Miami Teen in Foster Care Broadcasts Suicide Live on Social Media

"She had serious mental health problems and yet, did they find her an appropriate therapeutic placement for her? The answer is no"

A 14-year-old girl who broadcast her suicide on Facebook never got the help she needed from Florida's foster care system, an attorney said Wednesday, even though she had exhibited dangerous and self-destructive behavior.

Nakia Venant was found unresponsive inside the home Sunday morning after starting a broadcast of the popular Facebook Live application, according to the Miami Herald.

Several hours before she started the livestream, Nakia wrote on Facebook: "I Don't Wanna Live No More," adding three sad-faced emojis. She is at least the third person nationally to livestream their suicide in the last month. 

Miami Gardens Police said a friend of Nakia's saw the Facebook Live and called 911. Officers from Miami Gardens and fire rescue crews responded and tried to save Nakia – who was found hanging from a shower while her foster parents were asleep around 2:30 a.m. Nakia was taken to Jackson Memorial Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

Nakia had been in and out of foster care for more than seven years, and since April, had bounced between at least 10 homes and shelters, said Howard Talenfeld, who is Nakia's mother's attorney. Nakia was sexually abused by another foster child when she was 7, he said.

"Nakia told the world, in the way she left this world, about the terrible failures in (Florida's) foster care system," Talenfeld told a news conference.

"What was the system supposed to do for her? She had serious mental health problems and yet, did they find her an appropriate therapeutic placement for her? The answer is no," Talenfeld said.

"I am sick and devastated by this tragedy, I had trusted Florida foster care people to take care of my baby, instead she kills herself on Facebook," mother Gina Alexis said at a news conference Wednesday.

The Florida Department of Children and Families said Wednesday that it legally cannot discuss the specifics of Nakia's history with the agency. 

"We are absolutely horrified and devastated by the news of this young girl's death,'' Mike Carroll, secretary of the Department of Children and Families, said in a statement to NBC 6. "We will do everything we can to support this family and all those who cared for her as they begin to heal from this tragedy. We will conduct a comprehensive, multidisciplinary special review to examine this child’s history and the circumstances related to serving the child."

Miami-Dade School Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said Nakia was a gifted student academically.

"Here's a child who is in foster care who should've benefited from all the protections that the state and the agencies tasked with protecting her, they should've been doing that, so I'm deeply concerned about what was done," Carvalho said.

There have been at least two other suicides livestreamed in recent weeks. On Dec. 30, a 12-year-old Georgia girl killed herself after saying she had been sexually abused by a relative. The Los Angeles Times reported that Frederick Bowdy, a 33-year-old aspiring actor, livestreamed his suicide Monday. He had recently been arrested for sexual assault.

Facebook issued a statement Wednesday saying it has tools on its site where people can report suicide threats or get help if they are having suicidal thoughts.

"We take our responsibility to keep people safe on Facebook very seriously and work with organizations around the world to provide assistance for people in distress," the company said.

Daniel J. Reidenberg, executive director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, said more suicidal people have been saved by Facebook, livestreaming and other social media than have killed themselves because of it -- those incidents just don't get attention.

"It gives (suicidal people) the opportunity to connect with somebody who cares about them, who says the right thing on a post or is watching and reaches out to them. Those opportunities don't exist without livestreaming," Reidenberg said.

However, Ryne Sherman, an associate professor of psychology at Florida Atlantic University, said livestreamed suicides have the potential to create something like suicide clusters and copycats.

"Social media takes this to a whole new level. This isn't a newspaper report — this has the potential to spread much quicker and to a broader audience," Sherman said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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