Editorials

Naika, 14, killed herself in front of an uncaring audience

Miami Herald Editorial Board

A troubled, 14-year-old girl killed herself in her foster parents’ home, while live-streaming the final moments of her life on Facebook for all to see.

How is any part of the above sentence OK?

Nothing about it is OK. But that’s how Naika Venant ended her short, unenviable life. She hanged herself with a scarf from a shower’s glass door frame at 3 a.m. Sunday in the home of her latest foster family in Miami Gardens. And hundreds of people watched, rapt or mocking or commenting with derision. What the vast majority of them didn’t do is try to help Naika.

Administrators with the Florida Department of Children & Families, which is ultimately responsible for children in state care, have issued only a brief statement.

“We are absolutely horrified and devastated by the news of this young girl’s death,” said DCF Secretary Mike Carroll. “We will conduct a comprehensive, multidisciplinary special review to examine this child’s history and the circumstances related to serving the child.”

The tragedy of troubled children and teens who die in foster care is not new. Florida has seen more than its share. What’s worse is that Naika will not be the last. The state is the parent of last resort, and when it gets things right, it can be an at-risk child’s savior. But when the state gets it wrong . . .

In 2011, Nubia Barahona, 10, was tortured and dipped in chemicals in the home of her adoptive parents before she was found, dead, inside a truck on the side of the road in Palm Beach. Rilya Wilson, 4, disappeared while in foster care years before. Her fate still a question mark.

In 2014, a Miami Herald investigation by reporters Carol Marbin Miller and Audra Burch found that 477 children had died in Florida, either in foster care or after they were taken from their parents’ homes then returned, only to end up dead. The investigative series led to major changes in DCF procedures.

Naika was older, depressed and unhappy. Text messages she sent before she died reveal her mindset: “Im Just Tired My Life Pointless I Don’t Wanna Do This AnyMore.”

As for the guilty parties in her death, take your pick:

Some blame Facebook. But the social media site was more like the house across the street that has raised the blinds on its windows, isn’t it? If you see something awful about to happen, you either take action or decline to get involved. DCF? Its oversight of kids in its care has been less than relentless. Naika was sexually assaulted in a foster home and was never the same.

Naika’s mom was deemed “excessively abusive,” which is why Naika was place in foster care. But things did not go any better for the girl. In addition to being raped, Naika went through at least 10 foster homes and shelters since April, according to lawyer Howard Talenfeld, who is representing the mother. He said she never got the psychological help she needed even though she exhibited dangerous behaviors that led her to kill herself.

Then there are Naika’s legions of co-conspirators: The hundreds of Facebook “friends” who watched video unfold, laughed, mocked her and did nothing to intervene; one true friend did call police.

Facebook says it takes down such disturbing videos, but they can’t do anything about the people who would watch something so graphic unfold as if they were watching a movie.

That’s a tragedy, too. That’s on us.

Editor’s note

This editorial relied on an Jan. 26 article by Carol Marbin Miller and Alex Harris that stated that a thousand people watched on Facebook Live for nearly an hour as Naika Venant, a 14-year-old foster child, live-streamed preparations to hang herself in the bathroom of a Miami Gardens home.

It has since been learned that the actual number is not clear. The original figure was based on the “views” logged on the site as reported by multiple people who watched the video before it was taken down by Facebook. One thousand views may mean 1,000 individuals or it may mean significantly fewer people, with some returning several times. Moreover, it is not clear that each “view” represented someone staying with the video to the point at which she took her own life.

Six people who said they viewed the video told the Herald that cruel comments were posted, with some posts suggesting the hanging was a hoax. The comments, like the video, are no longer viewable on Facebook Live.

  Comments