MANCHESTER — The mother of one of three girls who police allege were sexually assaulted after walking away from Granite Pathways drug treatment center last summer believes the organization misled her about efforts to find the girls.
At the time, Granite Pathways told her that “walkaways” are common and Manchester police were on top of the situation, with a search underway, said the mother, who contacted the New Hampshire Union Leader earlier this week.
But when she called Manchester police an hour later, she said, they told her they had only issued a bulletin to patrol officers and were not mounting a search.
“They (Granite Pathways) gave me a false sense of security,” said the mother, who asked that her name not be used to protect her daughter’s identity and her own job. The Union Leader independently confirmed her identity.
Patricia Reed, state director for Granite Pathways, said staff are not permitted to use force to detain anyone. The organization immediately notified police and the parents about the walkaways, she said.
“We shared with the family what the police had told us,” said Reed.
On Wednesday, Gov. Chris Sununu announced he was ending the contract that allows Granite Pathways to operate the adolescent drug treatment center at the Sununu Youth Services Center in Manchester. Sununu also called for a review of all state contracts with Granite Pathways.
The governor acted after reports of drug use and overdoses among patients. He put a state Health and Human Services veteran in charge of the treatment program but said all existing patients were being sent to other facilities.
Granite Pathways agreed to the move, admitting it faced too many challenges to ensure the program’s success.
The sexual assault incident occurred in July after the three girls left the property while on a supervised walk, the mother said. Two of the girls later returned to Granite Pathways and reported they had been sexually assaulted, according to previous newspaper accounts. The third was found in a nearby home.
Police arrested two Manchester men and charged them with felonious sexual assault. Their trials are scheduled for December and January.
As scrutiny of Granite Pathways intensified this week, officials stressed that the center does not operate a “lockdown” program. The teens there are a “complex population,” and addiction is a challenging disease to treat, said Reed.
The mother said her “chin hit the floor” when police said they were not looking for the girls. Family members jumped in a car, drove an hour to Manchester and started tracking down the girls themselves based on reports that people in a city park had seen them.
“We put the kids in their care, and they weren’t looking for them,” the mother said of Granite Pathways.
The mother said she subsequently connected with the parents of the other girls. All three were at Granite Pathways because of mental illness. While they may have used drugs on occasion, their biggest challenge was mental illness, the mother said. They enrolled in Granite Pathways because the state has no other treatment options.
“There’s a lot of blame to go around,” she said.
Hospitals keep teens experiencing mental health crisis in locked rooms for days until a bed opens up at the state hospital or Hampstead Hospital, the mother said. Those hospitals only stabilize teens before releasing them to local care.
Psychiatrists have lengthy waiting lists, she said. And counselors looked at her daughter’s record and turned her away. So she tried Granite Pathways.
“I had nothing else for her except drug programs,” the mother said.
Reed said Granite Pathways is a licensed provider of substance misuse treatment, which is the program’s focus.
“We are sympathetic to families looking for assistance and finding it difficult, and we help as much as we can, but we cannot fill the mental health treatment void in the state,” she said.
The mother said her daughter was at Granite Pathways three times between March and July. At the first visit, everything seemed professional and organized, she said. But Granite Pathways had experienced high turnover and appeared in disarray during the next two admissions, she said.
Reed acknowledged some turnover, which is typical in a new program, but said staffing quickly stabilized and the new program limited admissions for the first several months.
“At no time did our quality or standards fall,” Reed wrote.
The mother said she knows the facility is not a locked facility, but she thought more would be done to stop the walkaway.
The worker followed them to the edge of the property, but did not physically try to restrain them, she said.
“Staff kept pace with the girls, who were determined to leave, and tried as hard as possible to talk them into not leaving,” said Reed.
CORRECTION - An earlier version of this story mistakenly attributed statements from Patricia Reed, state director for Granite Pathways, to Pathways spokesman Jim Monahan.