Search for Missing High School Teacher Elizabeth Breck Continues
Elizabeth Breck, 46, a mother of two and high school teacher, went missing on January 13, 2019, in Tucson, Arizona. According to her brother Christopher Breck, she had checked herself into a 30-day program for trauma at Sierra Tucson, a Pinal County treatment facility.
A psychiatrist had encouraged Elizabeth to check into the facility, her brother said. “Everything seemed just fine, that this was something that was going to be very beneficial for her. Just to get her back in the right frame of mind and continue with her life,” Christopher said. “And then she disappeared.”
Police believe Elizabeth left the facility on foot, leaving her vehicle there, cellphone and other belongings. It is possible Elizabeth was barefoot, and the temperatures in the area plunged into the 30s that evening. Pinal County sheriff’s office searched a five-mile radius near Edwin and North Lago Del Oro Parkway in Pinal County.
Her brother has been very outspoken in his search for his sister. “Completely out of character for her to just be off the radar for this extended period of time,” Christopher said. “Or even for a day.”
Christoper believes she left with only her identification and some cash with her. In the past, Christopher says his sister would reach out to the family if she had a bout with depression. Before this incident, Elizabeth would check into a facility if she just wasn’t feeling like herself.
“My sister has had dealings with mental issues in the past and she’s never gone missing,” he said.
Much more like a resort than a rehabilitation center, Sierra Tucson offers therapies such as yoga, equine therapy, and wilderness adventures. The 160-acre rural desert facility touts being a “rehab to the stars” and should have been a very tranquil and safe place for Elizabeth to unwind. Why she left the facility is a mystery her family wants solved.
Christopher continues his search for his sister and hired Patriot Shield Investigations, a private investigation firm out Tucson, comprised of retired law enforcement.
Christopher set up a GoFundMe account that continues to accept donations for Patriot Shield's ongoing search.
On August 12, 2019, Christopher wrote: This has become one of the harder tasks to do in the ongoing search for Elizabeth. Updating all those following the situation with the same we still have no concrete leads is so hard to do. Our investigators are still following up on loose ends just to make sure nothing has been overlooked and any possible items that present themselves are investigated.
While this is still an active case with law enforcement the leads and avenues, they have the resources to follow are rapidly diminishing. We have essentially exhausted the original contributions during the search and follow up investigation and wanted to thank all those that donated in allowing us to at least ensure that all possibilities to date have been explored. We continue to ask anyone living around Catalina State Park and those that visit there and the surrounding areas to remain vigilant.
Please report anything as monsoon activity tends to uncover things that may tell us more. We continue to accept donations to assist in the funding of our investigation team and expenses of Elizabeth.
The GoFundMe site has raised $24,506 but it has largely been exhausted with costs related to the search for Elizabeth.
KVOA News reported George Economidis, retired from Pima County sheriff’s department, says they have plans to conduct an extensive search of the Romero Pools in Catalina State Park where Elizabeth, an avid hiker, loved to go.
With additional funding, the Patriot Shield team can expand their search for Elizabeth.
On February 2, 2019, Christopher and his family filed a complaint with the Arizona Department of Health Services and the Joint Commission, a national nonprofit accreditation agency.
The complaint contends Sierra Tucson did not follow its own guidelines or accepted standards of care that contributed to a lack of physical and emotional safety.
The family also wrote in the complaint that Sierra Tucson declined to share information with them and a private investigator they hired. In addition, Elizabeth was not provided a phone call to her parents who were overseas, and that there was no electronic surveillance to ensure a patient’s safety. The same complaint claimed that Elizabeth had on a wristband with a tracker on it that had been found that had been removed and destroyed.
Joint Commission spokeswoman Maureen Lyons said the accreditation agency was working with the Sierra Tucson facility on a “quality and safety improvement process.”
According to another Patriot Shield investigator, Elizabeth was last seen at 2:30 p.m. by an employee, but during the bed check approximately 30 minutes later she was gone. It was in the middle of the afternoon and most likely was seen said the private investigators. At the time, there was construction going on at the property and the company initially agreed to cooperate, then quickly denied access to interview workers. Sierra Tucson has also refused to cooperate with private investigators.
This would not be the first incident that has resulted in state investigations at Sierra Tucson. From 2011 to 2015, five patients, all men, have died at the facility. One died of drug toxicity, three died of suicide, and the other’s death was deemed inclusive---his body found two weeks after he disappeared about a quarter-mile from the main building at the facility.
Sierra Tucson holds two licenses with the state, for an acute psychiatric facility, and as a residential treatment center.
The facility was fined at least $40,000 in 2015 and 2016 after the state discovered it had several failures, including keeping track of its patient’s whereabouts and caring for its most vulnerable psychiatric patients.
The state also put Sierra Tucson on a provisional license from June 10 to October 2015 until the facility had made an adequate improvement to restore its license.
Sierra Tucson also received six citations in 2016 for failing to follow policy and protect the health and safety of patients. According to an ADHS website, they assessed Sierra Tucson a $1,500 fine for some citations but did not result in the facility’s licensure.
ADHS Assistant Director for Licensing Colby Bower said Sierra Tucson self-reported the day after Elizabeth’s disappearance. They treated the report as a level “C” complaint and prompted an investigation.
They rate complaints based upon the immediacy of risk from level “A” to “C.” Because Elizabeth’s disappearance was deemed a Level “C” complaint it didn’t merit an immediate investigation but had a 45-day window.
Colby said all facilities should do a comprehensive assessment of a patient’s risks and their needs during the intake process, but are not required to have video surveillance during that process. He also said the ADHS receives frequent calls from behavioral health centers reporting patients as going AWOL.
“Unless (patients) are court-ordered to be there, they’re legally allowed to walk out the front door,” Colby said.
According to her brother, when Elizabeth entered Sierra Tucson, she was evaluated and was deemed not a threat to herself or others and admitted to an area of the facility that is not locked down.
Christoper is afraid that after so much time has gone by, the outcome will not be a positive one.
Elizabeth’s two daughters who she is very close to are worried sick for their mother. There has been no credit card or bank account activity and leaving for an extended period of time is just not something Elizabeth would do.
Prior to her disappearance, Elizabeth was teaching at the Tucson High Magnet School about 23 miles from where she vanished.
According to Karla Escamilla, a spokesperson for the Tucson Unified School District, the students and staff were provided with support and counseling services right after Elizabeth’s disappearance.
“She’s one of the teachers you look forward to going to class every day,” said Raul Soto-Romero, a high school student at Tucson High. “It’s really devastating a lot of students who are really sad.”
Elizabeth is described as very outgoing, spiritual, and involved in the Buddhist community. She was loved, both by her students and her community.
As leads go cold, and the number of news stories about Elizabeth’s disappearance decline, the family is left with the “not knowing.” They are living with never-ending “ambiguity” that creates inner turmoil and reverberates throughout each of their lives. Answers seem elusive but they want to know answers no matter what they are.
If anyone has information about the disappearance of Elizabeth Breck, please call the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office at 520-866-5111.
© 2020 Kym L Pasqualini