Teen using makeshift rope when she fell to her death

Posted: April 12, 2013

The 14-year-old girl had just been disciplined by her foster parents and sent to her room. She'd get out of the punishment by getting out of the family's apartment.

So the teen tied shoe laces and power cords to a heating unit and tried to lower herself out of her eighth-story window onto a garage roof below, Upper Merion Township police said Wednesday.

Instead, the girl, whom authorities did not identify, fell to her death. The Montgomery County Coroner's Office ruled it accidental.

"This is just a tragic accident," said Frank X. Custer, the county's director of communications.

Upper Merion police responded Tuesday at 6:18 p.m. to the Marquis Apartment complex on West DeKalb Pike in King of Prussia. They, along with other emergency personnel, recovered the victim from the parking garage roof and took her to Mercy Suburban Hospital in Norristown, where she died from her injuries.

The makeshift rope was found "still tied to the heater in her bedroom and hanging down along the outside of the building," Chief Tom Nolan said Wednesday evening. "The makeshift rope extended from her window down to about 10 feet off the roof. It is our belief that she fell while exiting the window, because we do not believe the makeshift rope would have remained intact with her weight on it."

Custer confirmed the teen was under the care of Montgomery County's Office of Children and Youth, which contracted the case to Fort Washington-based Access Services.

"We are confident that all our protocols have been followed," Custer said. "Access has a very good reputation with their foster-parent program."

The organization's website says it provides "support services for individuals with special needs in Southeastern Pennsylvania."

Mary Williams, who lives in the same apartment building, five floors below the victim and foster parents, said she chatted with them when doing laundry or as they went in and out of the building.

The 14-year-old was "a good girl. She was friendly to everybody," Williams said, but acted awkwardly at times. "I never asked the foster mother about her mental state, but [the girl] seemed like she was slow."

Williams last saw the victim Sunday, in the basement laundry room.

"I didn't hear her come in, but when I turned around she was just standing there staring at me. I said, 'What's wrong?' She said, 'Oh, no, there's nothing wrong. I was just looking.' "

Williams said the foster parents were "good Christian people" and the wife, in particular was "nice, loving, warm."

Contact Carolyn Davis at 610-313-8109, cdavis@phillynews.com, or @carolyntweets

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