Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections Death Was Suicide, Inside Sources Say

Staff at Adobe Mountain School in Phoenix are reporting that the death of a youth yesterday was a suicide.

And they wonder if the incident is tied to the "hush, hush" suicide earlier this month of a corrections officer from the same facility.

The boy was found in his cell at the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections' Adobe Mountain at 6:30 am May 25, according to Laura Dillingham, spokeswoman for the department.

She would not reveal any other details. Next of kin has not been contacted yet, she said, adding that an investigation is under way by the Department of Public Safety, the Maricopa County Attorney's Office and the Department of Juvenile Corrections.

Dillingham refused to respond to questions regarding whether the incident was possibly a suicide. Two current employees of Adobe Mountain and one former employee of ADJC have contacted New Times to say the boy likely took his own life.

According to the employees, one of whom works on the unit Crossroads, where the boy was living at the time, the boy was found with a plastic bag tied over his head and a blanket over that. He was reportedly dead for quite some time when the morning shift staff found him.

Dillingham said department policy calls for welfare checks every 15 minutes through the night, and said the checks were, in fact, done in this situation. She said the childrens' faces cannot be kept covered, raising questions about whether the checks were done correctly.

She also said that Adobe Mountain School is fully staffed. Employees strongly disagreed.

Until very recently, the employees said, the boy had been placed at Triumph, the mental-health unit at Adobe Mountain, where he'd been for at least a year. The Crossroads employee said the boy was moved to Crossroads -- Adobe's unit reserved for violent kids -- after he was involved in an assault.

The employee said it was well known that the boy had "suicidal ideations" and added that the boy reportedly told the school superintendent recently that he wanted to be moved from Crossroads and would "do something" if he was not. The employee said that Crossroads staff wasn't informed of that conversation until after the boy had died.

Within the last several days, a youth corrections officer at Adobe Mountain took his own life. Dillingham confirmed this but refused to release details. She said the staff and kids have been receiving counseling since the officer's suicide, but employees said the event has been kept "hush, hush" and there has been no counseling, though word has gotten out. They also say that ADJC director Michael Branham came to the facility and told them not to fly the flags at half-staff, saying the man did not die honorably.

It is unknown whether that suicide led to the possible suicide yesterday, but experts stress the importance of providing immediate counseling in such situations. ADJC's statements emphasize the counseling they are providing in the wake of yesterday's youth death. The statements do not mention the older man's death.

In 2002 and 2003, there were three suicides at Adobe Mountain School. The suicides, along with an investigative series by Phoenix New Times, led to a federal investigation into conditions at the agency's facilities, including Adobe Mountain. Last year, New Times published a story about continuing problems -- including mental health issues -- at ADJC.


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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at