Adolescents comprise an eclectic mix of people vitally important to society yet long-term comprehensive studies on the circumstances of their deaths are lacking in the pediatric forensic literature. The authors reviewed all forensic cases referred to the Medical University of South Carolina Forensic Pathology section over the fifteen years between January 1989 and December 2003. In accordance with the World Health Organization (WHO) definition of adolescents, only decedents 10-19 years of age were included. The authors examined the cause and manner of death, age, gender, and race of the victims in all cases. The toxicology results, perpetrator, death scenario and location, and victim traits were analyzed when available. For all adolescents, the most common manner of death was accident followed by homicide, suicide, natural, and undetermined. Within the adolescent population two distinct groups, 10-14 years old and 15-19 years old, were identified. Though both groups were similar in that they experienced a high number of accidental deaths, decedents of older age group suffered a higher percentage of violent deaths while decedents of the younger group were more likely to die of natural causes. Many of the accidental deaths in this review were preventable, including deaths due to motor vehicle collisions and drowning. In deaths due to homicide, the perpetrator was often known to the victim, whether as an acquaintance or family member. Toxicology testing was often positive in decedents of the older age group, while only rarely positive in decedents of the younger age group. With a solid understanding of the circumstances, it may be possible to predict, and hopefully prevent, future cases of adolescent death. The authors present their findings in this 15-year retrospective study to better aid forensic pathologists, death investigators, law enforcement, and epidemiologists.
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