MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Police in Minnesota have closed their investigation of a 6-year-old girl's hanging death by ruling out foul play, and said the evidence points to an accident or suicide.
Kendrea Johnson was found unconscious in a bedroom of her foster home in Brooklyn Park with a jump rope around her neck Dec. 27. There were no witnesses in the room.
"All of the evidence leads back to either suicide or accidental," Deputy Chief Mark Bruley said. "The reality is she was in the room by herself and we'll probably never know the answer to that."
Bruley said Kendrea had been getting treatment for emotional problems including suicidal thoughts. Child protection workers put the girl in foster care in December 2013 after her mother allegedly abused drugs. She had been at that particular home since March.
Citing police investigative records, the Star Tribune reported Thursday that investigators found a note written in purple marker in a child's handwriting reading: "I'm sorry." A second note said: "I'm sad for what I do."
Kendrea's foster mother said the girl had said she wanted to jump out a window and kill herself because "Nobody likes me," the newspaper reported. She drew pictures at school of a child hanging from a rope, and police found healed ligature marks on both sides of her neck, the newspaper said.
Suicides among young children are rare. There were 33 suicides among children ages 5-9 in the U.S. between 1999 and 2006, according to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Kendrea's biological mother and grandmother have said they believe somebody else killed her. Bruley said it was hard for him and his investigators to accept that a 6-year-old could have deliberately taken her own life.
"She clearly had emotional issues. Does that mean she fully understood the consequences? I don't know," he said.
David Palmiter, a psychology professor at Marywood University in Scranton, Pennsylvania, who researches child and adolescent behavioral disorders, said he never had come across a case of suicidal thinking in a child younger than 10 in more than 25 years of practice.
"If you just think about a 6-year-old and their level of cognitive function, that's a really complex task for a 6-year-old to formulate an evaluation of your place in the universe ... decide you're at fault and nothing can be done about it," he said.
Burley said he didn't blame Kendrea's family for being upset or searching for alternative answers. But he said his detectives did an "extremely thorough" investigation and examined every bit of evidence.
"It's an absolute tragedy all around," he said.