Advocates push for justice for kids in state system after 2 teens found dead in Mesa
MESA, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- Valley advocates and families are demanding change after two teen girls were found dead this week after running away from a state group home in Mesa. “About four years ago we had to place our youngest in out-of-home care,” said Alisa Zoccoli, a mother of six boys.
Three of her boys are adopted, with her youngest going in and out of different facilities and group homes since he was 11. “It was kind of a necessary thing because it wasn’t safe for him to come home, being that he was a danger to us and a danger to himself,” she said.
Since then, she says keeping track of him has been difficult. “I would say probably about 50 different times that I know of he actually eloped from those places and he was on the streets,” Zoccoli said.
Running away is not completely uncommon in these kinds of facilities. On Jan. 7, 17-year-old Sitlalli Avelar and 15-year-old Kamryn Meyers were listed as runaways from a group home in Mesa and reported missing two weeks before their bodies were found.
“I became physiologically dysregulated when I read the story earlier in the morning. Kamryn was one of the girls who served here at Jacobs Mission Community Center,” said Anika Robinson, president and cofounder of ASA Now. That group home is one of several operated by Powerhouse Youth Facility Inc. “Powerhouse did an amazing job at immediately reporting them missing and a few days later they also met with the police department once again, so they did their due diligence,” Robinson said.
But, Zoccoli says that’s not always the case for other runaways. That’s why she’s working with other advocates to make changes at the state level. The proposed legislation would create new mandates for DCS to improve care for foster kids. “For all those kids out there that don’t have somebody advocating for them, there are a lot of other parents out there trying to advocate for them, and they are not just a number, and they are not an acceptable loss,” she said.
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