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November 15, 2009 permalink

On October 26th the body of seventeen-year-old Heather Marie Catterton, a long-term foster child in North Carolina, was found beside a road near Clover South Carolina, naked from the waist down. This brings our list of deaths in foster care up to 1300.



Heather Marie Catterton
Jeff Melton/Freedom News Service
Heather Marie Catterton, 17, of Gastonia was found dead Oct. 29, 2009, in a wooded area in York County, S.C., near the Gaston County line.

Dead at 17: Gastonia teenager's troubled life ends in tragedy

November 15, 2009 8:26 PM, Olivia Neeley

The 17-year-old was a “runner.” Sometimes she would go missing for weeks at a time.

With book and streets smart, Heather Marie Catterton’s academic life soared at one point when she attended Shelby Middle School. But it didn’t last.

Catterton was found dead Oct. 29 near a small bridge on Robinson Yelton Road outside Clover, S.C.

The teen was found unclothed from the waist down, wearing only a hooded sweatshirt, socks and necklace, according to the York County Sheriff’s Office. The office has declined to say how she died. Her death is being investigated as a homicide.

Although Catterton’s life was cut short, many who knew the teen said she always wore a smile and would do anything to help the people she cared about.

Another life

Catterton lived in and out of foster and group homes for more than five years of her life. She often left the homes by running away.

Cleveland County Department of Social Services took over custody of Catterton years ago, according to her biological family.

“They would say activity has gone on,” said her father, Nick Catterton.

One night at their previous home in Grover a shot was fired and Catterton was placed in DSS care over child endangerment concerns, her father said.

Social services had released her from its custody about a year ago, family said.

“They couldn’t control her from running away from these homes,” Nick Catterton said of his daughter’s foster and group homes.

Catterton called his daughter a “daddy’s girl.” She got into trouble because of her “free-spirited” nature, he said.

Silent cries

According to the National Runaway Switchboard, between 1.6 million and 2.8 million youths run away from home each year.

“It’s alarming,” said Maureen Blaha, a national children’s expert and executive director of National Runaway Switchboard centered in Chicago. “It’s a silent crisis in this country. The public needs to realize we have a serious problem in this country that needs their attention.”

The organization serves as the federally designated national communication system for homeless and runaway youth. The hotline handles more than 100,000 calls each year.

Fifty percent of their calls are from youth who have already left their homes, while the other half is from parents dealing with a crisis and looking for support, Blaha said.

Statistics indicate family dynamic issues are the No. 1 reason youth call the switchboard, Blaha said. Those problems range from inability to cope with current family struggles, wanting to flee the situation making them feel upset or trying to fit into a new family structure.

“They don’t know how to cope and may flee,” Blaha said.


Catterton was reported missing at least five times in one year. Oftentimes, officials found her in Gaston County not too far away from her biological family’s home.

Catterton was loyal to her friends, officials said, and never gave information regarding others or possible older men she would hang around, an official said.

Catterton’s father, Nick, said it was always difficult for him when she ran away from the homes.

“She wanted to be with her parents,” he said. “It would always be me a cryin’ … her a cryin.’”

The calls

Catterton often lived on the run, staying at home sometimes, with friends sometimes and at other times no one knew where she was.

“She wouldn’t even tell me who she was with because she knew I would come right then and get her,” Nick Catterton said.

Heather Catterton had recently been released from jail on drug charges, according to the N.C. Department of Correction.

Although the teen struggled with drugs and did hang around the wrong crowd, one family member said, she didn’t deserve to die the way she did, Catterton added.

“Whoever (did) this couldn’t have been in their right state of mind,” Catterton said. “They had to be some kind of monster, maniac.”

Catterton was in a nearby hospital for about a month due to health problems. After he was released last week from care, Heather’s body was found the next day. She had been missing 10 days.

Her mother, Stella Funderburk, said in recent months Catterton thought she could do whatever she wanted to do, but she always kept in touch with her family until the weeks preceding her death.

“She didn’t call while he (her father) was in the hospital,” Funderburk said. “I knew something was wrong.”

Officials said in her past when trying to question where she had been and who she had been with Heather never told anyone and protected those she was around.

“She had a lot of connections in Cleveland and Gaston counties,” the official said. “(Police) tried to get information from her and she wouldn’t give any information.”

Take a look

Catterton said only the “man (upstairs) knows if this could have been prevented.” He added communities need to become aware about the trend of runaway teens.

“It’s a huge, huge problem … to be so young,” he said.

Catterton said he hopes his daughter’s runaway life will help prevent this tragedy from happening again to another teen and asks parents to look for signs.

“A father and mother can tell about their kids more than anyone in the world,” he said. “Parents know the signs. A lot of time they don’t believe the signs, but the signs are there.”

Information about runway prevention is available free through the NRS.

“It’s a tragedy that this 17-year-old was found dead,” Blaha said. “Her life was taken from her. You wonder if there were different kinds of interventions that her life could have turned out differently.”

“She was free hearted and free willed,” Catterton concluded. “I had no control.”

The investigation

Deputies are looking for anyone who knows where Heather Marie Catterton was between Oct. 18 — the last day family and friends reported seeing her — and Oct. 28 — the day before her body was found. The York County, S.C., Sheriff’s Office is also seeking information about two pickup trucks spotted near the crime scene. The first, a red Ford F-150 with tinted windows and a flat bed cover was seen in the area of Robinson Yelton Road between noon and 1 p.m. Oct. 27. The other truck is a Chevrolet S-10 with a two-tone custom paint job — blue on top and tan on the bottom. It’s believed to be a 1987 to 1990 model and was last seen in the area between 9 and 10 p.m. Oct. 25 or Oct. 26.

Anyone with information on Heather’s whereabouts or on either truck is asked to call the York County Sheriff’s Office at 803-628-3059 or CrimeStoppers at 877-409-4321.

Source: Gaston Gazette