Death of McMinnville girl, 6, kept secret; suicide or accident?


by STEVEN DUBOIS, Associated Press Writer

Posted on April 3, 2010 at 9:55 AM

Updated Saturday, Apr 3 at 9:55 AM

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- A district attorney has denied access to records from a police investigation into the death of a 6-year-old Oregon girl who a medical examiner concluded committed suicide.

Brad Berry, the DA in Yamhill County, southwest of Portland, said in a letter to The Associated Press that the public interest fails to outweigh the invasion of personal privacy to the family of Samantha Kuberski.

The McMinnville Police Department, which publicly disagreed with the medical examiner's ruling, declined to release the documents when the investigation was closed in January, prompting the AP to turn to Berry.

The police, acting on the wishes of Samantha's family, cited an exemption in public records law which states that releasing the records would be such an invasion that a reasonable person would deem it highly offensive.

The girl, days short of her 7th birthday when she died in December, is thought to be the youngest person ever to commit suicide in Oregon, according to the state Department of Human Services. Police detectives, however, said they believe the death was an accident.

Both sides largely based their conclusions on interviews conducted with the girl's parents and siblings. Though the records of those interviews remain secret, police and medical examiners discussed what was said.

Detectives learned Samantha was well-liked, well-adjusted and did well at school. She had not been abused, had not suffered a recent trauma and had expressed no thoughts of suicide until about an hour before the incident, when she threatened to kill herself after being chastised by her mother and sent to her room.

While her mother and three siblings were in another part of the house, the authorities said, Samantha got inside an unused crib that had no mattress or box spring. She placed a child's belt around her neck and tied it to the upper railing of the crib, hanging herself. The first-grader died at a hospital after the family and paramedics tried to save her.

Dr. Clifford Nelson, the deputy state medical examiner, ruled the death a suicide, a conclusion police did not support.

"The disagreement is a little more philosophical than it is material to the case," McMinnville police Capt. Dennis Marks said prior to the public records request. "It's not that we disagree with the mechanics of what happened. It's the finding that a 6-year-old could form that kind of intent."

Nelson said it's a disturbing case, but he couldn't "fudge the facts to make people feel better."

Samantha's parents declined to be interviewed for this article.

Child psychiatrists contacted for their opinion could not speak specifically about this case, but said it's possible for a girl that young to form such intent. Dr. Gregory Fritz, academic director at Bradley Hospital in East Providence, R.I., said it's "old-fashioned" to think otherwise.

"Children can have feelings of sadness and misery that profound," he said. "They can organize themselves to purposely and intentionally take their own lives." Berry, the district attorney, declined to file any charges, saying he could see the death as a suicide or an accident, but neither is a crime and there's no evidence of foul play.

He and Dr. Karen Gunson, the state's chief medical examiner, said Samantha and her siblings had been warned about the danger of belts when they used them while pretending to be dogs on leashes.

"Statements were made by the girl that indicated she was going to kill herself," Gunson said. "She had the means and she realized that if she put something around her neck that was dangerous and could cause death -- because her parents had told her that. My contention is that shows intent."

She added: "Maybe it was a totally impulsive thing that happened, that's probably true. But I also see that in adults."