Teen Asphyxiated During Wordsworth Academy Scuffle Over iPod, Death Ruled Homicide: ME

David Hess died in October during an altercation with staff inside Wordsworth Academy, an alternative school for children with behavioral health issues

The death of a teen inside a now-shuttered alternative school in Philadelphia has been ruled a homicide, city officials said Friday.

David Hess, 17, suffocated during an October altercation with staff at Wordsworth Academy, a school for students with special needs and behavioral health issues, according to the city's Health and Human Services department.

A state report said Hess, a student at the school's Residential Treatment Facility in Wynnefield Heights, became aggressive after he was accused of stealing an iPod.

Witnesses said the teen was held down and punched in the chest by staff, the report said.


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The teen apparently teased staff saying "I can take this. That's all you got? Give me more." He was last heard saying "Get off me. I can't breathe," according to the report.

Wordsworth officials said first aid was immediately administered after Hess was discovered to be unresponsive. Paramedics were also called.

An autopsy determined Hess died by asphyxiation and the manner of death was ruled a homicide, the Philadelphia Medical Examiner said.

The Philadelphia District Attorney's Office will now determine whether charges will be filed in Hess' death. They did not offer comment Friday.

Wordsworth's Wynnfield residential program, which had been in operation since 1952, was shut down four days after Hess' death when state regulators revoked its license. The organization still operates schools in East Falls and in Fort Washington.

In a statement, Wordsworth Board Chairman Tom Johnson called Hess' death tragic and said the company continues to cooperate with authorities.

"Everyone at Wordsworth Academy is deeply saddened by the loss of this young man and the medical examiner's finding underscores the tragic nature of this situation," Johnson said in part.

The company recently hired a new CEO in the wake of the death.

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