Child welfare agency suspected First Nations girls were planning suicides - APTN NewsAPTN News

Child welfare agency suspected First Nations girls were planning suicides

(Jolynn Winter, left and Kanina Sue Turtle in a photo taken from a live Facebook video posted on Turtle’s account Oct. 27, 2016.)

Kenneth Jackson
When Kanina Sue Turtle last visited her First Nation she told her mother she had met someone in Sioux Lookout.

It was a girl and they were close.

Both girls were living in foster care homes in the Sioux under the protection of Tikinagan Child and Family Services.

Eleven days later Turtle, 15, killed herself on Oct. 29, 2016.

“Tikinagan told me she was in a suicide pact but I didn’t believe it,” said Barbara Suggashie, Turtle’s mother.

Suggashie said she was told about the so-called pact days after her daughter died around the time she had just buried her on Poplar Hill First Nation near the Ontario/Manitoba border.

“Why didn’t they tell me when she was alive?” Suggashie said, in tears over the phone with APTN News.

That’s a question Suggashie wants answered, one of many she still has, but Tikinagan won’t say and has refused to answer any of APTN’s questions citing respect for the family’s privacy.

APTN has been investigating Turtle’s death for several weeks and recently reported she filmed her death inside a foster home owned, and operated, by Tikinagan, an Indigenous child welfare agency.

The video shows she was left alone for about 45 minutes before a worker abruptly enters the room to find her lifeless body. It’s also been reported she filmed an attempted suicide the day before and had been in the hospital at least twice, for self-harming, in the nine days prior to her death.

APTN can now report Turtle was walking around with bruising on her neck in the days leading up to her death. A video on her Facebook posted Oct. 27, 2016, that was recorded live, shows the bruised outline of a noose across her neck.

That suggests she attempted to kill herself at least one more time than previously known – two suicide attempts, two hospital visits within nine days of her death.

But in the video is another girl, the one Turtle had told her mother about.

Her name was Jolynn Winter, 12.

Winter’s death made headlines just over a year ago following her suicide on Jan. 8, 2017 in Wapekeka First Nation. Two days later her cousin, Chantel Fox, 12, also killed herself on Wapekeka.

Leadership would complain that Health Canada had denied suicide prevention funding in the summer of 2016 after they learned of a suicide pact of young girls in the community.

But a few months before Winter died by suicide in Wapekeka she was living in Sioux Lookout.

Her and Turtle shared their affection for each other on Facebook; apparently finding comfort and love in a child welfare system away from family and their land.

Winter’s grandmother told APTN that days after Turtle died Winter was hospitalized for an attempted suicide.

“Tikinagan told us they were close,” said Georgina Winter, but said she doesn’t recall being told they were in a suicide pact.

After Turtle’s death she was sent to live in Wapekeka with her father.

But before that, and prior to Turtle’s death, Winter tried to kill herself in a video obtained by APTN dated Oct. 24, 2016 where she attempts to hang herself in an unidentified room.

At first she has a slight smile and is holding a device.

The device then drops and she screams she can’t breathe.

She wasn’t alone.

Another girl in the room yells for help and the video ends. APTN has examined the video many times but hasn’t been able to confirm the identity of the child that appears to be a young First Nations girl.

However, the video was later found on Turtle’s iPod, along with videos of her own suicide and attempt on Oct. 28, 2016.

Amy Jane Owen

Amy Owen, 13, was removed from her home and community for the second, and what would be the last, time on Oct. 25, 2016.

She was also from Poplar Hill and childhood neighbours of Turtle.

She killed herself April 17, 2017 in an Ottawa group home, more than 2,000 kilometres from home.

APTN previously obtained Owen’s autopsy and coroner’s death investigation reports from her family that detail how she died.

Before ending up in Ottawa she was first sent to Beacon Home, a group home in Prescott, Ont.

It’s about an hour’s drive south of Ottawa.

Tikinagan believed she was in a possible suicide pact according to the former owner of Beacon Home, that voluntarily closed earlier this year.

“They said there were some girls that had made a pact,” said Esther Aiken. “But they downplayed it.”

A day after she arrived Owen severely self-harmed and was admitted to the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) for “suicidal ideation, and suicidal gestures” on Oct. 26, 2016.

She was released five days later on Nov. 1, 2016 and learned of Turtle’s death.

Aiken said she harmed herself again and was back at CHEO on Nov. 6 for a two-day stay, according to her coroner’s report.

“She didn’t use the word ‘pact.’ I don’t think that would have even been part of her vocabulary. She described it. She would say, ‘We agreed to. We promised each other,'” said Aiken.

Owen also never gave any names but said they were “friends.”

Aiken said her main focus was keeping the little girl alive.

“She fought hard to be alone, with the intention of killing herself,” said Aiken.

Amy Owen. Facebook photo.

She said Owen felt guilty she was still alive after she learned Turtle had passed.

She was back at CHEO on Dec. 28 until Jan. 6, 2017 for suicidal ideation assessment.

When she was released and returned to Prescott she tried to run to the railway tracks across the road, a common incident over the several months she was there.

“She started escalating late that night and it got worse. She was running to the tracks. Several staff attempted to restrain her, one was injured, and the police were called to assist,” said Aiken.

Because of the alleged assault on staff Owen was taken to a staff member’s home until she could be transferred to Ottawa.

She was moved to the Ottawa group home early in the morning of Jan. 8, 2017.

Winter was found dead later that day according to her grandmother.

But Owen already knew according to Jessica Leroux, who worked at Beacon Home.

“I was lecturing her about getting her life together and promising her I would find a way to see her again and she began screaming and crying about how she should die,” said Leroux. “That’s when she told me Jolynn killed herself.”

Leroux believes it was around 6 a.m. when Owen told her.

“Because we were leaving the staff’s house to take her to Mary Homes by 7:30 a.m. and had dealt with it and had her sort of calm by then,” she said.

“She cried herself to sleep in the car ride to Ottawa.”

It is believed Owen found out Winter was dead when she got to use an iPad before leaving for Ottawa.

“She maybe had a message? She didn’t tell me,” said Leroux. “Or maybe it was a predetermined date.”

Leroux said she was also aware that Tikinagan suspected Owen was in a so-called suicide pact when they moved her.

Aiken said the day Winter died someone from Tikinagan’s head office called Beacon Home and said to put Owen under 24-hour supervision but she was already in Ottawa.

It was one of several in the city owned, and operated, by Mary Homes, but this one in particular specialized in high-risk children.

Owen’s visits to the hospital for self-harming continued in Ottawa as she would cut her arms and legs, according to the coroner’s report. APTN has also previously reported she tried to die by running into traffic on busy four-lane street.

This is taken directly from her coroner’s report: “Amy Jane Owen had presented to the CHEO ED on April 1st 2017, after group home workers became aware of multiple self-inflected cuts to her forearms. Amy Jane reported having increased suicidal ideation at that time, and alleged that she was planning to hang herself in her room. She disclosed that she had tried to hang herself with a rope in her room “a couple of weeks ago”, and that her best friend had recently suicided by hanging.”

She also said that she had gone to a “crack house” with a friend on March 29, had smoked “pot”, and had woken up the following morning thinking she was sexually assaulted, according to the report.

By this time she was no longer in the high-risk home and Mary Homes said it was having difficulty hiring someone to be with her around the clock, known as one-to-one supervision.

After several more trips to the hospital Amy was left alone in her in private room on April 17.

An hour later she was found lifeless.

The coroner called for a quality care review at CHEO and any recommendations will be added to Owen’s death investigation. The Ottawa Citizen reported Monday review is still ongoing.

Mary Homes surrendered its license for the home Owen was in after her death.

For the first time, APTN will provide some details of her death and Turtle’s as they have similarities.

Both and Turtle and Owen hanged themselves with a black shoelace and in a way that requires one to use their body weight.

It’s not known if Owen filmed her death because her parents say they can’t access her iPod without the passcode.

All three girls also have two other things in common: they were all friends on Facebook and put in child protective services by Tikinagan.

APTN asked Tikinagan about the information in this story on Mar. 12. There has been no response. The agency didn’t offer any explanation, even in generalities of their service or care.

All of this has left Turtle’s mother to think one thing.

“I think they are hiding something,” she said.

APTN also reported recently the chief coroner of Ontario is investigating the deaths of Owen and Turtle as part of an expert panel review into the deaths of children in residential care.

“Kanina, take my hand.”

In the video of Turtle’s death the Tikinagan worker abruptly comes in the room to check on her. She asks Turtle to take her hand, but its far too late. While on the phone with 911 she checks her pulse.

“She looks dead, fuck,” the woman says as she checks for a pulse. “She’s gone.”

A baby can be heard crying in another room. The home is known as an agency operated home (AOH) that hires someone to be a so-called “live-in parent.”

It’s believed it was just Turtle and the child living at the home then, as a second teenaged girl had been transferred from the home that afternoon. In fact, the girl says she last saw Turtle at 1:40 p.m.

“I was living with her at the time,” the 15-year-old girl told APTN but can’t be named because she’s still in protective services.

“The next day I heard about her passing.”

The AOH home is supposed to be a short-term stay until a permanent placing can be found for the child and for this girl a new home had been found. But not for Turtle who wrote in diary and on Facebook she just wanted to go home.

The 15-year-old said she was there just a couple days before moving along.

“I saw marks on her neck when I showed up at the AOH home. They looked fresh,” she said. “Like fresh.”

She had known Turtle from other placements they lived in together.

She said Turtle confided in her about Winter. She said Tikinagan had separated them.

“Kanina was very upset. She told me they were not to see each other,” she said.

She said Turtle didn’t say anything about suicide.

The girl believed Turtle wasn’t supposed to leave the home.

“She wasn’t allowed out. She told me,” said the girl.

Kanina Turtle, in the small screen, with Jolynn on Facetime on Oct. 27, 2016.

Still, a day before Turtle died a live Facebook video posted to Turtle’s account shows them both in Tim Horton’s around the corner from the AOH home.

“We had no worker with us at the time at Tim Hortons,” she said.

She said she could only recall there being one person working in the home.

“There was only one staff,” she said.

The ministry of Children and Youth Services has not said any action was taken against Tikinagan for Turtle’s death.

Turtle didn’t say a word in her suicide video but she did in her attempt the day before that lasts about a minute.

She is holding her iPod in her left hand with a shoelace tied to a birch tree.

“I don’t know what to do anymore. I’m sorry for what, umm,” Turtle says worriedly looking over her shoulder, “I’m going to do.”

She then covers her mouth with her right hand to keep quiet. To muffle the pain.

As if she knew someone was looking for her and only had a few minutes.

The video then ends.

The next day she had more time – 45 minutes – alone.

Then at least two more of her friends would follow.

The Canada Suicide Prevention Service enables callers anywhere in Canada to access crisis support using the technology of their choice (phone, text or chat), in French or English:

Phone: toll-free 1-833-456-4566
Text: 45645

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5 Responses to “Child welfare agency suspected First Nations girls were planning suicides”

    DEE March 22, 2018 at 7:41 pm #

    I have no mother, no father, I am not a son or a daughter, I am not alive or dead, born or unborn. I sit in the present moment and watch the movements without identity. There are weights on my chest, on my feet, but I am not those weights or constrictions, or strictures. My heart turns inward, and though my body walks through life a material substrate like a zombie, I know I am free. You can not define me as I am one with the infinite.

    Zyon March 21, 2018 at 3:32 am #

    It sucks being a foster child, I want help I wanna get out of here…

    Josie March 20, 2018 at 9:04 pm #

    This is oh so sad. My understanding is that the group home in Prescott is now closed due to no funding from the gov’t. These are our children, they needed the help and didn’t get the proper help. Y heart goes out to the Mother’s and Fathers of these girls.
    Seeing where the nation’s are located, I can understand the boredom and not enough help there for the a matter of fact, not enough help for anyone there. God Bless the families and friends of these children. Our governments need to open their eyes and see how this has affected the rest of the children and their families and something must be done.

    sandy March 20, 2018 at 2:22 am #

    This is so sad. My heart breaks for these girls and their families. I remember living in group homes and being shuffled around like those girls. I know what they’re feeling to be yanked from home, put somewhere nobody cares about you, it’s strange, it’s not normal. By rights, I should have died decades ago but was or am a coward. Not like I don’t think of it daily. But I hope. There has to be some sort of resolution to help our indigenous peoples survive this world we strive to live in. The government helps newcomers time and time again and just watch the indgenious peoples die.

      Lisa March 20, 2018 at 1:39 pm #

      I was thinking of it this morning and then googled “do you ever feel like killing yourself” I found website it had some really good ideas to help you through it and what to do once you are