Trending – Nothing adds up in state response to teen’s death

Gazette-Mail editorial / May 24, 2024

As time goes on, it’s getting less clear what West Virginia Child Protective Services, law enforcement and even the Governor’s Office knew about an emaciated child found dead last month in Boone County.

Police say the victim hadn’t had anything to eat for months, raising the question of how a child could potentially starve to death without anyone outside the home knowing or intervening.

Answers have been in short supply. CPS has cited child confidentiality as the reason for continued stonewalling, but it’s looking more and more like some are perhaps trying to cover their own hides.

The entire situation is another blow to public confidence in CPS. In October, two parents in Sissonville were arrested and charged with neglect after their adopted teens were found living in a locked shed. CPS had been informed about the situation in August. The CPS report, according to West Virginia Watch, included concern that the children were being used as slaves. But what was then the Department of Health and Human Resources couldn’t produce any records to show that CPS acted on the call.

Neighbors who called CPS about the situation told West Virginia Watch reporter Amelia Ferrel Knisely that the agency never followed up with them.

It’s well known that CPS in West Virginia is simply overwhelmed. Abuse and neglect cases in the state are through the roof, and there are about 6,100 children in the state’s foster care system. CPS doesn’t have the manpower to keep up, and the burnout rate for employees is high. Knisely reported that the agency is responding only to about half of the referrals received within the required time frame.

After a closed-door meeting with government officials and lawmakers Tuesday to discuss the situation, Persily declined to comment, while Authorities found 14-year-old Kyneddi Miller in a “skeletal” state in the bathroom of her house on April 18. Miller’s grandparents and mother were arrested and charged with neglect causing death and have pleaded not guilty.

Five days after Miller’s remains were found, Gov. Jim Justice told WSAZ reporter Curtis Johnson that CPS had “no idea whatsoever” about possible abuse or neglect before Miller’s body was found. Department of Human Services Secretary Cynthia Persily also said in an official statement, and in an interview with Johnson, that CPS had never been “involved” with Miller before her death.

But records from a whistleblower sent to WSAZ show that CPS was contacted at least twice about the girl, going back as far as 2009. News outlets reported that a third referral to the agency concerning Miller was made last year by the West Virginia State Police.

Needless to say, things aren’t adding up, here.

Earlier this month, Justice blamed administration attorneys for not giving him the correct information, which is typical scapegoating from the absentee governor.

Justice’s chief of staff, Brian Abraham, yelled at WSAZ anchor Sarah Sager that the news outlet was “banned” from the Capitol, adding “You’re not very good at your job.”

Abraham is free to critique the news media however he likes, but the press cannot be banned from the seat of West Virginia government, which is open to the public.

His childish rant and Persily’s followup statement attacking the press and the whistleblower for bringing crucial details to light dodge the heart of the matter — a girl is dead and it looks as if something could have been done to prevent it.

Put simply, an agency tasked with protecting the welfare of children cannot do its job, and the issue must be addressed. The Justice administration gave a pay bump to CPS workers recently, but it funded the raises by leaving massive vacancies at the agency unfilled. Legislative efforts to centralize CPS to better detect abuse and neglect cases have been defanged and defeated by leaders of the GOP supermajority.

When an agency as crucial to child welfare as CPS can’t properly function, tragedies are going to occur. The response to such incidents should be transparency and an earnest effort to fix the problem, instead of everyone scrambling and looking for someone else to blame.


Note: Also refer to https://wvmetronews.com/2024/05/24/justice-says-investigation-of-14-year-olds-death-needs-to-play-out/

First Person

Tiananmen Square, 1989

Marisa Lin

there are stars in their caps, soldiers
crouched as if the revolution
only walks at knee level. before them, a sea

of students: one adjusting his glasses, his face
turned towards some invisible turmoil,
this refusal that could bring everything

tomorrow or simply life. or simply
bullets slicing the Square, shouts
& fears running & running into bodies

that ripple
onto concrete
like children

napping under Beijing sun,
eyelids still as peace – still
as red pooling, as ink

resisting its meaning – resisting
the fist of a government crushing ambitions
into pennies

while a single protestor, white
shirt tucked in like my father
wears to church, stands

before a tank
the way one stands
before god:

where it moves, he moves.
where he stands, it stops.

man & machine dancing,
carrier bag swinging from his left
hand, the other one raised as if

he were hailing a cab, having just
purchased books for the semester, a pack
of calligraphy paper & an album

by John Denver, who my immigrant father
first heard in China in 1979, Denver’s twang
blaring across campus, in the halls, on the streets, ringing

through every child’s freedom dream –
so almost-heaven that my father,
upon hearing the news, eats

his oatmeal in silence, watches
the spoon’s craters disappear
into mush and the clouds

that float over Arizona
desert, how they divide light
from the road.

Copyright © 2024 by Marisa Lin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 16, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets.

To listen to an audio recording of this poem, go to https://poets.org/poem/tiananmen-square-1989

About this Poem

“This poem emerged from my desire to understand my family’s relationship with collective resistance. While rummaging through my parents’ basement two winters ago, I came across a photo of my father, an international graduate student at Arizona State University, marching in protest of the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. There he was, walking down the dusty pavement, just as ‘Tank Man’ stood on a multilane highway, just as John Denver sang to the country roads that would take him home. From Chinese, tian1an1men2 can be translated as ‘Gate of Heavenly Peace.’ Home, heaven, country, resistance: these are the dreams that bind us.”

– Marisa Lin

Note: Opinions expressed are solely those of the contributors unless noted otherwise. It is the policy of Chop Wood, Carry Water Enterprises LLC, and this newsletter https://chopwoodcarrywaterllc.com/, to include a broad array of thought and opinion.