‘It’s just a damn roller coaster. It’s a freaking nightmare’: Alaskan mother wants justice after daughter’s death in treatment center Outside

FastCast digital headlines for Thursday, January 12th.
Published: Jan. 12, 2023 at 9:08 AM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The last time mother and daughter spoke was Thanksgiving. Raiden Toms-Moonin, 15, who was getting treatment at the Oak Plains Academy in Tennessee, was having a hard time being away from her family in Alaska so she spoke to her mother, Margaret Moonin by phone.

“She was just crying she was so upset, you know, she was just missing us and wishing to be home,” Moonin said.

Days later Raiden and another 15-year-old girl would die.

Margaret Moonin with her daughter Raiden Toms-Moonin.
Margaret Moonin with her daughter Raiden Toms-Moonin. (Margaret Moonin)

Deputies in Tennessee said two girls, including Raiden, stole several packs and a bottle of Benadryl from a nurse’s station at the facility on Nov. 28. One of the girls died on Nov. 29 at a Clarksville hospital. The second girl died on Nov. 30 at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.

Moonin said her daughter had suicidal ideations and had attempted suicide several times. The most recent attempt, she says, was inside Moonin’s home. Raiden’s parents say they were unable to find long-term treatment centers in Alaska so they started looking Outside, which is when they learned about Oak Plains Academy.

Moonin says she doesn’t understand how this could happen because her daughter was specifically sent to Oak Plains Academy because she was supposed to be watched constantly to prevent additional suicide attempts.

“It’s just unthinkable. There’s no words. I’m lost. It’s just a damn roller coaster. It’s a freaking nightmare and it’s just all over the place. It’s just unreal and it’s hard to think about and it’s hard to look at her picture and I just can’t imagine going on like this,” Moonin said.

On its website, the company boasts of having a “wooded campus” and “rolling hills” as well as a full-size gym with opportunities for fishing, hiking softball and basketball.

It provides therapeutic behavioral health services to children ages 5-11.

“If I knew that was the last time I spoke to her there is so much more I would have said,” Moonin said. “I’m just glad that I said what I did, I’m glad it wasn’t a bad conversation that we were yelling or fighting or I said something that I would ultimately regret, but I wish I would have said more.”

Oak Plains Academy is part of Universal Health Services, one of the largest hospital and health care providers in the nation with 335 behavioral health inpatient facilities across the country. The company website says it treated 3.2 million people last year with revenues of more than $12 billion. It’s also Fortune 500 Company. North Star Behavioral Health in Anchorage is also part of Universal Health Services.

North Star, and the state of Alaska, have also been criticized for the treatment of patients, including a report outlining the negative impacts of sending children from Alaska to the Lower 48 for mental health treatment. According to a report by the Alaska disability Law Center between July 2018 and February 2021, North Star referred at least 150 youths to treatment centers outside Alaska. At least one-third of those children were Alaska Natives. Many, the report states, traveled hundreds or thousands of miles from their hometown to seek treatment.

The investigation at Oak Plains Academy remains active by the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office.

“Any documents associated with the juvenile deaths in this case are in the possession of the State Medical Examiner’s Office, as well as, are part of an active criminal investigation case file. Therefore, they are not subject for release at this time,” wrote a public information officer from the county.

“Our Criminal Investigation Division is working with the 19th Judicial District Attorney’s Office pertaining to the case. We will not speculate on whether there will be any charges at this time.”

The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office executed a search warrant on the property in December.

“We want to ensure that anything that contributed or could have contributed to the deaths of these two juveniles, has been looked at, properly investigated, and if necessary, the appropriate criminal charges and/or other appropriate action brought forward. As with any investigation, it is also very important to maintain the integrity of the investigation. This has and will always help to ensure the best possible outcome of our investigation once it is completed,” Sheriff John Fuson wrote in a statement. “It is my job to ensure that these families receive our best, and together with our District Attorney’s Office and the TBI, that is exactly what we plan to give them.”

Requests for comments from Universal Health Services were not returned.

In an email, Larry Kirkland the CEO of Oak Plains Academy wrote, in part, “The leadership and staff of Oak Plains Academy extend our condolences to the families and friends of the two individuals who passed away. Our team continues to cooperate fully with all agencies involved in investigating this matter. Due to state and federal patient privacy laws, as well as an ongoing investigation, we cannot provide further details.”

Moonin says she wants justice for her daughter and accountability for her child’s death.

“I don’t understand. You send your kids to a place like this you don’t think you’re never going to see them again,” Moonin said. “I sent her there to be safe, you know, they didn’t keep her safe. I’ll never see her again, just want justice for her, I just want her story told. And I want — I never want this to happen again to anyone.”

The overdose deaths are still under investigation.