RICHLANDS, VA (WVNS) — Tazewell County Sheriff Brian Hieatt held a press conference in Richlands on Friday, Dec. 13, 2019. He announced four arrests were made in an investigation into the suicide of two Richlands High School Students.
Justin Dye, 15, killed himself with an handgun on Oct. 15, 2018. Just six months later Kayla Hodges, 16, hung herself in her front yard. The deaths caused a stir in the community and deputies conducted a thorough investigation.
As a result, Jason Osbourne, Janet Osbourne, Richard Hodges and Suzanne Polkinghorn are charged with felony Child Neglect.
The Osbourne’s are Justin Dye’s mother and stepfather. Deputies said Dye was previously hospitalized for depression, anxiety and suicidal attempts. When he was released, he was given a safety plan which involved medication to stop suicidal thoughts and keeping guns or weapons out of the home.
Investigators said the safety plan was not followed. They found the medications were not taken and Dye had full access to a loaded gun. According to a release, the Osbourne’s stopped making him take the medication. The investigation showed they felt Justin was old enough to decide whether or not to take the medication.
Sheriff Hieatt said this is not about whether or not there were guns in the home, but that they were not secured when there was a suicidal child living there.
Kayla Hodges had also been hospitalized for treatment of suicidal thoughts. She was given medication to treat her condition when she was released. Investigators found her father told the doctor he did not want her to continue taking the drugs and cancelled her counseling appointments.
Mr. Hodges also found out she was cutting on herself a month before she hung herself. During an interview with deputies, Mr. Hodges said he wanted to wait until the end of the school year to seek help for Kayla.
Suzanne Polkinghorn lived in the home with Richard and Kayla Hodges. She portrayed herself as Kayla’s grandmother, but deputies said she moved in two years before Kayla’s death and had a sexual relationship with the man she referred to as her son.
In both cases, there were accusations of bullying at school. Sheriff Heiatt said there was no evidence to support that any incidents at school led to the suicide of Dye. In fact, evidence showed that in both cases it was neglect in the home which can be attributed to the teen’s deaths.
“Standing here today I am not saying there is no bullying that happens at the high school they attended or at any school in our county, state, or nation. If you have ever had a child in school then you know bullying is a sad truth that we live with and as parents, teachers, and community members we have to work together to stop. I want to be very clear on one thing – bullying is a repetitive or ongoing thing,” said Sheriff Hieatt. “If you have a fight over stepping on a jersey it’s just that a fight, if you have a single incident of being slapped in the back of the head by someone completely unrelated to the first incident it’s not bullying! Children will call each other names, sometimes they’re not very nice names and it doesn’t make it right but unless it is repetitive, ongoing, and someone is made aware it’s not bullying!”
Sheriff Hieatt also said the common thread in both cases was the teens played video games for hours. He added they were sleep deprived and not acting with their full mental capacities. Kayla Hodges did endure cyberbullying and was involved in online activities with people around the United States.
The investigation is still open. Sheriff Hieat thanked everyone who helped on the investigation which included the Richlands Police Department, Tazewell County Schools, Child Protective Services and the Virginia State Police.
“The reason we choose to have a press conference to release this information is because I do not want the public to think that if they have a child that commits suicide they will be arrested, but that psychological and mental health problems are very prevalent and serious problems that are increasing in our nation and we have to take them seriously,” stated Sheriff Hieatt. “I also want to make this information available because the community has asked for answers. The people we have charged quickly took advantage of the fact that the public has not been able to know these details of the investigation and they have worked very hard to shield themselves and deflect any blame or responsibilities for their actions that led to the deaths of these two young children onto multiple other people who are not to blame.”