Camp Tracey Subject of Sex and Physical Abuse Charges Again

This story courtesy of Florida News Daily.

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By R.L. Worthington

“On a 160-acre farm, our girls and boys enjoy the unique experience of living as a farm family… Camp Tracey is a children’s home dedicated to the salvaging and changing of the lives of at-risk youth.”

Those words are part of the website description of Camp Tracey, the church-run facility for troubled youth located in northern Baker County. But those idyllic words don’t tell the scandals of sexual and physical abuse that have plagued the camp since the 1980s.

Camp Tracey Children’s Home was started in 1982 by Rev. Wilford McCormick under the auspices of Harvest Baptist Church in Jacksonville. The camp website calls itself “an integral and inseparable ministry” of Harvest Baptist Church.

Six lawsuits by former students have been filed since 2003 against the camp and Harvest Baptist Church citing repeated sexual and physical abuse by staff and senior residents. All have been settled out of court by the church for an undisclosed amount.


The church has denied all allegations.

Those lawsuits were not the first time Camp Tracey’s methods and operations have been in question. Complaints began almost immediately when the Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services investigated child abuse allegations in 1983 by three camp runaways. The State Attorney’s Office cleared the camp at that time.

In 1987, a Baker County Grand Jury issued a report on Camp Tracey after years of physical abuse allegations. Their report criticized the camp for excessive corporal punishment and noted that physical restraints such as ropes and handcuffs were not to be used.

(Scroll down for more information on past allegations and the grand jury report)

Now new allegations of sex acts between students and abuse from a long-time camp employee, coupled with new arrests, have brought the camp back into the media glare.

The recent trouble began more than a month ago when investigators with the Baker County Sheriff’s Office began looking into allegations of sex crimes involving several students at the camp. During the course of the investigation, it was discovered that seven juvenile students ages 14 to 17 were possibly engaged in sexual activity with each other.


Legally, this is not in violation of the law since the boys were all juveniles and sex was consensual. But, during questioning, another student named Ben Lewis, was discovered to be 18 making him an adult legally and making any sex acts with the other students unlawful.

Lewis, a student at Camp Tracey for several years, was questioned about the allegations and admitted he had engaged in sexual activity with a 14-year-old juvenile. Lewis stated that he and the other student had been discussing the idea of having sex for a few days and one day while working on the farm they “went into the woods, removed each other’s pants and proceeded to masturbate each other.”

Lewis stated that he “really didn’t see what the big problem was” and said he was unaware that this was illegal. He was arrested and charged with lewd and lascivious conduct on a minor.

While interviewing the juvenile residents regarding the sex allegations, it was revealed that the dorm father, John Edward Wilson had been abusive to students.

Several of the students said Wilson, 46, would become physically abusive when he became angry. One victim reported that just a couple of days before “Brother John” came over to him and started choking him before slamming his head into the wall. Others told similar stories.

The police reports notes that a boy who witnessed the attack stated that Wilson had an anger problem that all of the juvenile residents are aware of and when he gets angry with his wife or one of the boys, he will take it out on all of them.

Wilson was investigated for nearly identical charges in 2003 when his adoptive son ran away and contacted the BCSO citing abuse. Those charges were deemed unfounded and were not pursued.

A warrant for Wilson was signed by Judge Joey Williams on June 30 and Wilson was taken into custody. He denied the claims of abuse, but refused to answer any questions until he had a lawyer.

The Department of Children and Family Services was contacted regarding the abuse and it is expected they will also conduct an investigation.

________________________________________

LAWSUITS

The lawsuits detailing sexual and physical abuse filed by former residents of the facility all raise similar abuse allegations about Camp Tracey.

• May 2003 – Kirk Griffin filed suit naming former counselors Cedric McCormick and Robert Hood in “repeated acts of sexual abuse” against him while he lived at Camp Tracey between 1988 to 1992 when he was 12-16 years old. Harvest Baptist Church, headed by Rev. Wilford McCormick, Cedric’s older brother, was also named as a defendant.

Griffin said he was forced to perform oral and anal sex with two camp counselors two or three times a week. In the lawsuit he said the counselors befriended him, gained his confidence and “used the position of authority granted to them by Harvest to satisfy their perverse desires.”

• June 2003 – A second lawsuit echoed allegations raised by Griffin’s claim. Jason Berglund’s lawsuit said his abuse beagn shortly after he arrived at Camp Tracey in 1993. It notes that “he was continuously subjected to extreme physical abuse and was forced to engage in anal and oral sex by those placed in charge of him.”

• June 2005 – Three lawsuits were filed by brothers Joseph and Jeremy Holt along with Morris Shedd Jr. All said they were at Camp Tracey between 1989-1996 because of problems at home or school and say they immediately began facing sexual and physical abuse that continued until they left.

The Holt brothers lawsuit alleges Arthur Houde, the camp’s spiritual adviser and boys’ dean, would force them to perform sex acts. In addition, they faced assaults by older boys. Shedd names Cedric McCormick as his abuser. The lawsuits allege physical abuse including beatings, hard labor, denial of food and shocking with an electric cattle prod.

Circuit Judge Aaron Bowden had recently thrown out the Holt and Shedd lawsuits saying repressed memory and dissociative amnesia, which the men said blocked them from reporting the abuse earlier, are not generally accepted conditions in the scientific community. Their attorney was to appeal that decision, but according to Times-Union staff writer Paul Pinkham who spoke with Magolnick today, the church has also settled these lawsuits out of court.

• June 2005 – A sixth lawsuit filed by former resident Wayne Francis alledged similar abuse during the same time frame as the preceeding lawsuits. It also has been settled with Harvest Baptist Church.

Joel Magonick of the De la O, Marko, Magolnick & Leyton law firm in Miami, has represented each of the former residents.


GRAND JURY REPORT

The 1987 Baker County Grand Jury report on Camp Tracey noted there was no qualified medical personnel on the premises and emergency medical procedures were inadequate and “woefully lacking.” The report also criticized that there was no qualified physical, mental, or psychological evaluation upon admission.

In addition the Grand Jury report cited:

•”There is no adequate system in operation to document medical injures for the review diagnoses or record keeping of cases of suspected physical abuse of residents.

•There is no procedure as does exist for other child and youth facilities for contacting of the state of Florida’s Health and Rehabilitative Service (HRS) Agency in cases actual or suspected child abuse on resident of Camp Tracey. The attitude of the management and staff of Camp Tracey is both resistant and opposed to this necessary protective review of the program operation.

•There is no individual knowledgeable nor trained in health or nutrition to review or oversee the preparation of proper meals.

•The educational program at Camp Tracey is sub-standard and frequently resulted in loss of grade matriculation of students when returning back to public schools. This has had detrimental consequences to the students.

•More disturbing findings noted that children residing at Camp Tracey should not be forced to work for private citizens and runaways should not be labeled “misfits” or given GI style haircuts as a disciplinary action. The report found that physical restraints such as ropes or handcuffs should never be used as “has been done at Camp Tracey.”

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11 Responses

  1. My name is Andrea and i was a student at camp tracey for about two years.I first went to Camp in 2002 and returned in 2004. I hated Camp Tracy and could and would never say that things where perfect there…Yes, i did get paddled, and i did have to work out as punishment….But for these kids to come forward 10 and 11 years later with these allegations is absurd.. If your being forced to have sex with another man on a consistent basis,you dont surpress that… I could understand it happening one time, but all the time??? This is obviously ex-camp kids,now adults, who are bitter and/or are looking to put some money in their pockets.. Preacher McCormick is an amazing man, he isn’t at the camp to oversee eveything that goes on.I was there, i know the deal. I dont agree with a lot of the rules and regulations. But i think that the majority of these allegations are a load of BS and that these ‘adults” need to build a bridge and get over it.. Let me tell you, if anyone would have put their hand on me in a sexual way, i would have taken a knife and killed the [deleted profanity] as soon i had the chance, and all of the camp kids have access to knives, shovels and other things that can cause damage.. I know this is long, but this just [deleted profanity].. No, i dont like Camp Tracy, and i have told Preacher that, but seriously, it’s been 5 years, im not a child anymore. And as much as i dislike Camp Tracy, i am alive today because of it..I learned to work, i even learned to smile and bare it when i dont like somthing.. There is A LOT of [deleted profanity] in Camp Tracy,but we didn’t get sent there because we where law abiding citizens.I was 14 and out of control..drugs,sex, the whole deal..I dont care if you publish this.. I am so sick of hearing about these things.. Once again, i dont like Camp Tracy,but unless you have some solid ground to accuse people of things that could put them away for life, than shut… up.. I dislike Brother,Will to this day, because he was te one to discipline me and i believe that many times it was to harsh, but i would NEVER say that he sexually abused me if he did’nt. The man has a WIFE and KIDS…Just because im bitter im going to ruin a man’s life??? Come on people, grow up and shut up…

  2. Andrea,

    I edited out some of your verbage but posted your comment. Thank you for sharing your perspective!

    — Danni

  3. Andrea if you were to to look you would find that it is normal for people to wait decades before they can come forward and most never come forward. Another thing is that kids like you described are often the ones targeted by predators. Abuse is abuse and no matter what for m it takes it is wrong and it is insensitive to tell victims to “get over it” and accusing them of only wanting money. This is just one reason why victims never step up because they have to go through this kind of verbal attacks. Just because YOU might have acted in a certain way does not mean others will and to project that onto them and then attack them for not acting in that way is also wrong.

  4. i wrote that message early this morning and i was angry..I was talking with someone today and she was like “why are you defending this place”??… and she is right..it’s not that im defending camp tracy,im just defending preacher..but when i was talking about a lot of t he things that happend to me there i realized that i shouldnt be on this side of the tracks..i just want to emphasize that i don’t blame Preacher..I blame people like Brother Will and the adults around that let it happen… I was there for two years, you become good at stuffing things down after that.l.But most of the sex allegations come from the boys side and i have no i dea what went on there considering we had to look at the floor when they where anywhere around

  5. Today 8/2/08 I am still attending Camp Tracey and have been for the past year and six months. Durring this time I have never been physically or sexually abused and the only charge i’ve witnessed was involving Bro.John and Ben Lewis. I can honestly say that durring my time here I have become aquatences with Bro.John,Mrs. Marty, and their children. And I have no idea why our boys would lie about Bro.John like they did on the other hand I believe Ben was in the wrong and knew exactly what he was doing. But I could never see Bro.john ever abusing a child just because he is angry with them. I also would like to add that investigators have resently been questioning the boys and staff members at Camp. But they only used half of the infermation given to them (the half they thought the media would love and they did). They have also questioned ex-camp kids knowing that they would give them stories to bash Camp Tracey and add more lies to the charges because they came to camp unwillingly and did not like it!!!!!!! Although it helped most of them!!!!! Not to mention that the ones giving infermation camp back to visit after leaving and thanked the camp for everything. I would like to let everyone know that i’m not doing this because i’m being told to or being bribed or threatened but because I think people should know the truth!!!! And because I feel like if your going to interview someone and release the information given to you it should be all of the information and it should be true not twisted so it makes camp look like the bad guy but so we find out what is really going on and we stop it from going any further!!!!!!! also I would like to add the the children attanding camp will probably make up any lies to get out, I know when I first got to camp and I was fighting the program if I ran away and got caught I probably would have made up lies to but i’m more mature than that now and I realize how much camp has helped me and where i would have been if I didn’t go and I thank Camp Tracey because without it only God knows where I would have been!!!!! (I’m guessing dead, pregnate or in jail)! So I thank Camp Tracey and I ask before publishing anymore information the media should get their facts strait, tell the truth, and let the whole story come out not just the stuff that makes people think Camp Tracey is a bad place but what Camp is really about and how much it has helped troubled teens like me!

    • Okay, let me express somethin real quick to you I was there for 2 years way before u and now what u are talkin about on how people need to tell the truth sweetie that place now is like a summer camp , then like it was when i was there things were alot different, no carpeted gym none of our own space, we could not look at boys, ummm we could not watch t.v or listen to the radio and we couldn’t even sing contemporary christian music, and when we failed a test at school we all got worked out. Also the little workouts that you do now is nothing copared to what we had to do. so before u tell people to stop lying , unless u were there urself u don’t have any clue what happened back then. Also Preacher did not ever really see what was going on, it was the counselors that dd the abuse. I could sit here and gripe about what i did not like or give u a sob story too alot of us can but i was made a stronger person because of it not saying it was right but it helped. Oh and Mrs. Fran was the best dorm mom!! anyways if brother john did do that then he was very wrong but i am very close with that family, im friends with brian, and yes i witnessed aggressive punishment between them i use to have to run him and work him out doing calastinics? so that was very wrong… but Brother john really does have a good heart just has anger issues sometimes…. He never hit me when i was there he was the cook on the girls’s side. I called him big bear ,!! lol anyways I’m glad that people have tyold their stories because it is making camp change alot. for the better. I love Mrs. Alicia to death…. she was a great friend to me. anyways god bless!! just remember that we all have been to camo at different times and even before i went it was worse then , just like now u are there and it is better than when i was there.

  6. Camp Tracey seems to change some people somehow, I don’t see how it does. I was at Camp Tracey for 13 months in 1998-1999. I will be honest, while I was there I did not notice any sort of sexual harassment. What I will tell of is the ways we were punished. These people who think their lives are changed are brainwashed! That’s right. I used to think the same way. They force you to be a Christian at this place, there is no freedom of religion. (Isn’t that in the Constitution?) One time a guy just got there, and when the “dorm dad” prayed, he made the new guy bow his head and close his eyes, although he was not a Christian. If you are not a Christian, and you choose not to be one, you will be at the bottom of the totem pole. Every month all the boys and girls are evaluated on a score of 1-100 in about 10 different areas. When you are at the bottom you are humiliated constantly. You eat last, you never get to sit on the couch, you do the hardest labor, and for the reason that you choose not to believe in God? That’s not fair. The punishments are way too severe for these kids. I have so many stories that I could write a book on all the punishment that I seen happen to the boys there, as well as myself. All it did for me is make me even more pissed off all the time, and emotionally and mentally damaging me. This camp is a cop-out for lazy stupid parents who want to get rid of their kids because they cant handle them. It’s not the child’s fault, its bad parenting! If they brought them up right since they were young, they wouldn’t be that way. So go on hearing these people’s bull crap about how this place changed their lives. Not everyone is the same, and some people react differently to abuse. They may not think it was abuse but it is. I cant believe that place is still standing. It’s only a matter of time before it gets shut down.

  7. i was at camp tracey for 2 years and one week i was sent there on september 17th 2004 and left septerber 27th 2006 and all i got to say is this….those kids are liers it was ust a plot to get out of (ct) camp tracey ive wittnessed a few of them during my time there. Ive seen boys become so desprate they would beat on the staff members hurt themselves and of course, run away ive seen a boy who couldnt take the verbal abuse from the other boys in the dormatories for acting so…femenim and in my eyes he was, for he grew up with his aunt and sister. he claimed to be raped in my dormatory one night after church and everyone in the dorm and I knew it didint happen becuse i was allways the last one asleep to make sure aint noone do anything stupid come to find out he was sent home to his aunt again and wrote another letter to his friend claiming it was his plan all along it was all a conspericy. and i greatly respect the staff out there and with bro john… lol the most i ever seen him do is sit on a run away boy who was trying to beat the crap out of him and it worked so in 5 words what i think after all i said… aint no one do nuthin

    • rafferty i never said anything like that i was sexually abused 3 times and i dont appreciate you putting me into this bulls!@# its just stupid. but if you want to talk my number is 240 640 0134 txt me

  8. im sorry to see that this place is still operating. i thought it would be closed down years ago. i also was an attendant at this hell on earth in the early 80s. the stories are true. i was the first to run and make it. i am now 39 and have recently just found this on the web. this has to be stopped!!!!! report everything! you cant hide behind god and the church anymore…..all that is kept in the dark shall come to the light.

  9. Man i was at this place for 1 year and 9 months. I played the game to be advantaged while i was there. The game i played was sleeping with Cedric McCormick. I had sexual relationship with him for close to 4 years. Yes even after I left that place. This place is full of hypocrites and money hungry people. Oh and the Lazy “missionaries” that love to boss around other peoples kids.

    I was staff for about 6 months. I tried the christian path and after a while i recognized i did not really believe any of the sh** they forced us to believe.

    The head guy in charge does not care about the first kid there, only what he can get out of them. We used to take care of all his cattle, worked rodeos for nothing, were signed for his get rich quick schemes and so on.
    The director while i was there used the boys the same way. He had a fire wood business that we would go cut down the trees, split the wood, stacked it, helped load and even sell it. For nothing.
    Cedric, he was just a gay man trapped in the fact that he could not come out. He had sex with numerous men outside of the place and even frequented gay establishments. I know the allegations by Kirk Griffin were true because he told me they were. He thought he was going to jail . I lived with him and his wife at the time.
    Other people there were just there for the paycheck and free place to live. They had no concern about the kids there or there well being. If so, the education aspect, sports participation, lifes building block and so on would have been the most focal point. Instead it was like this beat them till they believe in god craziness. Most kids there play that game for everyone until they can go home. Some buy into it hard core while there and then leave it all behind when they get out. Others hold on for a while and just end up being more warped and worse off then when they came.

    If anybody wants to know the real truth about that place and what happened there. i have the full FULL scoop

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