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Rethinking Policing: Family wants 911 response changes after daughter’s suicide

Ciara Trojanowski
Posted at 9:50 PM, Mar 26, 2021

MESA, AZ — The family of a 16-year-old Mesa girl who died by suicide wants to reform how cities respond to 911 calls about people in mental health crisis.

In 2017, Ciara Trojanowski took her own life in the bathroom of her home after officers and paramedics had arrived to intervene.

Need help now for a mental health crisis? Call or text Teen Lifeline at 602-248-TEEN (8336) or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The State of Arizona provides additional county-by-county resources.

Ciara’s dad and sister believe trained counselors or social workers could do a better job de-escalating people who are suicidal or are experiencing other kinds of crises. They urge cities to consider adding mobile crisis units that could respond to welfare checks instead of police.

“They may be thinking that they're showing up as Captain America, but to the person who's answering the door, they're scared of this the police officer,” said Ed Trojanowski, Ciara’s dad.

Several cities across the country including Eugene, Ore., and Denver, Colo., already have civilian-staffed mobile crisis teams that respond to emergency mental and behavioral health calls. The City of Phoenix is considering a $15 million dollar proposal to staff 19 Community Advocacy Program vans that would be available 24/7.

Mesa officers and firefighters responded to Ciara’s house in 2017 after an online gaming friend called 911.

According to the 911 recording, the friend told the dispatcher “she already has her note written out” and “she's talking about how she has a gun next to her now.” Ciara was home alone.

RELATED: Teen suicide prevention: Highlighting the warning signs and what is being done in Arizona

Officers and paramedics arrived to find the girl was still alive. One officer went to both the front and the back door and called Ciara by name to get her to talk to him.

“That is what is kind of ingrained in all of our brains, you know, is to call the police for situations like this,” Ciara’s sister Adriana Trojanowski said.

Adriana told ABC15 her sister was probably scared by the police and fire response and worried she was getting in trouble.

According to the police report, Ciara downplayed her crisis by saying, "What teenager my age isn`t depressed?"

When authorities were initially unable to reach Ed at work by phone, they decided to take the teen to the hospital for evaluation.

Ciara asked to use the bathroom before leaving. She went in alone, without anyone checking if there was a weapon on her or in the room, according to the family.

Police bodycam video showed a firefighter waiting outside the bathroom door. The door is locked, and Ciara said she felt sick. The firefighter told Ciara she had until the count of three to come out.

He makes it to “two” and hears a gunshot. The firefighter and an officer kick in the door to find the 16-year-old bleeding from the head. She died in the hospital a few days later.

“She was just my best friend,” Ed said.

RELATED: Teen Lifeline sees 50% increase in calls from Arizona teens

Police officers, who have months of training on solving crimes and arresting people, may have just one to two days of training on mental health responses.

According to the police report, officers tried to get two types of crisis teams to respond to Ciara’s house. One didn't handle juveniles. The other wasn't available.

“I do think that if, if somebody who was more trained to deal with situations like this, or like, what happened to my sister, that the outcome would have been would have been different,” Adriana said.

After Ciara harmed herself, officers found a suicide note in her bedroom and an open gun case in another bedroom.

The Trojanowskis sued the City of Mesa claiming the officers and firefighters were negligent on the scene and Ciara’s life could have been saved.

Mesa police sent the following statement to ABC15:

“When a tragedy like this occurs, we always take a look at the policies and procedures surrounding the incident so we can gain insight to inform our decision making models moving forward. Since 2017 our Crisis Response Team (CRT) has grown from 4 to 8 and we now have a full time clinician with our CRT team as of 2018.”

Both sides reached a settlement last month, but the Trojanowski family said it's not about the money.

“I care about other kids,” Ed said.

The family now hopes community partners will join them to push for more crisis response resources in Mesa and other cities. Ed and Adriana Trojanowski also want people to regularly work with teens to receive more training on suicide prevention.

Melissa Blasius is looking at community solutions as part of ABC15’s Rethinking Policing series. Contact her at Melissa.Blasius@abc15.com or 602-803-2506. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.