Saturday, January 27, 2007

Isabelle Zehnder: Giovanni "Joey" Aletriz: One year later and still seeking justice


April 3, 1989 to February 4, 2006

I would like to share Joey's life with you and the tragic way it ended.

The one year anniversary of Joey's death is upon us and justice has not, in any way, been served. The people who killed him have, to date, gotten away with it "in the name of treatment." Just a month and a half before Joey died at Summit Quest Academy in Ephrata, PA, James White died there. Two deaths in less than two months should raise some serious red flags yet nothing has happened and the facility remains open.

If you have information about either of these boys and what happened to them please contact and we will assist you in reporting what you know. If you are staff who worked in a program for children and witnessed child abuse, please read: Attention Staff: A Call for Help.

Above picture provided to CAICA by Joey's mom.

Giovanni "Joey" Aletriz was born on April 3, 1989 in Ephrata, PA. As you can see, he was a happy little baby boy. Joey had a wonderful life and was well cared for by his mom, Cynthia Allen, who raised her two sons as a single mom.

Alex, his older brother, was extremely close to his baby brother, Joey. They were only fifteen months apart and are described by their mom as "two peas in a pod." Joey learned to walk at seven months and was always trying to keep up with Alex. He was always happy and smiling.

When Joey was only one year old he liked to dress himself and could already go into his bedroom and pick out matching clothes. From a very young age Joey liked to look good! By the time he was eighteen months he was very outgoing and made friend with everyone he met.

When Joey was 7 he was taller than his brother, Alex. He used to say, "Alex is older but I'm bigger." Joey loved school and was an active child. Mom said, "Joey was an all-around good kid. I have nothing bad to say about my son."

Joey and Alex were inseparable. They did everything together. Their mom, Cynthia would put them to bed at night in their own beds and would always find them togehter in the morning. The loss of Joey has been a tremendous loss not only for Cynthia, but for Alex and all those who knew and loved Joey. It has also been a loss for all of us who his story has touched.

Joey was very artistic and he loved science. He loved to learn how things worked and could figure out how to fix just about anything from the time he was quite young. He never wanted to be left behind and was always interested in what Alex was learning. He loved Power Rangers, the Simpson’s, and other cartoons. Not only did he like watching these shows but he liked to draw the characters.

When Joey hit puberty things began to change. He smiled less and didn’t feel himself which caused him to become angry. Yet he could not explain why he felt angry because he didn't understand it himself. Joey was a very special person. He gave his heart to a girl who was a couple years older than he was. When she broke his heart by going out with his best friend it caused Joey a tremendous amount of pain and confusion. He did not understand why another human being would do that to him.

Over time things began to spiral downwards. He was in school one day, became suicidal, and was taken to a hospital where he was diagnosed with a puberty-onset bi-polar condition. Even when he was in crisis at the hospital he was concerned about a little girl who had been abandoned by her family. He wanted his mom to adopt her, telling his mom, "so she could have a good life like I do."

The school he attended was aware of the medications he was taking and of his new diagnosis, but they were not equipped to deal with it and his mom believes they did more harm to Joey than good.

Even with the problems Joey was facing in his life he was still a big teddy bear who loved everyone and who touched the lives of many. He tried to help everyone when he could. He had difficulties coping with his new diagnosis and wanted to feel like himself again. All he wanted to do was be a kid. That's when he and his mom decided to look for help. Sadly, it would be the very place that promised to help him that ultimately caused his death.

Joey was enrolled into the Summit Quest Academy in Ephrata, PA. Summit Quest is owned by Via Quest, a large organization with many programs for children and adults. Many of which have been reported as being abusive. But Joey and his mom had no idea and thought this was a good place where kids could get help.

After Joey was there only a short while a boy named James White died at the facility. The only reason the public knows about James' death is because of Joey. When James died the families at Summit Quest were contacted and told that he fell down during exercise and died. There was nothing in the newspapers and there was no obituary that we could find for James. We are not sure if he had parents or if he was a ward of the state. We wonder how many more children have died this way.

Joey was troubled by James' death that occured on December 12, 2005 - less than two months before Joey died and only shortly after he had arrived at Summit Quest. He discussed James' death with his dad when he managed to run away from the program but was caught. He was taken to Lehi County Juvenile Facility and was denied access to his parents. Two days later he was transported back to Summit Quest in Ephrata. That night he ran away again, which his mom was not made aware of. She had learn of this while reading the autopsy results. The next day he was dead.

But before he died he wrote in his journal. Ironically these entries were placed out of sequence in the middle of his journal and it is believed the program may not have seen them. It seems Joey knew what he was doing and that he knew death was looming. He wrote two entries in his journal that read:

January ? 2006 - Have you ever had something that had ever scared you? Not like spiders or bugs or animals or another human being. I’m talking about a thought or an emotion. Mostly an emotion. Something like fear, but at the same time it’s like another person is controlling you. In other words it’s as if fear becomes anger and anger manipulates you. It takes control from within. It’s kind of like a rat backed into a corner. It gets scared and then anger takes over.

February 2, 2006 – 2 days before Joey was killed!I figured out there are some factors to my fear. Some are being wronged, hurt, threatened, death (myself and others) and being harmed. It really sucks having a lot of fears, because mine turn into anger. But see out of all these fears one is the strongest, and of course it is death.

On the afternoon of February 4, 2006, it was only 43 degrees and Joey was cold. He wanted to wear the sweatshirt his mom had brought for him, a sweatshirt that met the dress code of the facility. The staff decided he was not going to wear his hood. But he was cold and he really wanted to keep it on. There was no rule, regulation, or reason to force him to remove it but the staff persisted. They forced him to sit on a chair in the hall, restricting him for all activities, because he had run away the night before.They kept trying to get him to take off his hood and he resisted, wanting to wear it and not understanding why they would care.

Sadly for Joey, staff brutally beat him, then restrained him and it was the retraint that killed him. Joey had asthma and any qualified staff should have known placing Joey in the prone face-down position on the floor and restraining him could injur, if not kill him. But these staff were not properly trained or qualified to work with troubled children. It was reported that a nurse stood by, much like in the Martin Lee Anderson case, and did nothing to help him.

Joey was confused and just wanted to understand why these people were so insistent that he could not wear his hood when he was so cold. You see, the facility looks great when you first drive up and you would never know the conditions under which the children live unless you were to take a tour of the place. The children slept were in metal barrick-style buildings that are freezing cold in the winter and blazing hot in the summer.

Here's what Cynthia, Joey's mom, had to say:


Joey was a resident of SummitQuest, a treatment facility in Ephrata, PA. He was there for two months when I got the call from SummitQuest, “Ms. Allen, we had to restrain Joey and during the restraint he went into cardiac arrest.” They told me my son was dead. On February 4, 2006, they killed my son while restraining him.

The preliminary autopsy report showed my son died of POSITIONAL ASPHYXIATION. The Lancaster County coroner, Dr. Kirchner, and Dr. John Shane, a private pathologist employed by us, both concluded this. They are waiting for the tissue and toxicology reports, but that will not change the fact that my son was brutally beaten and then suffocated to death.

The autopsy report showed evidence of a traumatic injury to the left side of his head (a hemotoma on the side of his head from his temple to his jaw), chest compression, lesions inside his shoulders, and bleeding near his shoulder blade, in his ribs and in his spinal area. He had bite marks on his lips and tongue. Joey had a black eye, vomit in his nasal cavity, indicating he suffocated, a mark down by his appendix area that was consistent with a fist or kick mark, multiple bruises, and Pettichae (small bruises that form in the eye when someone has suffocated.) He also had internal organ damage and forensic photos revealed so much weight was applied on his back that his clothing left indents on his shoulders.

Joey was a brother, a nephew, a grandson, a cousin and a friend to all. The world will not be the same without my son. He was a talented artist and he was very bright. I tried to get help for my son because he was bored in school. Joey was not sent to SummitQuest to be punished, he was sent there to help manage his anger. Joey was not born bipolar. The disease manifested itself when he turned fifteen. He could not understand what was happening to him and needed help. Hospital stays only made it worse.

Everyone loved Joey and everyone tried to help him through his disorder. The sad thing is it took Joey’s childhood away from him. He was a very polite child, always eager to please. He was well-mannered and polite.

So many people showed up for Joey’s burial that we literally had to turn people away.
SummitQuest said Joey died because he had become so irate that he had to be restrained. They said he suffered cardiac arrest as a result. I am a nurse of fifteen years and I am Joey’s mom. I do not believe my son died of a bad heart.

SummitQuest said Joey was alright following the restraint, and that later he fell. They claim it was that fall that caused his death.

Joey's Mom, Cynthia Allen
April 1, 2006

Joey's life ended because people who were in charge of him were not properly trained and because they chose to use violence rather than compassion in adminstering discipline. This type of behavior against children in facilities must stop. Otherwise we will continue to see deaths.

On May 23, 2006, seven months ago, I wrote a letter to Estelle B. Richman, Secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare addressing the issues surrounding Joey's death and seeking justice for Joey. I have never to date heard back from her. I have heard from other advocates who have said they have had the same problems when attempting to address issues with officials. It should not be this way, government officials should have common courtesy to at least acknowledge receipt of our letters and to address our concerns.

All we want is for justice to be served, for someone to be held accountable for Joey's death, and for something to be done to protect future children. It is our hope they will ban the use of prone restraints in the state of Pennsylvania and in all other states. They have proved to be overused and deadly. There are other ways to control a child should a child be completely out of control. The sad thing is that the children whose deaths I have researched were not out of control. They were not restrained because they were a danger to themselves or others. Angie Arndt is another good example. She was restrained for blowing bubbles in her milk one day and the next day she was restrained for not minding in the kitchen. She vomited, defacated on herself, and died during that restraint. She was 7.

I created a blog regarding restraints that kill children. You can visit the blog at:

Here is a link to Joey's page on our website, giving news articles and information:

Here is a link to Joey's new Memorial Website designed by his mom. Please visit the site and light a candle for Joey:

Here is a link to a Lifetime Memorial Website dedicated to all children who have died "in the name of treatment":

Please take a few moments to visit our website. It is our hope that all those who learn about this industry will be a voice for the children who do not have a voice.

Also, please leave your comments because what you say today may help someone tomorrow.

Isabelle Zehnder
Founder and President
Coalition Against Institutionalized Child Abuse (CAICA)