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Boy strangled at juvenile detention center had mental issues, mother says

Posted Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2011  Print Reprints
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Tonya Hernandez had been on a mission to get help for her 14-year-old son, Jordan Adams.

A Mental Health and Mental Retardation patient for six years, Jordan had been diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity and mood disorders, mental issues that his mother said would sometimes manifest themselves as behavior problems.

This year, the teen spent 10 days in the Granbury Regional Juvenile Justice Center after pulling a knife while fighting with his 17-year-old brother at their home.

"They told him if he didn't get into any trouble for six months, they would drop the charge," Hernandez said. "It was kind of brothers being brothers that got out of hand."

But Jordan was sent back to the detention center this month after striking a boy on the school bus -- an act caught on video, his mother said.

Hernandez said that while she knew her son needed to face the consequences for his actions, she requested that he be transferred to the detention center's mental-health facility. She backed up her request with a report from a private psychiatrist who had evaluated her son three weeks ago and had determined that he needed immediate therapy.

The move was to take place Thursday, but it never happened.

By then, Jordan had been on life support for three days after being found unconscious in his cell with a sheet wrapped around his neck.

"I'm just beside myself that he's gone," said Hernandez, who made the anguishing decision to remove her son from life support Sunday. "We were so desperate to get him some help."

Granbury police have said they are trying to figure out what prompted Jordan to wrap the sheet around his neck while a detainee in a separate cell pulled on the sheet, strangling Jordan in what police say may have started as a game of tug of war.

Capt. Alan Hines said they are trying to determine whether Jordan's fatal injuries were the result of a criminal act or an accident.

'Several different stories'

Hernandez said Tuesday that she still has several questions about what happened.

"We've heard several different stories," said Hernandez, 37, who has four other children. "I don't know what to believe at this point."

She said a "juvenile director" told her that one account had Jordan being talked into placing the sheet around his neck in an attempt to get high -- a dangerous act known as the "choking game."

"I'd never, ever heard of kids doing that, but now I hear that all over the United States, kids have been doing this," Hernandez said.

Hernandez said that because of Jordan's mental state, he could have easily been influenced into trying it.

"I'm just speculating but I believe someone had talked him into doing that and Jordan had no idea of the consequences," she said. "The doctor had told us all the ligaments and his main artery in his neck were so damaged that we don't really know if it was actually a game or if the boy actually [purposely] did it. Everything in his neck was torn except his spinal cord. He must have pulled it so hard."

Hernandez said she is undecided on whether the boy who pulled the sheet should face charges. She said she would like to learn more about the teen and whether his actions could have been malicious.

"I was told he and Jordan are kind of alike, and that's probably why they became friends in there," she said. "If he was a child like Jordan, I would really hate to mess up his life. The shoe could have been on the other foot. It could have been Jordan who had done that to him. Until I know more about how this kid is, I would really hate to blame him when it might not have been his fault."

But Hernandez said she does believe that the detention center carries some of the blame and questions whether employees were properly monitoring detainees.

"They told me they had cameras in the hallways. I was like, 'Who's watching the cameras? Didn't they see any activity at all in the hallway? Why didn't somebody get up and stop it?'" Hernandez said. "I don't even know how long Jordan lay in there before he was found."

Records on file with the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission show that the Granbury facility has had a history of failing to comply with routine monitoring requirements.

No signs of life

Hernandez described her son as a trusting and friendly boy who loved the water so much that his family nicknamed him "our little river rat." He insisted on wearing shorts, even in cold weather, and loved cartoons and food.

"We called him our little cereal killer because he would kill a box of cereal every day," Hernandez said.

The mother said she was in Oklahoma, celebrating a friend's birthday, when she received a call that her son had been hospitalized. She rushed back home.

"They weren't giving me any details. I had called Grandma and sent Grandma to the hospital in Granbury. When she got there, she called and told me, 'It's bad, Tonya. It's bad, so bad.'"

Hernandez said she drove straight to Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth, where Jordan had been transferred.

"I was just in shock because he was swollen and he had red splotches all over his face," Hernandez said. "You could tell he had gone without air for some time.

"I watched him for days, just looking for any signs of hope," she said. "He would squeeze my hand and I would be like, 'That's it! That's it!'"

But the doctor explained that only Jordan's brainstem showed any activity and that his occasional jerking was the result of neurons firing.

"If there were any kind of signs of life in him, I would have taken care of him," Hernandez said. "I would have taken care of him for the rest of his life."

Deanna Boyd, 817-390-7655