Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Suicide and Heavy Metals in Vanderburgh County, Who's Responsible for the Death of DeTwain Barnett?

Last night I attended a talk at USI given by Vanderburgh County Coroner, Annie Groves. Coroner Groves has had the unenviable job over the last five years of trying to figure out why Vanderburgh County has one of the highest rates of suicide in the United States.

I have emailed Annie Groves a few times in the last couple of years, asking her to please consider testing for heavy metals in the bodies of victims of suicide. I have not heard anything in response, but I do not know for sure if she has ever received my emails. Last night I had an opportunity to speak with her face-to-face, and to express to her my concerns about the heavy metals in the environment here, and the possible connection with our high rate of suicide.

The suicides in Vanderburgh County really hit home for me a few years ago when DeTwain Barnett (age 10) hung himself. At that time, DeTwain was the youngest victim of suicide Vanderburgh County had seen. At last night's presentation, Coroner Groves informed us that 10 year-old DeTwain no longer holds that record. The youngest child to have committed suicide in Vanderburgh County is now seven - 7 Years Old.

I was outraged when DeTwain died. I am outraged now.

I am repeating my original post, written after DeTwain's death. I am doing this because it is so important, and because I hope that if enough people join me in my outrage, something will be done.


The following is in regards to the suicide of 10 year-old De-Twain Barnett, who hung himself in his mother’s apartment in Evansville, Indiana on May 12, 2007. If you are unfamiliar with the story of De-Twain, please read the article by accessing the link provided.

Note: It appears the original article published in the Courier and Press Newspaper is no longer accessible. There are a couple of follow-up pieces you may wish to read by clicking here and here

To Whom It May Concern:

I am a therapist in Evansville, working with children and adults. I have never worked at Cross Pointe, Mulberry Center, or South Western Indiana Mental Health Center. I share many of the concerns others have voiced in the online forum in response to the death of De-Twain. From the descriptions provided by those who knew him best, he sounds like an intelligent, spontaneous, creative boy who wanted to do well but had trouble complying with expectations of teachers in the classroom. The article in the Courier & Press indicated that De-Twain was frequently in trouble at school. His mother recalled he was beginning to feel that nobody liked him. After reading some of the comments written by his young friends as well as adults who knew him outside the classroom, it appears to me (as a strictly outside observer) that De-Twain’s "behavioral problems" may have been due to a number of separate issues, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, learning disabilities, auditory or visual processing disorders, fine-motor problems, food allergies, or the result of his body’s response to environmental toxins. In short, there are many things we, the general public, do not know about this child. Regarding the question of whom to blame, I believe we all need to take a few deep breaths, examine our own priorities and ask ourselves if we could have done anything to prevent this from happening.

What DO we know about De-Twain? We know that he had a great smile. We know his mother believed he was smart, even though his report cards did not reflect his intelligence. We have been told that he was funny, could be silly, and loved to draw. His mother talked about how he would check out DVDs from the library and study the cartoons, honing his own artistic skills. In my experience, when a child is intelligent but unable to demonstrate success in reading, math, or writing, he or she is often quite talented musically or artistically - the intelligence finds a way to come out. Unfortunately, we have focused so heavily on test scores and "academic achievement," with budget cuts in our public schools reflecting our collective disdain for the importance of the arts in education. As a result, our creative children (who are often highly intelligent and our most sensitive & intuitive) frequently are left without an outlet for their gifts or an avenue of expression for their pain. When a child is bright and wants to succeed, but struggles due to unaddressed health problems or learning disabilities, he or she may be especially vulnerable to depression, social isolation, and suicidal ideation. These are the children who need art and music the most! If we are so focused on competition that we devalue the child who is not a “Straight A” student, then we are at least partly responsible for the ones we lose.

In the article about DeTwain’s death, his mother revealed that her son really struggled in school, to the point where she was hearing from his teachers on an almost daily basis. When a child exhibits such a high level of difficulty, something serious is going on. Children who exhibit behavior problems are not “bad children.” They are children who need help. I encourage anyone who cares about our children to learn about the many issues that can affect behavior, attention, and the ability to learn in the classroom environment. A child with allergies or asthma is likely to have increased behavior issues in spring and fall when environmental allergens and air-borne toxins increase. If a child is allergic or sensitive to casein and gluten (dairy products and grains), he or she will OFTEN exhibit behaviors that are indistinguishable from ADHD and can even look psychotic. Anyone who doubts the ability of milk to make you crazy is encouraged to rent the DVD of The Aviator - the story of Howard Hughes. The more milk he drank, the crazier he became. In addition to milk, parents should pay attention to the amount of ice cream and milkshakes their behaviorally volatile children are eating and drinking.

Stomach problems (diarrhea, constipation, acid reflux) affect school performance. Children who have had multiple ear infections, upper respiratory infections, or strep throat are especially likely to have trouble in school as a result of problems with their digestive systems. Many of our kids have had so many antibiotics that their intestinal tracts are shot from yeast overgrowth. They are constipated, gassy, have foul-smelling breath, and skin problems. They crave sugar and carbohydrates. When you have a constipated child and a gut full of yeast and sugar, that's not a child, it's a STILL! Sugar, yeast, and fermentation equals alcohol. No wonder our kids can't pay attention in class and act like they're drunk - they are! Parents of children who struggle MUST do their own research and educate themselves. Sadly, if you ask your physician about food allergies or yeast problems, you may well be told there is nothing to those rumors. This is a point where parents have a responsibility to pursue the issue further, and professionals have a responsibility to admit they may not have all the answers.

As parents, we all need to examine what our children are eating – at home and at school. Improving a child’s diet can go a long way toward improving his or her behavior and functioning. Simple steps like cutting out artificial dyes and preservatives can make a big difference in some children. Give filtered water, fresh fruits and vegetables. Do a little research on the connection between intake of fried foods in early life and breast cancer later on. If we as parents abdicate our responsibility for feeding and fueling our children because it's easier to "drive through," then we must accept part of the responsibility for their health problems, now and in the future.

Finally, we have to face the facts that in this area, we are all being poisoned by the toxins in the air. Alcoa and Sigeco are both among the top 10 polluters in the entire nation when it comes to the toxins they put into the air, including sulfur-dioxide, nitrogen-dioxide, lead, mercury, aluminum, cadmium, and arsenic. These poisons don't just cause cancer - they destroy our children's central nervous systems and contribute to increases in learning disabilities, Autism, Asperger's Syndrome, and bipolar disorder. Alcoa and Sigeco are not the only culprits. If you want to learn more about what's in our air, you can do the research yourself on the EPA website. The question is, how many people are willing to risk the monetary losses associated with doing what's right for our children and our environment? If we are not willing to give up a little in the wallet, then we must share in the blame for what is happening to our children (and to ourselves).
(Please read the accompanying article, “What’s Going On in Indiana” for more information about toxins that may be associated with the rise in suicides.)

When we lose a child like this, it is a sad thing for all of us because we as a society will never benefit from DeTwain's gifts. When I counsel clients who have lost loved ones, one thing we work toward is trying to find some meaning out of the loss. My hope is that DeTwain's death will not be completely in vain, but will serve as a wake-up call to those of us who remain. We are all responsible for OUR children. Please, let's start working together to heal their world and make it one from which they are not so desperate to escape.



  1. Marci,
    What did the coroner say when you asked about heavy metals? Did she say she would consider testing for it in the future?

  2. It was a brief conversation, but she seemed very interested and promised to read the article. I expressed interest in working together on a study and she seemed open to that possibility.
    It was interesting that when I first mentioned the possibility of an environmental component she said that some of the high school kids who toured her office last year told her that the lungs of the deer (I presume those killed by hunters) in this area are dark and diseased. She was very willing to listen and I showed her the slide on Vanadium from my post about Mitch Daniels, the Coal Industry and the Autism Epidemic. I emphasized the connections between vanadium excess, lithium depletion, bipolar disorder, herpes encephalitis, and suicide. Then I showed her the data from the EPA's Toxic Release Inventory, indicating that the amount of vanadium in the Evansville area has increased by more than a million pounds a year when comparing the numbers from 2004 to 2008. Her response was, "How are we missing this?" That was when she took the paper out of my hand and put it in her bag, promising to read it.
    I'm more hopeful than I have been in a long time that someone may actually be starting to listen.

  3. Did she say that Vanderburgh County had the highest suicide rate in the United States? I don't recall hearing that...

  4. She did not say it. USA Today first said it in 2007 and it has remained that way since then.

  5. I still don't see where it says that Vanderburgh has the HIGHEST rate in the United States. Do you mean that Vanderburgh County's rate is higher than the national rate? That I see.

  6. Going back to 2007, there were multiple articles about the suicide rate after DeTwain Barnett's death. It was at that time that I read the statement (pretty sure it was in one of the USA Today articles, but could have been in the Courier-Press) that Vanderburgh County had the highest rate per capita in the U.S.
    I have not been able to quickly verify that, though. I have amended the post to read "one of the highest..."
    Thank-you for bringing this to my attention.

  7. Ms. Marcella Piper-Terry
    I just want to let you know this is my first time reading your comments and concerns and I support what you are doing.Thank You.
    sincerely,Latasha Barnett


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