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Group home employee testifies he doesn’t recall checking the closet where Cree teen was found dead

WARNING: This story contains distressing details. 

The group home employee who reported Traevon Chalifoux-Desjarlais missing testified that he searched the teen’s bedroom but couldn’t recall if he ever looked in the closet where his body was eventually found.

“Obviously I did not check well enough because I didn’t find him,” said Murray McMaster, speaking at the Coroner’s Inquest into the death of the Cree teen.

Traevon’s body was found hanging in the closet on Sept. 18, 2020, four days after McMaster reported the 17-year-old missing to the Ministry of Children and Family Development’s after-hours reporting line, and three days after McMaster filed a missing persons report with Abbotsford police. 

McMaster testified that when he came on shift at around 8 a.m. on Sept. 14, he didn’t see Traevon and assumed he was still in bed. Brett Claxton, the worker McMaster took over from, testified Traevon had made a grilled cheese sandwich at 10:30 p.m. the night before. 

McMaster said when he went to get Traevon up at around noon on Sept 14, he observed Traevon wasn’t in his bed. At 10 p.m. that night, after not being able to locate Traevon, McMaster left a message on the MCFD reporting line. The following day at 2 p.m., he filed a missing person’s report with Abbotsford police. 

group home employee testifies he doesnt recall checking the closet where cree teen was found dead
Samantha Chalifoux stands in front of a small memorial in front of the group home, where her son Traevon Chalifoux Desjarlais died.  (Angela Sterritt/CBC)

McMaster testified he checked Traevon’s bedroom on Sept. 15 and Sept. 16, but didn’t find anything. He said he also sent fellow group home worker, Geoff Holley, to check the room.

On Sept. 17, McMaster said he started noticing a smell and wondered if there was a dead animal in the holes Traevon had made in his bedroom walls. 

“That’s when I started searching other areas of the house, the boiler room … under the stairs,” he said.

The court heard that McMaster requested a dump run on the morning of Sept. 18 to dispose of items that might be causing the smell. 

That same morning, two Abbotsford Police officers came to the group home without being called there. McMaster informed the officers of the smell and they went to the bedroom and immediately found Traevon’s body in the closet.

Employee declined to say teen was suicide risk

McMaster was asked why he declined to say Traevon was a suicide risk when he called in the missing person report. He responded that previous attempts to have Traevon apprehended under the mental health act had failed. 

“When I called APD when he did ideate suicide, they did not apprehend him so [I felt] it was not legitimate,” he said. 

The court heard about an incident on Aug. 28, 2020, when Chalifoux-Desjarlais mentioned he might cut his wrists after he had destroyed his mattress and sheets with something sharp.

McMaster said said he called police hoping they would take Traevon in under the Mental Health Act but was told there wasn’t cause to apprehend.

McMaster and Claxton both testified that Traevon had stopped taking his medication in the lead-up to his death. The court also heard that Traevon had started banging on his bedroom walls, possibly with his head, resulting in holes in the walls. 

According to evidence given by Abbotsford Police Const. Daniel Beebe, McMaster reported to police that Traevon had last been seen at 1 p.m. on Sept. 14, contradicting what McMaster earlier told the court about not seeing Traevon at all that day. 

Teen was subject of previous missing person’s reports

Beebe told the inquest police usually didn’t search for missing 17-year-olds in their own homes “because they’re usually not there.” 

Beebe said when he was handed Traevon’s missing person’s file on Sept. 15, he checked the police information system and found Traevon had been the subject of 14 previous missing person’s reports. 

Traevon’s group home was run by Rees Family Services, a company contracted by Indigenous child welfare provider Xyolhemeylh. Xyolhemeylh is a delegated agency of the Ministry of Children and Family Development operating in the Fraser Valley. 

The inquest is slated to hear evidence into next week. 

Coroner’s Inquests do not find blame, rather, they are meant to serve the public interest in determining the cause and circumstances of a death. The jury hearing the evidence can make recommendations aimed at preventing similar deaths in the future.

If you or someone you know is struggling, here’s where to get help:

If you’re worried someone you know may be at risk of suicide, you should talk to them about it, says the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention. Here are some warning signs: 

  • Suicidal thoughts.
  • Substance abuse.
  • Purposelessness.
  • Anxiety.
  • Feeling trapped.
  • Hopelessness and helplessness.
  • Withdrawal.
  • Anger.
  • Recklessness.

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