close
close

West Virginia officials discuss handling of teen’s death in Boone County | News, sports, jobs


photo by: Steven Allen Adams

DoHS Cabinet Secretary Cynthia Persily, state Superintendent of Schools Michele Blatt and West Virginia State Police Chief of Staff Maj. James Mitchell answer questions about the state’s involvement with a Boone County girl who later died of malnutrition.

CHARLESTON — Officials representing child welfare, education and law enforcement in West Virginia have answered questions from the press about the state’s involvement — or lack thereof — in a 14-year-old girl who died in April.

Brian Abraham, chief of staff to Gov. Jim Justice, moderated an in-person news conference Thursday afternoon in the governor’s reception room regarding the death of Kyneddi Miller, 14, of Boone County. Sheriff’s deputies found Miller dead in April in what they called a “skeletal state.”

Miller’s mother and grandparents have been charged with child abuse resulting in death.

The state Department of Human Services, which oversees child protective services, declined to provide information to the press about prior contact between CPS, Miller or her family.

In an April 22 news release, DoHS cited State Code stating that all records of a child maintained by DoHS are confidential.

However, that same code section allows for the public release of information about child deaths and near-fatalities, as long as the identities of people reporting or filing complaints about child abuse or neglect are not released. DoHS believes it is complying with this law by providing an annual critical incident report.

Since April, multiple media outlets in the state have filed Freedom of Information Act requests with state and local agencies, asking Justice Department about the case during virtual briefings and public appearances.

It has since been learned that Miller’s name had appeared in two previous CPS cases involving her family, in 2009 and 2017. Miller attended virtual school during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and withdrew from public school in 2021 . required follow-up by Boone County Schools. And West Virginia State Police conducted a welfare check on Miller in the spring of 2023, with a trooper stating in audio recordings that he was making a CPS referral and GPS data showing that he went directly to the DoHS regional office to make the referral personal. .

Abraham said the governor’s office in April began an internal investigation into how state agencies handled the Miller case.

“As we gathered the information, the governor asked us again to talk to all agency representatives about what, if anything, had happened that could have prevented the situation, whether anything had happened to cause the situation, and whether there were things we could do. have done or could do differently to prevent something like this from happening in the future,” Abraham said.

That investigation found that the officer, who is now retired, did not follow proper procedures in place since 2015 to use the DoHS child abuse and neglect telephone number, 1-800-352-6531. Abraham said all new troopers since 2015 are now trained in how to use the hotline, with calls from law enforcement being prioritized.

Abraham said one of the two soldiers – one of whom he personally interviewed – traveled to the regional CPS office. According to Abraham, state police found Miller healthy and not malnourished, and did not find abuse of neglect without the intent to make a CPS referral, despite what was said on the radio recordings. Informal contact occurred between the troopers and CPS employees, where they told the employees that Miller said she was afraid of COVID.

Although one of the troopers, who has not been named, was able to name the CPS employees he spoke to, the CPS employees could not recall meeting with the troopers, although they also could not say that such a meeting did not occur took place.

“There was informal contact with the treatment providers… they passed the information on to those treatment providers without the intention of making any kind of formal referral or allegation of abuse and neglect,” Abraham said. “In reality, (the officer) indicated that the girl indicated to him that she was afraid of COVID and didn’t want to be around people because she was afraid of COVID.

“The office thought it was strange that someone that age had such a belief and wanted to go to the department and at least let them know about it and see if someone would call her and talk to her about it,” continued Abraham. . “DoHS did not consider it a formal referral because there were no allegations of abuse and neglect. After that day, nothing further was done.”

Abraham said based on their investigation, there was no misconduct by the troopers or CPS employees. Although CPS has previously contacted Miller’s family in 2009 and 2017, neither contact involved Miller herself, although her name was included in those two files.

DoHS Cabinet Secretary Cynthia Persily encouraged the public and directed reporters – those legally required to immediately report suspected child abuse and neglect – to use the DoHS Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline. Anyone who comes into a DoHS office to report abuse and neglect in person will also be referred to the hotline or given a room and a phone to call the hotline. Those reporting immediate emergencies are encouraged to call 911.

Persily also said DoHS has contracted with a company to create a new response system to refer calls that may not reach the level of abuse and negligence to refer those callers to other DoHS services.

“If the referral meets the criteria set out in the law for abuse and neglect, an investigation will take place as we are currently doing,” Persily said. “If it clearly does not meet the criteria, it is screened. But there is a middle ground, and I will tell you that it is mainly related to poverty. We don’t equate poverty with abuse and neglect, but there is a middle ground. What we will be doing is referring these cases to additional support in our system.”

State Superintendent of Schools Michele Blatt said he plans to work with the West Virginia Legislature to tighten reporting requirements when it comes to homeschooling families. Homeschool students must undergo an assessment every three years.

If a homeschooled student does not complete the assessment, the school system may consider the student truant and take further legal action. But many counties do not meet these requirements, including Boone County Schools.

“There was a period of more than three years where no one in the school system had a chance to see her or demand anything from her,” Blatt said. “The West Virginia Department of Education would like to work with the Legislature to really see how we can strengthen the guardrails around homeschool reporting requirements.

“We know we have a lot of homeschooling parents who are doing things the right way and taking care of their kids, and it’s the best choice for those families. I think our 7,000 children in the foster system are proof that not all parents do what they do. is what is best for their children,” Blatt continued.

As for when and how much information state officials should make public about a child’s death, Abraham said the state wants to improve the way it releases information in the future, while also making sure confidentiality is protected.

“I think this was lost on us, honestly, because of the general denial that this search started with that we were hiding anything,” Abraham said. “Jim Justice wants us to be 100% transparent.”

Thursday’s briefing almost didn’t happen after attorneys for Miller’s mother, Julie Miller, tried to get a circuit judge to stop the news conference during a hearing Wednesday. The attorneys alleged that a CPS investigator attempted to interview Julie Miller without arranging to do so with her attorneys.

Abraham said the CPS investigator was sent by the local CPS office without the knowledge of DoHS or the governor’s office. The investigator attempted to complete a CPS investigation into Kyneddi Miller’s death, but Abraham called the local CPS’ action “stupid.”

“I can’t find the words to explain how incredibly stupid it was for that employee to go to that facility and try to interview that person, given what we’re doing here today and given the fact that they’re in the office of the had been governor if recently, like last Friday, interviewed about this,” Abraham said. “Someone should have raised their hand and asked someone higher up in the department, ‘Do you think this is a good idea to do this?’ That has not been done… that has been done at the district office level.”



Today’s latest news and more in your inbox





Back To Top