The first thing Bridget Hester noticed was the new Marlins’ ballcap, polo shirts, and pants from True Religion. Her 15-year-old daughter didn’t have the money for them.
Then she saw the burgundy Chevy Impala, which parked just beyond her house in Riviera Beach, waiting for her daughter to hop in.
Hester asked about the car and the gifts, and the teen lied. Later, she told the truth: The 2008 Chevy belonged to her former youth counselor at the now-closed Broward Girls Academy in Pembroke Pines. The teen said she had been meeting the woman and having sex with her for months. They were planning a future together.
“The lady tricked her and fooled her about all this big stuff,” Hester told the Miami Herald.
On Jan. 28, 2013, Hester complained to the program director. She’d jotted down the counselor’s tag number. There were pictures of them “cheek-to-cheek” on the girl’s cellphone.
The counselor denied the relationship, saying in a written statement: “I’m professional at all times.”
Hester’s daughter told Riviera Beach detectives that the counselor first came on to her while she was sprawled on her bunk. The woman asked if she liked animal crackers. She didn’t, but the counselor hand-fed her one anyway. Later, when the girl was trying to find a washcloth to take a shower, the counselor helped her, then “kissed her on the lips,” police reported.
Hester’s daughter told police that the counselor told her to leave a phone number under her mattress just before her release on Sept. 21, 2013. She did. Over the next three months, the two went frequently to a Riviera Beach Travelodge, the counselor’s home in Miami or to the parking lot of Riveria Beach’s Lincoln Elementary School to have sex, the girl said.
Police included a brief text exchange between the 15-year-old and her counselor in their November 2013 report. “Luv u,” the counselor wrote. “i love you to,” the girl replied.
When the former counselor “broke up” with Hester’s daughter — Hester’s description of the ending — the teen stole a man’s car and drove it to Miami to confront her. She locked the owner in the trunk. That led to charges of kidnapping and carjacking, and a four-year prison stint. “This woman is going to live happily ever after,” Hester said. “My daughter has been in [prison], in and out of a mental ward there.”
The Department of Children & Families declined to investigate the sexual abuse allegation, a Department of Juvenile Justice report said. A detective sought to charge the counselor with child abuse and lewd and lascivious battery on a child less than 16, but prosecutors declined to press charges. DJJ concluded the counselor had engaged in an improper “staff/youth relationship.” She was fired by Broward Girls Academy on June 26, 2013.
This narrative is part of Tales from the Front, a collection of short stories about Florida's juvenile justice system. The Miami Herald investigated the state's youth corrections system following the 2015 beating death of a Miami-Dade detainee. Read the full "Fight Club" investigative series here.