This is the History of and Reporting Guide for Utah Boys Ranch in West Jordan, UT (a/k/a West Ridge Academy and Girls Town)


On this page you will find incomplete staff and complaint histories with sources cited (i.e. Progress Report), the general advisory against segregated congregate care with sources cited, and a reporting guide for those unlawfully harmed or firsthand witnesses to unlawful harm by or at this location to report violations of the law to the proper authorities/law enforcement.  The staff list itself will not be updated with additional names out of a sense of fairness where those providing the names ask for anonymity or confidentiality.  And, this program will remain eligible for merciful release if all criteria are met and no guest sermon is provided by a qualifying sponsor by that time.  In the meantime, it can graduate the COPE Conversion Program by meeting the Honesty In Marketing Standards (HIMS) or permanently close to be removed from the watch-list/released from the COPE Conversion Program.  If permanently closed prior to graduation or merciful release, it will be buried in the virtual graveyard.




Additional Information
Kenneth R. Allen Executive Director  
James H. McMaster Director of Events  
Jared S. Hamner Admissions Hamner worked for Franklin Quest (a/k/a FranklinCovey owned by Hyrum W. Smith. 
John Stohlton Director of Promotions  
Paul Keene Director of Academics Keene has been with the program since 1992.  Keene was named in lawsuit against Utah Boys Ranch for sexual harassment of fellow employee in June of 2003.
Daniel E. Griffiths CFO  
Paul D. Watson CIO  
Guy Hardcastle Director of Business Development The West Ridge Academy website states that he has worked for over a decade in the industry, but, does not indicate which programs he has worked with/for.
Amy Whittaker Clinical Director Whittaker formerly worked as the Director of Juvenile Probation in Fremont County, Idaho.  Hmmm...  Kickbacks for placement in privately-run programs may be an issue to investigate.  It seems to be a trend these days...
Michael L. Ruoho Asst. Clinical Director for Girls Campus Ruoho has been with the program since 1987. 
Jacob Gibson Clinical Assistant Gibson has been with the program since 2004.
Frank M. Rees Clinical Psychologist Clinical Director at the Utah State Prison, instructor--Utah Department of Corrections Training Academy   Lane McCotter, the former Head of Utah's Prison System was behind the torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib.
Jeff Murdock Seminar Instructor Murdock has been with the program since 1987.
John M. Ogden Clinical Assistant  
Carrie Carter Clinical Staff Has worked at multiple unnamed facilities according to West Ridge Academy website.  Carter no longer appears to work for this program.
Jalene Hansen Clinical Staff Hansen has been with the program since 2006 and worked "in the field" prior to that.  No facility named on site.  Hansen no longer appears to work for this program.
Lori Bagley Therapist Formerly worked at Idaho Youth Ranch. 
Eric K. Allred LMFT Earned degree from bogus University of Phoenix.  Also, has been with the program for 18 years. 
Rachel Lyons Staff Formerly worked for the evidently corrupt Division of Child and Family Services. 
Erin Shepherd Staff  
Dan Ontiveros Staff Ontiveros no longer appears to work for this program.
Ludmil Manov Psychiatrist Originally from Bulgaria. 
Lynn Smith Admissions Specialist Lynn placed one of her own children in the program at West Ridge Academy. After experiencing the program as a parent Lynn then came to work for WRA.
Brian Jackson Asst Principal/Girls Town Jackson no longer appears to work for this program.
Paul Evans Teacher Also, FLDS missionary. 
Sandra Hirschi Teacher  
Lisa Moeller Teacher Moeller has been with the program since 1992.
Stacey Leak Teacher Leak has been with the program since 2006.
Christopher Woods Music Instructor Woods has been with the program since 2003.
Mark Gardner Staff  
Stephen Porter Staff  
Matthew Edvik Staff Edvik has been with the program for 8 years according their website (January 11th, 2010)  Edvik no longer appears to work for this program.
Wendy Richman Girls Campus Admin. Richman has been with the program since 2006.  Richman no longer appears to work for this program.
Alta Swarnes Weekend Supervisor Swarnes no longer appears to work for this program.
Natalie Keefer Staff  
Mike Moffet Staff  
Jay Honey Staff  
Jenny Allen Staff Allen no longer appears to work for this program.
Anna Memmott Staff Memmott no longer appears to work for this program.
Wendy Ballard Parent Liaison Go-between that denies contact between parents and children.  Ballard has been with the program for 9 years according to their website (January 11th, 2010)
Russ Kruse System Admin.  
John Webb Recreation Director  
Eli (Stephen) Kerr Staff  
John A. Rhodes Staff (former) Rhodes reportedly worked at the Utah Boys Ranch (AKA West Ridge Academy from June 1999 – October 2001 (2 years 5 months), and then at Cross Creek Center October 2001 – January 2008 (6 years 4 months). He was a therapist at both locations. His titles include clinical assistant and then a licensed clinical social worker.
Charlie Falatea Staff (Former) Falatea is Executive Director of Solstice RTC as of 2021. 
Utah Boys Ranch/West Ridge Academy/Girls Town is also associated with:

"Other facilities you mention that are owned by West Ridge Academy (which you may not be aware of). Aspiro, CALO, and one other program are at least partially owned by Proficio Management (, a for-profit subsidiary of West Ridge Academy." --Survivor Reported on January 12th, 2010.


All segregated congregate care providers, including those on our watch-list, are welcome to contact us to correct any information or provide additional data that may assist with delivering the whole truth to the public.  The HEAL Mission of COPE (HEAL) found in many cases where this offer has been abused or resulted in revealing additional basis for our concerns. For some examples see feedback.  Now, we are willing to look at the facts and may have questions or require documentation backing up any claims.  We do verify licensing, academic backgrounds, and other qualifications when investigating and researching programs on our watch-lis/enrolled in the Conversion Program to assist consumers seeking additional information on such programs or victims requiring assistance with getting corroborating evidence of their claims.  We do that in order to make sure the information we provide is accurate and verified and cite our sources.  In the event any information we've posted is in error, we're happy to make a correction. 

HEAL does not support segregated congregate care for many reasons which include that many such facilities are abusive, exploitative, fraudulent, and lack effective oversight often as a result of fraudulent misrepresentation coupled with the ignorance of those seeking to enroll loved ones in such facilities, programs, schools, or centers without a valid court order and involuntarily.  In the United States such involuntary placements done without a court order are apparently illegal as they either violate the Americans with Disabilities Act community integration requirement or due process rights of those involuntarily placed.  Now, in regards to parents, in the United States parents have the right to waive their own rights, but, not the rights of their minor children.  See for more information.  Now, most facilities on our watch list include waivers, indemnity clauses, and sworn statements legal guardians must sign assuring the program that the parents/legal guardians have the right to make the placement involuntarily and without due process in a segregated congregate care environment, however, California and federal prosecutors as well as settled law appears to suggest that is not the case.  In fact, in the David Taylor case found at , Taylor sued Provo Canyon School and his mother as co-defendants.  His mother was found liable for 75% of the damages awarded to Taylor as a result of multiple complaints including false imprisonment, while the program was found only 25% liable because the mother owed a duty of due diligence to investigate anyone to which she would entrust care of her child and she failed to do so. 

Now, HEAL opposes segregated congregate care and we find most placements are happening illegally in the USA which if the youth understood their rights would result in unfortunate outcomes for the parents, particularly when they don't exercise good judgment and support the fraud and abuse rather than their own children when they need remedy and justice.  And, HEAL supports all victims of fraud and abuse in seeking remedies at law for any crimes or torts committed against them.  And, that's true whether or not the program or victims are in the USA. 

HEAL has a 5 point argument against segregated congregate care we'd like you to consider:

a.  Segregated care is unconstitutional and a civil rights violation.  It is only permissible if a person is unable to survive independent of an institutional environment.  For more on this, watch the HEAL Report at  Or, see:  which includes in part:    "United States v. Florida – 1:12-cv-60460 – (S.D. Fla.) – On April 7, 2016, the United States filed an Opposition to the State of Florida’s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment.  In the Motion, the State had asked the Court to rule, on a variety of grounds, that the United States could not recover damages for unnecessarily institutionalized children to whom the State had been deliberately indifferent."

b.  Institutionalization is always dehumanizing and coercive.  Institutionalization always harms the institutionalized and deprives them of protected civil rights.  Dr. David Straker, Psychiatry Professor at Columbia University's School of Medicine (Ivy League) explains this in detail at  "Many institutions, from prisons to monasteries to asylums, deliberately want to control and manage their inmates such that they conform and do not cause problems. Even in less harsh environments, many of the institutionalization methods may be found, albeit in more moderated form (although the psychological effect can be equally devastating)."  (See website linked in this paragraph for more info.)

c.  Institutionalization is not in the best interest of children.  Institutions are not ever better for a child than living with a loving family.  Source:       

d.  Reform schools, residential treatment programs, and other segregated congregate care settings have been shown to be ineffective and harmful.  Best source on this currently is:

e. Boarding Schools, even the "good ones", result in a form of social death, isolation, and cause both anxiety and depression.  Therefore, it is clearly not in the best interest of the youth subjected to those environments.  Sources: and

Beyond the above arguments against segregated congregate care, we have reports from the NIH, Surgeon General, Yale University Studies, and much more showing the methodologies of behavior modification are damaging, harmful, and ineffective.  You can request these documents via e-mail.  In addition, for such programs offering academic services or claiming to offer diplomas, certifications, or the like, it is important to check to see if it is a diploma mill with no accredited academic services.  Please see article: "Avoiding Scams: What You Need To Know"  for important information on how to avoid education/training scams.

If you'd like to see what HEAL suggests rather than segregated congregate care (i.e. committing a crime or tort against your child if done against their will without a court order), please see articles: "Fix Your Family, Help Your Teen" and "Emancipation Guide".
In Utah, the statutes of limitation do not apply to crimes against children that include sex offenses and human trafficking. There are no statutes of limitation on murder and kidnapping in Utah.  Other felonies have statutes of limitation ranging from 4 years to 8 years. Most misdemeanors in the state have a 2-year time limit. For civil suits in Utah, the statute of limitations is 4 years depending on cause of action. 

Options for you to take action and/or seek redress/justice today are listed below:

1.  Report crimes such as assault, fraud, battery, labor trafficking, and child abuse to law enforcement in Utah.  You can call the West Jordan Police at (801) 256-2000  to inquire about filing an official complaint which may provide the probable cause needed to get a warrant for investigation and/or prosecution.  You may also wish to submit a concern to state regulators in charge of licensing Utah Boys Ranch/West Ridge Academy/Girls Town which you can do at this link:

2.  File a consumer complaint with your home state's attorney general against Utah Boys Ranch/West Ridge Academy/Girls Town and include your request for compensation for any harm done to you.  If you live in Utah and/or would like to file consumer complaint as a non-resident with the Attorney General of Utah, visit: .

3.  If you do not wish to file a consumer complaint, you can contact a private personal injury attorney and look into suing in tort/civil court.  However, if you can't afford the retainer, you should expect to settle out of court with a non-disclosure agreement which may bar you from speaking publicly about the incident because you've agreed (even if with a grumbling assent) to the terms of the settlement. 
4.  You may send a new e-mail to with subject "Post My Feedback" and we will post your feedback (e-mail printed to .pdf disclosing your name and e-mail address and any information in your e-mail with that subject) to  and add a direct link to those .pdf files to this page . 

 5. You may also wish to provide a guest sermon.  Guest sermons are posted at , under Progress Reports/Guest Sermons at where appropriate, and on program info pages when applicable.  So, one provided by you on your program would also be placed on this page .  Guest sermons should be written into the body of an e-mail and sent to . Your first and last name will be disclosed (contact info will not be unless you expressly request disclosure).  For sermons available on our site see  (and sermon archives linked on that page).  If you have questions about this option, please contact Please see  to get an idea what your sermon may be worth.


Trapped in a Mormon Gulag--January 5th, 2009 (Rec'd January 5th, 2010)--This story is about Eric Norwood's personal experiences at a place called The Utah Boys Ranch, which models itself as a "tough-love" prep-school, but while Eric was there, he witnessed some unbelievable atrocities. It is a Mormon-funded and staffed facility, and religious indoctrination is a fundamental aspect of the school. There was sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, suicide, staff corruption, and escape. A major Utah political figure, Senator Chris Buttars, was the executive director while Eric was there.  See Video below for more on this story.

Allegations of abuse at prospective charter school splits Utah’s top school boards By BENJAMIN WOOD | The Salt Lake Tribune First Published Feb 16 2016 07:12AM    •    Last Updated Feb 17 2016 05:53 pm (Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Maria Olsen and Josh Graham, attended West Ridge Academy, a youth residential treatment center based in West Jordan. Friday, February 12, 2016. (Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Maria Olsen and Josh Graham, attended West Ridge Academy, a youth residential treatment center based in West Jordan. Friday, February 12, 2016. Troubled-youths center » West Ridge Academy wants to become a charter school, but former students’ allegations divide officials who have say over move. Share This Article ARTICLE PHOTO GALLERY (3) Josh Graham remembers his first day at West Ridge Academy in December 1998, when the treatment center and private school for troubled youths was known as the Utah Boys Ranch. His parents didn't tell him where he was going, or why. They dropped him off in the lobby, and he was taken into a room to meet with a member of the school faculty. Graham refused to speak, and he claims the staff member responded by wrestling him to the ground and placing chair legs on his wrists to pin him down. Graham was 11 years old. "I was scared, and I was angry and I was alone," he said. V Another West Ridge alumnus, Maria Olsen, said her first day began in February 2012, with two men entering her bedroom, startling her awake and carrying her out of her home. Over the next six months, she was made to sleep on floors, go days without speaking and was limited to reading only textbooks and scriptures. She said desks and chairs were thrown at students, and children as young as 9 years old were pressed facedown on the ground with the knees of adult staffers in their backs. "I had arrived at an unregulated prison," she said. Graham and Olsen shared those stories and others with members of the state school board earlier this month in anticipation of a vote to approve the latest transformation of the Utah Boys Ranch. Rebranded as West Ridge Academy in 2005, the school is applying to become a charter school named Eagle Summit Academy, which would receive public funding on a per-student basis. Children from West Ridge's West Jordan residential treatment center would be enrolled at the charter, which would also recruit more troubled youths from the surrounding area. Eagle Summit's application was approved by a 5-1 vote of the state Charter School Board. But, in a rare move, the State Board of Education reversed the charter board's recommendation and denied the application to investigate the accusations of physical and sexual abuse and financial insolvency. When members of the state school board asked whether the charter board had heard Graham's and Olsen's testimonies, charter board Vice Chairwoman Kristin Elinkowski suggested the stories were the embellishments of troubled youths. "I think when you're dealing with the things they're dealing with in a residential treatment center," she said, "you're going to get allegations like this." — A fresh start • Graham said Elinkowski's comment is a typical response to stories of abuse at residential treatment centers. "When you cry wolf and when you do cry abuse, there's no one who will look into it," Graham said. "It's presumed that because we were kids that have problems that this stuff didn't happen or that we're exaggerating." Lawsuits filed against West Ridge have been settled out of court, and Graham said he knows of at least 18 police reports filed by students and their families. But he believes no criminal investigation has been launched. A records request by The Salt Lake Tribune is pending with the West Jordan Police Department. Graham said he attended West Ridge full time for the bulk of a year, then sporadically for attitude "tuneups" until he graduated from East Hollywood High School in 2006. He said he struggled with anger management as a child, running away from home and getting into fights. But his flaws didn't justify being sent to a treatment center, where, he says, children were forced to look at the corpse of a classmate who took his own life. "I'm not saying I was a sunshine kid," Graham said. "I definitely had my issues." West Ridge representatives did not rebut Olsen's and Graham's claims during the state Charter School Board meeting in January. Instead, their presentation focused on how Eagle Summit Academy would employ a new, empathetic approach to discipline that tries to address the emotional roots of bad behavior. Howard Headlee, chairman of the charter board, said the structure of the proposed charter school is critical in that it would be disconnected from the function and programs of the treatment center. "The allegations were compelling, were heart-wrenching, and really brilliantly presented by these very impressive young people," he said. "But, really, they're related to an entirely separate entity." During the charter board meeting, Headlee responded to Graham and Olsen by saying that the "silver lining" of approving Eagle Summit's application would be additional oversight and scrutiny. The allegations of abuse are against individual staff members, Headlee said, and it is not the state charter board's function to dictate who can and can't be employed by a new charter. "If they were to hire someone that would put the kids in danger, they'd be in serious trouble with us," Headlee said. "We told them as much." "Violent abuse is not the product of bad apples at West Ridge," Olsen said. "Violent abuse is the program." And Olsen said there's enough connective tissue between the school and the treatment center to set off alarms. Eagle Summit's governing board would include former members of the West Ridge advisory council, and the director of academics at West Ridge, Paul Keene, is slated to be the director of the proposed charter school. "These are the same people who very clearly failed [to prevent], or participated in the abuse of children themselves," Olsen said. "And now they're asking for money." Eagle Summit's charter application also mentions replicating the West Ridge model, with the switch to a charter seen as a way to boost access to the school's services. About 60 students attend the private school, but the Eagle Summit charter application anticipates an enrollment of 300 students in grades seven through 12. Representatives of Eagle Summit Academy declined to be interviewed for this story. In a prepared statement, the Eagle Summit Academy board of directors said the school's charter application speaks for itself and should be reviewed on its merits. "Because Eagle Summit Academy is and will be a an entirely separate corporate entity, Eagle Summit Academy cannot answer to any of the complaints raised about West Ridge Academy." A statement from West Ridge Academy said the treatment center and school have remained fully licensed and accredited despite the allegations. The alleged victims are blaming West Ridge for the problems that existed before, and led to, their treatment, the statement said. "Though saddened by the attack," it said, "we are not surprised." — Questioning authority • Terryl Warner is a member of the state Board of Education, but she was present as a nonvoting member when the charter board discussed the Eagle Summit application. Warner works as a victim advocate and said she "will always regret not stopping that meeting" after Graham and Olsen shared their experiences. "I'm used to hearing really horrific allegations, and those were pretty bad," Warner said. "If there's any truth to the matter, then we probably need to look at it." She said charter board members may have been caught off guard by the nature of the allegations and not known how to proceed. But she added that claims of abuse against children deserve a closer look and shouldn't be dismissed because of a victim's background. "When kids make allegations, they need to be vetted. That's the bottom line," Warner said. "The majority of times, there's some truth to what a victim says." The state Board of Education voted unanimously to deny Eagle Summit's application, with several members saying time was needed to investigate the allegations of abuse and the structure of the relationship between the school and treatment center. While the state board has before asked the charter board to take a second look at some charter applications, February's vote was the first time the higher board rejected the lower board's recommendations. The split vote is the latest sign of a potential rift developing between the two boards. Members of the charter board are appointed by the governor, but last year, members of the state Board of Education issued a recommendation that they be empowered to seat the charter board and select its chairman. The Board of Education also voted to endorse a bill that would give it greater oversight into private, third-party educational service providers, which commonly contract with charter schools. "I know there are people on the state school board who are anxious to criticize the charter school board," Headlee said. "We hear their criticism loud and clear." Warner said any division between the two groups is felt by individuals and isn't coming from the board itself. "I've heard through the grapevine that there is tension," Warner said, "but I don't feel that." And David Thomas, vice chairman of the Board of Education, said that while the boards occasionally disagree, he relies on the charter board to vet applicants and issue recommendations. "Sometimes those differences come out," Thomas said, "but that's part of the process." — Support system • Eagle Summit's charter application was denied without prejudice, meaning the school's representatives can come back to the state school board next month to make their case for approval. Olsen said she's committed to speaking out against the school, whether it becomes a public charter or continues to operate as a private treatment center. "I don't feel good knowing this could happen to anyone else," Olsen said. "Even if they don't ever bring the charter [application] back, West Ridge Academy still exists." Before she was enrolled as a teenager, Olsen said, she was showing signs of depression and self-harm. But she believes the primary reason she was sent away to West Ridge was the discomfort that her sexual orientation caused her parents, who were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "I don't want to pretend I was in a perfect place," Olsen said. "I probably did need some sort of help. I think what I really needed were parents who were not convinced I was a scourge on their family." Now an adult, Olsen said talking about her experience at West Ridge with her parents can be difficult, but she can understand why her family was initially skeptical about the treatment she received. "I don't blame my parents for believing people who they had been told to trust with me," Olsen said. Graham, also raised in a Mormon household, said his parents were referred to West Ridge by a member of their LDS congregation. "A good portion of [West Ridge students] are Mormon kids," Graham said. In 2011, then-Presiding Bishop H. David Burton told the Deseret News that the LDS Church "has been and continues to be a longtime supporter of the outstanding programs at this academy. ... West Ridge has made such a difference in the lives of so many young people and I have seen that the effects are long lasting." When Graham asked his parents years later how they afforded the tuition — roughly $3,000 a month at the time — they responded that they paid what they could and the remainder was covered through church assistance. Graham suggested that by converting to a charter school, West Ridge is trying to pull a "quick one" by transferring a costly and problematic program onto the state's budget. "School is not therapy," Graham said. "The state has no business funding a private entity." Twitter: @bjaminwood   Source:
Utah board approves charter school tied to treatment center accused of abusing children By BENJAMIN WOOD | The Salt Lake Tribune First Published Mar 18 2016 03:36PM    •    Last Updated Mar 18 2016 08:17 pm (Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Maria Olsen and Josh Graham, attended West Ridge Academy, a youth residential treatment center based in West Jordan. Friday, February 12, 2016. (Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Maria Olsen and Josh Graham, attended West Ridge Academy, a youth residential treatment center based in West Jordan. Friday, February 12, 2016. Education » Eagle Summit Academy will be located on campus of West Ridge Academy. Share This Article ARTICLE PHOTO GALLERY (3) A proposed charter school for trauma-sensitive students received final approval from the Utah Board of Education on Friday despite accusations that the school's predecessor created an environment that fostered the physical and sexual abuse of children. The charter, to be named Eagle Summit Academy, will replace a private school that operates as a component of West Ridge Academy, a West Jordan residential treatment center for troubled youths. As a public school, Eagle Summit will be funded with taxpayer dollars and will enroll West Ridge residents as well as other students in need of support for substance abuse, pornography addiction and other qualifiers.  The board's approval included caveats that public and private funding must be kept separate in the school's budgets, and that Eagle Summit and West Ridge may not share personnel. "I know of no substantive reason to deny this charter," board member Stan Lockhart said. The charter was approved in a 9-4 vote, with dissenting board members expressing concern over the hybrid structure of the charter school, and lingering allegations that West Ridge staff employ violence to discipline children. During last month's board meeting, Eagle Summit's application was denied after former students testified that they and other students were abused while enrolled at West Ridge. The board requested an investigation into those allegations, resulting in a 60-page report prepared by Utah State Office of Education staff that found no corroborating evidence, but did identify several lawsuits against West Ridge that were settled out of court. A request for records from the West Jordan Police Department confirmed that a report was filed in January regarding allegations of abuse. But the report was not released to The Salt Lake Tribune as it is part of an ongoing investigation. Board member Joel Wright said that without corroborating evidence, the allegations raised against West Ridge Academy "have melted like ice cream on a hot sidewalk." "We're not going to chase every single allegation on every single vote," he said. Board members who supported approving the charter argued that transitioning to a public school would result in greater oversight, which could prevent instances of abuse if they are occurring. But Linda Hansen questioned who or what entity would provide that oversight, because charter schools operate independent of school districts and are governed by unelected boards. "I can't live with that kind of risk to the kids," she said. Twitter: @bjaminwood  Source:
A teen from Bermuda died at a Utah treatment center, sparking anger there and investigations here - The Salt Lake Tribune Sections N News S Sports O Opinion R Religion A Arts & Living M Must Reads Video Photography T Tribune Store P Podcasts N Newsletters S Sponsored Legal NoticesObituariesJobs Sections Monday, February 3, 2020 Sign In Subscribe Account Sign Out Sign In Subscribe Account Sign Out A teen from Bermuda died at a Utah treatment center, sparking anger there and investigations here (Courtesy photo) Kirsta, a 17-year-old Bermudian girl, was sent by child welfare workers to a Utah youth residential treatment center last year. She died by suicide at West Ridge Academy on Nov. 14. By Jessica Miller  ·  Published: 11 hours ago Updated: 2 hours ago Editor’s note: This story discusses suicide. If you or people you know are at risk of self-harm, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24-hour support at 1-800-273-8255. She had been sent by Bermuda’s child welfare system more than 2,600 miles away to a Utah facility for troubled teens that was supposed to help her. But Kirsta struggled at West Ridge Academy, a sprawling 68-bed campus tucked between new housing developments and storage unit facilities in West Jordan. The 17-year-old had been cutting herself, according to a police report, and told staff members she felt that no one loved her. Then on Nov. 14, Kirsta tried to end her life. She was rushed to a local hospital, and died the next day. The girl’s death has shattered her mother, who said she had no idea how long Kirsta had been in Utah — and had no say in the decision to send her here. She found out just a month before her daughter’s death where she was, but hadn't been allowed to communicate with her. “I was angry,” she said. “If you’re a mother, to be separated from your child, your first instinct is whether she is OK. What’s going through her mind? How does she feel? Why is she so far away from her family?” Kirsta’s death has also prompted concern from other Bermudians, particularly mothers whose children are in the island’s foster care system and have been sent to Utah for treatment. They want their government to send fewer teens to youth residential treatment centers in the United States, and question whether it’s necessary. ‘We are worried about her’ When Kirsta’s mother describes her daughter, she recalls her beauty, and her love of writing and aspirations to one day be a journalist. As a young child, she was a “typical little girl,” who loved to play dress-up and joke around. As she grew up, she always wanted to hang out with her friends and was involved in her church’s youth group. But Kirsta struggled with depression. Her mother, who asked to not be identified to protect her younger children, said her oldest daughter had spent much of her life in foster care after the mother says she made choices that she “wasn’t proud of.” Article continues below Related Articles Utah treatment center sued after boys engaged in sex acts in a seclusion room After a riot, increasing violence and now sex abuse allegations, Red Rock Canyon school will close A staffer at Liahona Academy, a school for troubled boys, charged with child abuse Employee at Oxbow Academy East charged for allowing boys to play ‘choking game’ How Kirsta ended up in Utah is still somewhat of a mystery to her mother, who said Kirsta was in the government’s care, but she never signed over her parental rights. Just weeks before her daughter’s death, she had emailed Bermuda’s attorney general to ask where her daughter was. “I have been informed that she is no longer in Bermuda,” wrote the mother, who currently lives in the United Kingdom. “I would like to know how could this [have] been done without mine and her father’s knowledge? … Kirsta has a family that miss and love her dearly, also we are worried about her and desperately would like to know any information about her.” Her mother didn’t know then that Kirsta was one of 18 Bermudians sent to the United States last year to facilities for troubled teens. Bermuda Department of Child and Family Services officials did not respond to emails from The Salt Lake Tribune with questions about how their government decided West Ridge Academy, where Kirsta was sent, or any of the other facilities across the United States were qualified to treat their children in foster care. The Royal Gazette, a newspaper in Bermuda, reported in December that its government has spent $33 million over the past decade sending its youth to “troubled teen” facilities in the United States. Several of those facilities are in Utah, but it’s not clear how many Bermudian youths have been sent here. The Tribune has had a public records request pending through a local reporter in Bermuda since November, but has not yet received documents. Bermuda is a British island territory deep in the North Atlantic Ocean. The Bermuda government wrote in a public statement in December that sending a youth overseas is not a decision taken lightly and is only done “after all other resources locally are exhausted.” Local resources, they say, include family, counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists and other family intervention programs. They further stated that removing a child from their home and placing them in DCFS care, like Kirsta was, is only done as a “last resort.” Kirsta’s death While at West Ridge Academy, Kirsta shared a room with three other girls in one of the nearly dozen multicolored brick cottages scattered throughout the 50-acre campus. But in the days before her death, Kirsta hadn’t been sleeping in her room. She was moved to the main common area, so staffers could keep an eye on her after she had attempted to harm herself. But the school allows students 10 minutes of privacy to shower, according to a police report. When a staffer told her that her shower time was up one Thursday afternoon, Kirsta reportedly asked to go to the bathroom. She was given an extra two minutes. That’s when she hanged herself. Employees told police later that only a few minutes had passed, but police weren’t able to verify the timeline — the recording equipment for the security cameras had been unplugged since September, staff told police. Kirsta was taken to a local hospital and later to Primary Children’s Hospital. She died the following day. Her death prompted investigations in Utah and outrage among some in Bermuda. The West Jordan Police Department had an open investigation for several months, which was closed last week after a Utah medical examiner determined Kirsta’s death was a suicide. The licensing division of the Utah Department of Human Services still has an investigation pending to determine if West Ridge Academy violated any rules. Officials with the department declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation. (Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) West Ridge Academy in West Jordan, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. West Ridge Academy’s license is in good standing, though it was required to submit a “corrective action plan” in 2017 after an inspector came for an unannounced visit and found the facility hadn’t given the required notification about two allegations of a boy having sexual contact with other residents. The inspector also cited staffing issues as a contributing factor, and facility management wrote in a letter that they suspended some staff without pay for violating the staff-to-student ratios, retrained its staff and hired more workers. West Ridge Academy — which was initially named Utah Boys Ranch, but rebranded in 2005 — applied to be a charter school in 2016 but withdrew its attempt after former students spoke out with allegations of abuse. One student described watching children being pushed face down into the ground by staff, and characterized the facility as “an unregulated prison.” The facility challenged those accusations, saying they were unfounded. When asked about Kirsta’s death, Janet Farnsworth, the executive director of West Ridge Academy, told The Tribune in a recent email that the state’s licensing officer had assured them after an initial meeting that “we had followed our protocol for safety and that our team that intervened with this young lady was properly trained per state standards.” Farnsworth said her facility has spent “a significant amount of time” reviewing policies and procedures, and trained and debriefed their staff. She said Kirsta’s death did not prompt changes in their treatment methods, but they did make changes to how they respond during crisis events. They’ve changed the way they decide which students require more supervision for their safety, she said, and also added more lighting and signage across the campus to better assist emergency workers when they are called. Farnsworth said Kirsta’s fellow students and their staff have all been impacted by the girl’s death, and a vigil was held for her last month. “We are truly devastated by this event,” she said, “and yet remain committed to this important work that we do to assist families in need of hope and healing.” Fear in Bermuda Farnsworth further wrote that Kirsta’s “adoptive mother” had been in touch with a therapist at West Ridge, who is continuing to offer her comfort. But Kirsta’s biological mother said that though her daughter was in DCFS custody since 2010, she had never been adopted. She says she never heard anything from West Ridge Academy until she recently emailed Farnsworth. The mother wanted to know more about what it had been like for Kirsta so many miles from home: What was her mindset like? How did she pass her time? Did she socialize or have any favorite classes or teachers? She was met with a response from a lawyer for West Ridge, who urged her to direct her questions to Bermuda officials. “Though I very much understand your desire to ask additional and follow up questions,” the attorney wrote, “based upon related privacy laws and contractual obligations, WRA is unable to share any information with you at this time.” It was another devastating blow to Kirsta’s mother. The limited public information has also led to Bermudians questioning whether their children are safe in U.S. facilities — and led to calls to change the system there. Several petitions have circulated online, and a Bermudian Amnesty International Club created a video asking for “justice” for Kirsta. “We want answers about the treatment of children under the Department of Children and Family Services,” a teen girl says in the video, “and we will stand by until justice is served.” Kirsta’s death has also caused worry among other mothers whose children have been sent off the island. Tina Ray said that her 17-year-old son has been in placements in Utah since last January — and is currently at Discovery Ranch, a 60-bed facility that sprawls 20 acres in Utah County. Ray said she worries for her son, and said he was sent to Utah without any input from her. “I would have wanted to know information about the facility,” she said, “and the reason my son was being referred.” Hearing about Kirsta’s death and other stories about how youths have been treated in Utah weighs heavily on her — and she hasn’t been able to ask her son if he’s OK. “I believe he has been coerced to believe being out there is a better option,” she said. “The communication with my son has been completely severed.” Kirsta’s mother similarly wasn’t able to contact her daughter. But as Kirsta had been sitting in Utah feeling alone, her mother said she had tried to get a letter to her through a social worker. It was dated two days before Kirsta’s death. Her mother believes it likely never made it to her. She read the letter on a Bermuda television station, tears streaming down her face as she read about the first time she held Kirsta as a baby. She fell in love instantly, she told her daughter in the letter, a love different than anything she had ever felt before. The mother wanted her daughter to know she was proud of her, and that she was praying for the right people to come into her life and give her guidance. “Know that I love you,” the mother wrote. “That love that I have for you then has only gotten stronger and hasn’t faded away.”  Source:
West Ridge Academy staff arrested for child abuse, see tweet: 
8/10/22: COPE Conversion Program Progress Report on Utah Boys Ranch/West Ridge Academy/Girls Town:


 Last Updated: March 2nd, 2023

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