The Associated Press, January 8, 2000

Family doesn't believe juvenile committed suicide in center

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) -- Friends and relatives of a 17-year-old boy who died in his room at the Tuscaloosa Juvenile Detention Center said they don't believe he committed suicide and want to know why he wasn't under supervision.

Center officials and police would not release the name of the youth found dead in his room Thursday. But his aunt, Kathy Johnston, told The Tuscaloosa News her nephew's name was Christopher Michael Holmes of Tuscaloosa.

Family friend Christie Thigpen said Holmes was spending three months at the facility after he allegedly stole a go-cart.

"They're trying to say he hung himself down there," she said. "The family does not believe that. I do not believe that."

A Tuscaloosa County Juvenile Court statement said the boy's body was found about 3 p.m. Guards are on duty at all times at the center, and a guard is supposed to be in each room with the youths during waking hours, Center Administrator John Faile has said.

"They should have seen it happening," said Ms. Johnston. "That's what we don't understand. If they were doing their job, why can't they see him doing it and go in and do something about it?"

She said the boy was pronounced dead after being taken to a Birmingham hospital. "We haven't seen the body yet," she said.

Faile said facility officials are planning to meet with Tuscaloosa County homicide investigators on Monday.

"This is a really bad time right now," he said. "We hate it happened. We're concerned about the deceased child and his family. We're doing everything we possibly can to take care of the mental and physical health of these children."

He refused further comment on the case.

The Tuscaloosa facility is operated by Children's Comprehensive Services, Inc., a private company that contracts with the county. The facility is inspected and licensed by the state Department of Youth Services.

A DYS investigator went to the facility on Thursday to investigate, said DYS spokesman Allen Peaton. "The staff member was making sure there were no violations of licensure standards," he said.

Children's Comprehensive Services operates at least one other facility in Alabama, a juvenile sex offender program in Jefferson County. Peaton said he wasn't aware of any problems concerning the company in Alabama.

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