Special Needs Teen’s Asphyxiation Death at Philadelphia Treatment Center Ruled a Homicide
People | CRIME
The death of a 17-year-old at a private Philadelphia treatment facility for special needs children has been ruled a homicide, PEOPLE confirms.
David Hess died of suffocation after a physical altercation with staff members at the Wordsworth Academy, a residential treatment center for children and teens with emotional and behavioral needs, according to a report by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services.
The cause of death was asphyxiation, according to thePhiladelphia Medical Examiner’s Office.
“One or more people caused the death,” a spokesman for the Medical Examiner said in a statement “It is not a determination of criminality. It is the role of the District Attorney’s Office to determine if these actions were crimes and, if so, if there is sufficient evidence to charge any person(s) with a crime.”
According to a Department of Human Services report obtained by PEOPLE, the incident began when staffers allegedly suspected that Hess had stolen an iPod from another student. Several Wordsworth staff members searched his room. The report describes Hess as being “aggressive” as the staffers allegedly flipped over his mattress and went through his things.
At some point, the staffers allegedly restrained Hess. Witnesses allege to DHS that Hess initially taunted the staffers, saying, “I can take this, that’s the only thing you got, give me more.”
The report notes that the iPod was eventually found in a soap box in Hess’s room.
Four days after the incident, DHS revoked the treatment center’s license. In a letter obtained by PEOPLE, DHS told Wordsworth that it was being closed due to “your failure to comply with the Department’s regulations and gross incompetence, negligence and misconduct.”
In a statement, Wordsworth’s Chairman of the Board expressed sorrow over the teen’s death.
“Everyone at Wordsworth Academy was deeply saddened by the loss of this young man, and the medical examiner’s finding underscores the tragic nature of this situation,” Chairman Tom Johnson said in the statement. “Our thoughts continue to be with his family and friends during this difficult time.”
The District’s Attorney’s office did not return PEOPLE’s requests for comment, but a spokesperson refused comment to the Philadelphia Inquirer, citing an ongoing investigation.
No one has been criminally charged in Hess’s death.