Attorney: Florida never helped girl who livestreamed suicide

Gina Alexis, mother of 14-year-old Nakia Venant, who livestreamed her suicide on Facebook over the weekend, weeps as she answers a question during a news conference, Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017, shows a in Plantation, Fla. Nakia Venant's suicide is at least the third to be livestreamed nationally in the last month. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
Attorney Howard M. Talenfeld, right, talks to reporters as Gina Alexis, left, mother of 14-year-old Nakia Venant, who livestreamed her suicide on Facebook over the weekend, listens, during a news conference, Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017, in Plantation, Fla. Nakia Venant's suicide is at least the third to be livestreamed nationally in the last month. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
Attorney Howard M. Talenfeld, right, talks to reporters as Gina Alexis, left, mother of 14-year-old Nakia Venant, who livestreamed her suicide on Facebook over the weekend, weeps and Stacie J. Schmerling, left, looks on, during a news conference, Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017, in Plantation, Fla. Nakia Venant's suicide is at least the third to be livestreamed nationally in the last month. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
Gina Alexis, center, mother of 14-year-old Nakia Venant, who livestreamed her suicide on Facebook over the weekend, flanked by attorneys Stacie J. Schmerling, left, and Howard M. Talenfeld, right, weeps as she answers a question during a news conference, Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017, shows a in Plantation, Fla. Nakia Venant's suicide is at least the third to be livestreamed nationally in the last month. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

PLANTATION, Fla. — A 14-year-old girl who broadcast her suicide on Facebook never got the help she needed from Florida's foster care system, an attorney said Wednesday, even though she had exhibited dangerous and self-destructive behavior.

Nakia Venant had been in and out of foster care for more than seven years, and since April, had bounced between at least 10 homes and shelters, said Howard Talenfeld, who is Nakia's mother's attorney. Nakia was sexually abused by another foster child when she was 7, he said.

Nakia killed herself early Sunday, several hours after she wrote on Facebook: "I Don't Wanna Live No More," adding three sad-faced emojis. She is at least the third person nationally to livestream their suicide in the last month.

"Nakia told the world, in the way she left this world, about the terrible failures in (Florida's) foster care system," Talenfeld told a news conference.

The Florida Department of Children and Families said Wednesday that it legally cannot discuss the specifics of Nakia's history with the agency. Secretary Mike Carroll said in a statement that an investigation into her death is underway and will include experts on teen suicide and the influence of social media.

"This is an extraordinarily complex case that deserves our careful examination," Carroll said. "Our review will survey all of her interactions with the child welfare system and the multifaceted circumstances surrounding this tragedy."

Florida's system of hiring private contractors to oversee foster care in much of the state has led to several suicides, accidental deaths and murders, Talenfeld said. "Tragically, we are here talking about another child among this horrific list, this horrific history of foster care privatization in Florida."

Her mother, Gina Alexis, fell weeping onto the shoulder of Talenfeld's law partner.

"I asked the foster care people to take care of my baby and instead she killed herself on Facebook," Alexis cried before she was helped out of the room.

Nakia had been originally placed in foster care because of allegations of excessive corporal punishment by her mom. The attorney did not go into details, but said she had been in and out since then because of behavioral problems caused by the sexual abuse.

About five hours before her suicide, Nakia exchanged instant messages with a friend, according to The Miami Herald. Talenfeld said Nakia was at a Miami Gardens foster home where she was living with a couple and another foster child. A judge had ordered that she not be allowed access to the internet, Talenfeld said, but the couple was asleep.

"I Don't Wanna Live No More," Nakia wrote, followed by the sad emojis.

"wat happen?" her friend replied.

"Im Just Tired My Life Pointless I Don't Wanna Do This AnyMore," she wrote.

About midnight, she began livestreaming on Facebook. Her friends contacted her mother, who tried phoning the state and foster care agencies without success, Talenfeld said. Shortly after 3 a.m., she killed herself before police arrived.

There have been at least two other suicides livestreamed in recent weeks. On Dec. 30, a 12-year-old Georgia girl killed herself after saying she had been sexually abused by a relative. The Los Angeles Times reported that Frederick Bowdy, a 33-year-old aspiring actor, livestreamed his suicide Monday. He had recently been arrested for sexual assault.

Facebook issued a statement Wednesday saying it has tools on its site where people can report suicide threats or get help if they are having suicidal thoughts.

"We take our responsibility to keep people safe on Facebook very seriously and work with organizations around the world to provide assistance for people in distress," the company said.

Daniel J. Reidenberg, executive director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, said more suicidal people have been saved by Facebook, livestreaming and other social media than have killed themselves because of it -- those incidents just don't get attention.

"It gives (suicidal people) the opportunity to connect with somebody who cares about them, who says the right thing on a post or is watching and reaches out to them. Those opportunities don't exist without livestreaming," Reidenberg said.

However, Ryne Sherman, an associate professor of psychology at Florida Atlantic University, said livestreamed suicides have the potential to create something like suicide clusters and copycats.

"Social media takes this to a whole new level. This isn't a newspaper report — this has the potential to spread much quicker and to a broader audience," Sherman said.

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The National Suicide Prevention Hotline: (800) 273-8255

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Follow Terry Spencer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/terryspen

His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/author/terry-spencer

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