Trooper spoke informally with human services about concern for girl who later died

Responding to alarm about the state’s role in safeguarding the welfare of a 14-year-old girl who died earlier this year “emaciated to a skeletal state,” state government officials this week confirmed that State Police troopers checked on the girl more than a year ago in response to questions about why she so rarely appeared in public.

Brian Abraham, chief of staff for the governor, concluded the troopers then drove to a local human services office and informally passed along their own concern that the girl, Kyneddi Miller, seemed unusually worried about being exposed to the infectious disease COVID-19.

Abraham said that conversation between the troopers and human services representatives was not formal. He provided that explanation during a press conference today about whether state agencies could have done more to intervene on behalf of the girl’s welfare prior to her death.

“There was informal contact with the caseworkers. They relayed the information to those caseworkers, not intending to make any sort of formal referral of any accusation of abuse and neglect,” Abraham said.

“In actuality, they indicate that the girl made an indication to him, the trooper, that she was fearful of COVID and that she did not want to be around people because she was fearful of COVID. The officer believed that was odd for a person of that age to have such a belief and he wanted to go the department and at least make them aware of it and see if somebody would call and talk to her about it.”

Abraham led the press conference at the state Capitol along with State Police Chief of Staff James Mitchell, Department of Human Services Secretary Cynthia Persily and state schools Superintendent Michele Blatt after weeks of swirling questions about whether state agencies provided oversight that could have saved the girl’s life.

Gov. Jim Justice, who did not appear at the press conference, has described an ongoing internal investigation — aside from a criminal investigation — and has urged the public to let it play out. Today’s hour and a half of responses to questions was the culmination of that work. No written report was produced.

Miller was found dead on the bathroom floor of her Boone County home in April. Her mother and grandparents have been charged with felony child neglect causing death.

According to investigators, the teen had not attended school since late 2019 or 2020 and hadn’t been outside the house more than a couple of times in the last four years.

The girl’s family submitted homeschooling documentation in February 2021, and any school system contact after that is in doubt. In response to recent requests for homeschooling assessments, the Boone County school system has responded to reporters that “no public records exist.” The chairwoman of the health committee in the House of Delegates asked in a memo if any academic assessments were submitted for Kyneddi Miller. County officials responded, “The answer to your inquiry is ‘No.’”

A West Virginia State Police call log and audio from a March 2023 visit by a trooper to the home described “making a CPS referral on it also; that way they can follow up on it,” according to reporting by WCHS television.

WCHS reporter Leslie Rubin reported GPS coordinates showing the trooper drove his cruiser directly to the Boone County human services office in Foster, Boone County, after leaving the home. The coordinates indicate he was at the office for 8 minutes and 12 seconds before leaving.

Last month, the state Department of Human Services distributed a statement saying the agency has no record of receiving that child protective services referral.

Abraham today acknowledged it’s challenging to square those pieces. He said he was able to reach some conclusions after a recent interview with the trooper who responded to the home more than a year ago.

“My first question is ‘Why did you go there in the first place?’ and his best recollection is a distant family member who was either a school teacher or school principal in another county called and just said ‘I’m worried; she doesn’t get out much,’” Abraham recounted. “And so there’s no allegation to the trooper that she’s been abused or neglected but just ‘She doesn’t get out and I’m worried about her.’”

The trooper who first received the call traveled to the home for a well visit with another officer, Abraham said, and they divided the family for interviews.

“He was not concerned about her well being enough that he was going to go down and say ‘You guys need to open up an investigation.’ He just thought it was odd that she was fearful of COVID. And that was the original call — she doesn’t go out any more; for some reason she just stays in the house — you ought to check on her.’”

Amy Summers, chairwoman of the Committee on Health and Human Resources in the House of Delegates, attended the news conference because of her concern about the situation. “I felt reassured that they’ve done a thorough investigation and did a deep dive to figure out ‘Are there any things that were missed that we could have done better?’ Summers said afterwards.

Summers, R-Taylor, concluded, “It is awful and I know we all want to blame someone and try to figure out what could have been done to save her, so I understand all of that” before trailing off with a loss of words.

Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, released a statement after the press conference saying it’s clear the system of checks and balances has cracks. Blair urged lawmakers to “improve our regulations related to homeschooled children to ensure that no children suffer this same outcome.”

“What has become apparent above everything else is that this child was failed by her local network of safety nets. Through a series of circumstances, she became lost in the system, and she tragically lost her life. As Legislators, we have an obligation to protect our most vulnerable citizens, especially our children.”