Teen in government care believed to have frozen to death in Alberta

A provincial review has been promised after a 16-year-old Indigenous boy in government care was found outside last week — frozen to death, according to a local chief — near a small town in the foothills of the Rockies.

Children’s Services Minister Rebecca Schulz said in an emailed statement Friday that she is “incredibly disturbed” by the death, which follows the death or serious injury of 11 minors from April 2018 to March 2019 who were either in care or had recently left.

As a youth in care, the teen cannot be identified, even after death, but the chief of the Samson Cree First Nation said the teen was smart “beyond his years,” and known for his wonderful sense of humour.

“Everyone who had a hand in his upbringing, they’re just devastated. There’s no other word for it,” said Chief Vernon Saddleback.

“When we lose one of our kids, whether it’s your child or not, it’s painful.”

Family, friends and former caseworkers gathered Thursday at the First Nation south of Edmonton to mourn the teen, whose body was found in the Rocky Mountain House area by local RCMP in the early hours of Jan. 11.

Although police say the death isn’t believed to be suspicious, it’s unclear what happened between when the boy disappeared and when his body was found outdoors in the middle of a cold snap that plunged much of Alberta into dangerously cold temperatures.

A media spokesperson said Rocky Mountain House RCMP got a call about a missing youth “in the late evening” of Jan. 10. They sent out a patrol accompanied by police dogs that found the body shortly after midnight. That night temperatures in Rocky Mountain House hovered around the -20 C mark.

The youth is believed to have frozen to death, according to Saddleback.

The office of the Alberta Child and Youth Advocate will not comment on specific cases, but confirmed that they must conduct a mandatory review when a young person dies while in care.

Between April 2018 and March 2019, the office recorded 58 deaths of youth who were either in care, receiving services or had been doing so within the past two years. Another 11 were seriously injured.

Saddleback said at this point he’s looking at the boy’s death as a tragic accident, but something may be revealed in the review.

He said he hopes people remember the boy for how he lived, not just how he died.

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“To everyone who was involved in his life and taking care of and raising him, I just want to thank them for giving this boy a chance.”

“There was an intelligent man that died; he was more than just a child in care.”