Home>Crime>Wadsack Demands Investigation of Child’s Death
State Senator Justine Wadsack speaking on the floor of the Arizona State Senate at the Arizona State Capitol building in Phoenix, Arizona.
State Senator Justine Wadsack speaking on the floor of the Arizona State Senate at the Arizona State Capitol building in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

Wadsack Demands Investigation of Child’s Death

16-year-old found dead in Mesa homeless encampment

By Christy Kelly, June 17, 2024 5:00 am

James Zoccoli, a 16-year-old boy with a mental disorder under the care of the state’s Department of Child Safety (DCS), was found dead in a homeless encampment in Mesa, Arizona. The young man left a group home and was discovered in a makeshift shelter within an area known for its transient population, prompting serious concerns about the effectiveness of DCS.

Arizona State Senator Justine Wadsack (R-17) has called for an immediate investigation into DCS, criticizing the agency’s handling of the case. “This tragic death is a stark reminder of the failures within our child welfare system,” said Senator Wadsack. “We must ensure that no child under state care ends up in such dire circumstances.”

Wadsack’s criticism of DCS is rooted in her personal experiences and longstanding advocacy for children’s welfare. She has been vocal about the need for systemic reforms within DCS, especially after encountering issues with the agency in her own family. Her efforts over the years have included pushing for better oversight, more comprehensive care plans, and increased funding to support preventive measures and long-term solutions for at-risk youth.

Wadsack responded to the tragedy, stating, “His heartbreaking death sheds light on the desperate need for further reforms and oversight of this agency. Nothing will change without reforms and accountability. Children are dying, and who are we holding responsible?” She further questioned, “How is someone with a mental health disorder allowed to just walk out the door? This is nothing short of negligence, and Senate Republicans will fight for every family failed by the state.”

James Zoccoli’s death comes amid ongoing efforts by Phoenix and surrounding cities, including Mesa, to address homelessness. Authorities, including Senator Wadsack, are now pushing for a thorough investigation into DCS practices and a reevaluation of the state’s approach to child welfare and homelessness. “We owe it to our children to ensure they are safe and protected,” Wadsack emphasized. “This investigation is the first step in making sure our system is accountable and effective.”

The Maricopa County Medical Examiner has not released the cause of death.

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