Long-running dispute on vaccinations leads to death

Nikoline Hill with a kitten on horseback

A long-running impasse between health authorities in Puriscal and stubborn parents over the administration of vaccines to their children may have led to a fatal horseback ride in which a foreign-born teen died.

The girl, 13-year-old Nikoline Hill, was riding a horse across a stream in Turrubares with the five members of her family Sept. 29 when a current swept her and her horse downstream. Her body was found more than a kilometer away.

Judicial officials say she was born in Denmark and brought to Costa Rica at a young age. They classified her death as an accident.

But documentation leading up to the tragic incident shows that the family at the time may have been trying to escape authorities who supposedly threatened to take Ms. Hill and her siblings away from the parents if they didn’t allow for the government-mandated vaccinations or properly school their children.

A vaccine guide for children published by the Ministerio de Salud requires that certain vaccines such as hepatitis, tetanus, diphtheria and others are administrated to children in Costa Rica. The children involved also were home-schooled.

According to a Web site blog, maintained by a friend of Hill’s family who previously lived in Puriscal, the parents, identified as James and Birgitte, believed the government was overstepping its bounds in its demands.

The father wrote a note following the funeral of his daughter. The note states that the family was seeking refuge while riding the horses, thanks certain people for helping host them while they were fugitives and for pulling Miss Hill’s body out of the river.

Also documented in the blog is video footage of the clash between health officials and the family leading up to Miss Hill’s death, including a court case in Puriscal and personal visits by armed police officers and the health director there, Juan Miguel Cerdas Chacón, to the family’s residence in the countryside where they lived without modern transportation, just horses.

Cerdas would not comment for this story and only said court documents are available in Puriscal. The Judicial Investigating Organization also did not elaborate on the event surrounding Miss Hill’s death.

Postings by the family show the conflict began earlier this year and continually escalated. At one point, agents were said to have broken down the family’s gate while they were away and confiscated various items such as their computer.

The family’s unique spiritual beliefs may have also played a part in the confrontations, as the parents continually asked government officials if they were subservient to the God of Israel. Leading up to his daughter’s death the father wrote and published his convictions about the role of government in a person’s life and his fear of serving what he said was a new king.

“If the offers made by government officials involve insurance for health care, or ‘free’ education , or any such schemes to ‘limit’ liability, we must create an official act of re-lieging,” he wrote. “. . . we must divorce the king of the common law in order to accept a new king to rule over us because we cannot serve both.” The word liege is a root of the modern word allegiance.

Some of the parents’ complaints are that they were unlawfully forced by the Ministerio de Salud and Patronato Nacional de la Infancia to appear in court without having the charges brought before them and then not being allowed to testify because they did not bring proper identification. The family is reported to be undocumented and without cédulas of identification.

The family could not be reached to comment further on the events or their beliefs. They may have left the country.

But a posting by the father, Nov. 9, after the death of his daughter shows he is at least claiming to remain steadfast in the decision not to bend to the government’s will, which could have indirectly led to the loss of Miss Hill.

“Never, ever cave in to bullies when so few could see them as clearly as I could,” he wrote. “Giving in to lawless people for personal relief only makes life worse for the next generation.”

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