrutiny in Utah during the past several years as a result of a handful of deaths and other incidents. State laws now require stricter licensing guidelines for such Utah-based operations.
A spokesman at the Roseland, N.J., headquarters for Alternative Youth Adventures said the program's guides and counselors had acted appropriately.
"We are at a loss to explain this at this point," said William Palatucci. "We are cooperating fully with the investigation."
Alternative Youth Adventures has been in operation in Colorado since 2000.
"We know this is a good program," Palatucci said. "We've never had any fatalities."
Preliminary indication from the Mesa County Coroner's Office is that Jensen died of "natural causes," Wagner, the D.A.'s investigator, said - meaning his death was not homicide, suicide or caused by an accident.
"That leaves it pretty wide open," he said. "The cause of death has not been determined."
The youth died near the Montrose County/Mesa County line. Mesa County authorities were first to respond. It was later determined that Jensen died in Montrose County.
Jensen's death is being investigated by the Montrose County Sheriff's Office. But Undersheriff Kevin Walters referred inquiries to the district attorney's office.
The investigation is standard procedure, Wagner said. No "request for prosecution" has been made at this time, he said Thursday.
Jensen passed a physical exam when he entered the course on March 28, said Utah Juvenile Justice Services spokeswoman Sisco.
"This is a program we've used in the past," she said. "And as far as I know, this is the first fatality.
According to its Web site, Alternative Youth Adventures "provides a healthy, protective environment within which troubled youth will have the opportunity to achieve their full potential through the use of treatment and education services that focus on positive change."