Friday, February 12, 2016

Gynnya Could Have Been Mine

My 16-year-old daughter likes the music they play on our local college radio station. She likes holing up in her room after school, eating whenever and whatever she wants, using the cell phone her mom provides to chat with her boyfriend late at night, and pressuring us to let her drink coffee and wine. She never says “please” or “thank you,” fights with her mother sometimes, and generally acts like she believes she is the best thing since sliced bread.

From what I’m told, she’s a typical 16-year-old.

Gynnya McMillen was a typical 16-year-old too. She was a quiet, healthy, beautiful person with no criminal history. On January 11, one day after she arrived at the Lincoln Village Regional Juvenile Detention Center in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, for the terrible crime of fighting with her mom, she was found dead in her cell.

Once she arrived at the center, she refused to take off her sweatshirt and the staff immobilized her using a martial arts hold known as “Aikido restraint.” She spent just one night at the center (without a roommate), but didn’t respond to two offers of food and a phone call from her mom.

You’d think the staff would have checked on her at some point but they didn’t. Even when they finally discovered Gynnya unresponsive in her room, the center nurse didn’t immediately try to resuscitate her, waiting 11 minutes and talking with police before finally performing CPR.

Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice Commissioner Bob Hayter was just fired after it was discovered that Reginald Windham, the staffer who was supposed to oversee Gynnya but didn’t, had a history of negligence and use of excessive force toward kids in the center. Windham, who falsified reports and lied about checking on Gynnya every 15 minutes as required, was placed on “special administrative leave.”

Of course, nothing can reunite Gynnya with her family. Since we can’t give her back to those who love her, we can at least give them answers. Demand that the Kentucky Juvenile Justice Commission or GOP Governor Matt Bevin release surveillance video and provide answers for Gynnya’s death. (She had no bruise marks and no history of heart issues.)

Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice
1025 Capital Center Drive
Frankfort, Kentucky 40601

Governor Matt Bevin
Office of the Governor
700 Capitol Avenue, Suite 100
Frankfort, Kentucky 40601

As with adults, black kids who haven’t been convicted of any crimes are placed in detention centers at higher rates for similar crimes as their counterparts. And Lincoln Village, like many prisons and detention centers, receives government funding per day for each child they have in custody. Nothing like providing incentive to incarcerate, huh?

This tragedy didn’t have to happen. Gynnya could have been my daughter – or yours.

The “Justice for Gynnya McMillen” Facebook page is here.

UPDATE:  A source informed me that Gynnya's detention was the result of domestic violence rather than the minor family squabble that I implied above. Everyone agrees, however, that she should not have paid with her life.



  1. Its so taxing on the spirit that these type of situation happen on a daily and it even worries and sickens me more because as you stated, she could have been my daughter. The system is in a constant state of failure, and my hope dwindles with each story of life that is taken or neglected. Appreciate you bringing this story and countless other stories to light. This dark place needs more beacons of light to help end and change the violations against our kids, adults, and humans.

  2. Expect and teach your daughter to have some respect and manners, and to cooperate within the family unit. Allowing her to behave so asocially is not doing her a favor. She lacks the social skills that make her comprehend how the world will treat her when she leaves home. She's in for a rude awakening if she tries that behavior at college and in the work world. You are 'spoiling' her in that she will think life is owed to her. It doesn't work that way. She will struggle to succeed. You are not helping her by indulging her petulance. -mother of 4 well-adjusted adults.

  3. Regardless of her offense, her death is a tragedy. The passive responses and refusal to dig into what went wrong, why, how and what to change to prevent a recurrence is the injustice.

  4. Thinking of her family, trying to comprehend the lose of their child.
    I hope the justice system is responsive this horror....been through the lose of a child...hope they have a good support system, therapy,church..each other..