Alex Gervais deliberately jumped to his death from a fourth-floor window of an Abbotsford hotel last September, the BC Coroners Service concluded in a report released today (Tuesday).
Coroner Adele Lambert said the 18-year-old, who was in the custody of Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) and whose death triggered a governmental review, had been using cocaine on Sept. 17 and was “angry and distraught and was not sleeping.”
He was on the phone arguing with his girlfriend at 9 a.m. the next day when he said that he was going to jump out the window of the Super 8 hotel on Sumas Way.
“A couple of attempts to break the window were overheard before the phone went dead,” Lambert wrote in her report.
A witness outside the hotel heard glass break and saw Gervais plummet out the window.
Emergency crews were called to the scene, where Gervais – identified in the coroner’s report as Alexandre-David Decarie-Gervais – was pronounced dead shortly afterwards.
It was soon revealed that the teen had been in foster care since a young age and was placed at the hotel in July 2015 after the group home in which he had been living was among 23 that the ministry shut down due to health and safety concerns.
Lambert’s report describes Gervais as being “very sensitive and fearful of rejection” and that he had “considerable challenges in his life related to behaviour, mental health, substance use and unstable living environment.”
He threatened to commit suicide in January 2013 and was hospitalized for an assessment, in which he said he had made the threats in reaction to an argument. The assessment concluded he had “zero risk of suicide.”
Following the closure of the group home, other living arrangements were considered for Gervais, including a residential treatment program and independent living, but neither was deemed appropriate.
In the meantime, he was living in the hotel, where a case worker was in “frequent contact” with him and responded to Gervais whenever he needed assistance, the coroner’s report states.
Gervais was receiving services to prepare him for living independently, but he was described as having a “very pessimistic outlook” about his life.
“Alex acknowledged that he was having difficulty managing his emotions while using illicit substances but he was not ready to abstain,” Lambert wrote.
She said he was unhappy with his living arrangements, and a meeting had been scheduled for Sept. 18 – the day of his death – to discuss a different placement.
In November, MCFD and B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth announced a joint review into the use of hotels to house children who are in the care of the province.
In January, they released a report that stated 117 children and youth in care in B.C. were placed in hotels in a recent 12-month period.
MCFD is still completing a comprehensive review into the services offered to Gervais and is expected to issue its first public report on hotel placements on June 1.