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‘The last three months wasn’t good,’ foster parent tells inquest into B.C. Cree teen’s death

Traevon Desjarlais. Global News

The inquest into the death of a 17-year-old Cree boy at an Abbotsford, B.C. group home has heard from one of the last people to see him alive.

Traevon Desjarlais was found hanging in the closet of his room at the home on Sept. 18, 2020.

Wednesday’s testimony focused on life at the home, which was one of 10 operated by Rees Family Services, via contract from the Fraser Valley Aboriginal Children and Family Services Society amd with funding from the provincial government.

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Brett Claxton, one of two foster parents who had direct contact with Desjarlais, said the teen appeared to have adapted quickly to his new life at the home after being placed there in June 2019.

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Desjarlais had been living briefly with his birth mother beforehand, but “he wasn’t getting along with his mom and a new sibling, and that was pretty much it,” Claxton said.

The arrival of the COVID-19, however, “really hit Traevon hard,” he added.

Desjarlais started eating less, skipping showers, closing curtains, locking doors and appearing paranoid, Claxton testified. The teen began refusing medication, and “towards the end he was off completely,” he said.

“The last three months wasn’t good,” Claxton added.

Click to play video: 'Mother testifies at inquest into son’s death while in Abbotsford group home'
Mother testifies at inquest into son’s death while in Abbotsford group home

Claxton described how Desjarlais found himself in a few altercations in June 2020, some involving police. He described two pepper spray incidents, one on a bus in Mission, and another in a parking lot near Abbotsford Middle School.

Finally, he said he was forced to call police to the group home when the teen started smashing his head against the wall in his room.

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“There was holes in the wall around his bedroom,” he said. “In my, going on 13 years, I have never called the cops on a youth. I’ve always managed to talk ’em down … This time, I just couldn’t do it.”

The last time Claxton saw Desjarlais was on Sept. 14, 2020.

Read more: Inquest begins into death of Cree teen found in closet of Abbotsford group home

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He said the teen had come upstairs to ask for some cheese, made a sandwich and said goodnight.

“He went his way, I went my way,” Claxton said, adding that another foster parent checked on Desjarlais that night.

The following morning, Claxton left for what he said was his first vacation in two years and only learned of the teen’s death upon his return.

Desjarlais was under a custody order, and had spent nearly a decade-and-a-half living with relatives after being taken from his birth mother as an infant.

He moved to the group home in 2019 when family was no longer able to meet his special needs.

The five-member coroner’s jury will hear evidence from witnesses under oath, but the inquest is not a fault-finding inquiry. A statement from the coroner said the jury will make recommendations on ways to prevent deaths in similar circumstances.

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If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911. 

The Canadian Association for Suicide PreventionDepression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 — all offer ways for getting help if you, or someone you know, is suffering from mental health issues.

For a directory of support services in your area, visit the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.

Learn more about how to help someone in crisis on the Government of Canada website.

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