2010-07-02 / Front Page

Missing girl found dead in hills north of Simi

Coroner rules 18-year-old’s death a suicide
By Carissa Marsh cmarsh@theacorn.com

Kiersten Jones Kiersten Jones The search for a missing Simi Valley girl ended tragically Monday after loved ones found the body of Kiersten Jones at the bottom of a 300- to 400-foot cliff in the rugged hills north of town.

Authorities received a call about 3:30 p.m. Monday afternoon that the body had been discovered, according to Lt. Joe May of the Simi Valley Police.

Small groups of friends and family had been searching the sometimes-treacherous mountain trails near Whiteface—the last known whereabouts of the 18-year-old—when they spotted her body. Whiteface is one of Simi’s highest peaks and, according to her family, one of of Kiersten’s favorite hangouts.

According to Dep. Medical Examiner Shasta Gainer, her death has been ruled a suicide, a determination that was made through interviews and information collected at the scene.

Days before tragedy

Kiersten was reported missing two days earlier, on June 26.

She posted on her Facebook page last Friday she was planning to go hiking on Saturday at 2 p.m.

Friends and family became worried after not hearing from Kiersten for several hours and being unable to get in touch with her.

The teen’s parents, Trevor and Leila Jones, spoke to the Acorn early Monday afternoon, before launching the search effort that ultimately led to the discovery of their daughter’s body.

Her father said Kiersten’s boyfriend of about 18 months had broken up with her just days earlier and she was very upset about it.

When the young couple briefly broke up last October, Trevor Jones said, Kiersten was so distraught that her family and the police had her hospitalized for a few days on an involuntary psychiatric hold.

Weeks later, upon her 18th birthday, Kiersten moved out of her parents’ house and distanced herself from her family, her father said.

But Leila Jones stressed that Kiersten’s actions were not the fault of her ex-boyfriend. “He’s a really, really good, sweet kid,” she said. “It’s not about him.”

The search

After finding out late Saturday night that Kiersten was missing, Trevor Jones and his son, Nathan, went to Big Sky Park to look for her. Kiersten’s ex-boyfriend joined them. Using flashlights in the dark, the men hiked around Whiteface, but they found no trace of her.

What they did find was Kiersten’s car in the parking lot by the softball fields. Locked inside Kiersten’s car were her wallet, camera and keys, Trevor Jones said.

On Sunday, the family and many of their friends from the local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints put up missing-person fliers around town and searched Simi’s northern hills again.

A photo text Kiersten sent to a friend on Saturday afternoon showed her last known whereabouts as a ridge just below Whiteface. Trevor Jones said his daughter had hiked the area before.

Also on Sunday, a sheriff’s helicopter scoured the ridgelines.

Trevor Jones said the police also contacted Kiersten’s cellphone service provider, MetroPCS, which told officers the teen had been checking her voicemail overnight Saturday.

Though this gave the family hope, it turned out not to be true. Jones said his daughter hadn’t made or received any calls since about 3 p.m. Saturday, and the last thing anybody had heard from Kiersten was a Facebook message sent from her phone at 5:23 p.m. Saturday saying “i love you all.”

May said the department’s detectives had also tried to track the cellphone to help locate Kiersten, but attempts were unsuccessful.

On Monday, though Simi detectives were still working the case, the main search effort was conducted by Kiersten’s loved ones, on foot and on mountain bike.

When asked why the police search for Kiersten wasn’t more extensive, May said the information officers had obtained seemed to indicate that the teen was fine.

“The information we (had) is that she is checking the messages, that means she’s okay,” he said. “And being that she’s 18, she was a voluntary missing adult, so it kind of changes the scope of the missing person investigation a little bit.”

Tracy Bowers, Kiersten’s aunt, said that while it would have been nice to have had more police on the search and that it was unfortunate friends and family had to find the body, the family isn’t dwelling on it.

“The police, they did the very best they could with the information they had. It was just too bad that we got misinformation and it’s frustrating, but we’re not blaming anybody, and the police were very kind and helpful and wanting to do whatever they could,” Bowers said.

As is typical with a missing hiker situation, May said, the sheriff’s department’s search and rescue team—the helicopter—was called in, and two Simi officers on dirt bikes tried to reach Kiersten’s body after it had been located.

About Kiersten

A Simi native, Kiersten attended Royal High School and had many career aspirations. According to a press release prepared by the family, Kiersten was an admirer of classic cars, and at one point she wanted to learn how to become a mechanic. She also loved kids and had recently been working at a group home with children who suffered from various disabilities.

The family said it will remember Kiersten’s quirky attitude, unique fashion sense and high energy. A middle child in a family of six children, Kiersten was nicknamed “Roo” at a young age because she always hopped around the house like a kangaroo, and they said she kept that same vibrancy until her last days.

They said Kiersten had a strong spirit and wasn’t afraid to be different or show her feelings; she was a person “full of infectious love,” prone to giving spontaneous hugs.

“We, as a family, are going to remember Roo when she was in her prime,” Bowers said. “Just her sweet smile. She was just bubbly, happy, willing to work . . . those sweet memories when she was in her prime and full of life.”

She said Kiersten’s parents have shed a lot of tears but are comforted by their faith.

“They just know that she’s in a better place and we all believe we’ll all be together again someday and we’ll see her again and she’ll be in a happier state,” Bowers said.

A memorial service for Kiersten will be held at 10 a.m. today, July 2, at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at 3979 Township Ave. in Simi. Interment will follow at Oakwood Memorial Park Cemetery in Chatsworth.

Where you can call for help

 

Ventura County Behavioral Health Crisis Team

•Children’s Intensive Response Team (children and adolescents under 21) (866) 431-2478

•Ventura County Crisis Team (adults 21 and older) (866) 998-2243

Crisis services are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week by phone throughout Ventura County.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

(800) 273-8255 (TALK) 24 hours a day, seven days a week

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