Raising Awareness About Abusive “Homes” for Kids

If you have a “troubled” teen, what should you do? How do you know where to turn? How can you protect yourself from quacks and abusers?

The International Survivors Action Committee is dedicated to helping answer those questions.

Their mission states:

We believe every child deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.

Our mission is to expose abuse, civil rights violations, and fraud perpetuated through privately-owned facilities for juveniles.

The site is full of information and details about dealing with this delicate situation. If you or someone you know has a child in a “home” or is considering their options, this site is an absolute must see.

Sex Abuse Charge Dropped in Camp Tracy Case

This article courtesy of Jacksonville.com.


By Dana Treen, The Times-Union

A charge of lewd and lascivious behavior has been dropped against an 18-year-old resident of a Baker County home for troubled youths who had been arrested in an investigation of consensual sexual activity with another teenage resident.

Prosecutors and the Baker County Sheriff’s Office said they would continue to investigate unrelated accusations that an employee of Camp Tracey choked and manhandled residents. But the pastor of the Jacksonville church that runs the home said the teenagers involved in that case have recanted their accusations in a taped interview.

The sex charge against Benjamin Valentin Lewis was dropped Tuesday after the father of the 14-year-old who was involved said he did not want to prosecute, said Mel Bessinger, chief of the State Attorney’s Office in Baker County.

Bessinger said the sex acts were consensual. Lewis was released from jail, where he had been held on $3,000 bail.

“We certainly want to consider the wishes of the victim and the victim’s family,” Bessinger said.

He said an investigation is continuing into a charge of child abuse against “dorm father” John Edward Wilson, 46, who was arrested June 30. While unrelated to the sex case, the abuse involves the same 14-year-old, according to an earlier report in the Times-Union.

The investigation of Wilson began after residents being interviewed about the sex activity said they had been choked, slammed and thrown by Wilson at the youth home, located north of Glen St. Mary and operated by Harvest Baptist Church of Jacksonville.

On Wednesday, Harvest pastor Wilford McCormick said the accusers recanted the abuse charges in an unsolicited interview that was taped at the home after a July 4 cookout. He said the taped interview will be handed over to prosecutors today.

“Both the students who brought the physical abuse charges have totally retracted their statements and said they lied, made it up and fabricated the entire deal,” McCormick said.

McCormick said one boy came to a camp administrator and said he had made up the story about the abuse. Eventually, two boys said they simply wanted to get someone in trouble and a third said he made up the story, McCormick said. He said the admissions were taped with a volunteer teacher who is not part of the school administration.

Bessinger said prosecutors have not heard those statements.

“What is important is they didn’t come forward and tell us,” he said. “They haven’t come in here and talked to us.”

Baker County Sheriff Joey Dobson said the boys told child protection personnel they were abused.

“They stuck with their story,” he said.

Sheriff’s investigator Brad Dougherty said in the past week he has been averaging five calls a day from past residents of the camp who said they were similarly pushed around and shoved against walls with a forearm in their necks.

He said the callers said Wilson was ill-tempered and fought with other staffers as well as grabbed residents by the neck.

McCormick said Wilson has been a good employee.

“As far as Camp Tracey is concerned, we’ve had no problem with Mr. Wilson,” he said.

Camp Tracey Subject of Sex and Physical Abuse Charges Again

This story courtesy of Florida News Daily.


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.



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.


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.”

Strong Accusations About Hephzibah House

This story courtesy of www.fox28.com.


The accusations are troubling.

Teenaged girls being strip-searched, beaten, their communication monitored, being given little contact with the outside world.

Several women are coming forward to talk about their experiences at Hephzibah House, a boarding school for troubled teens in our own backyard of Warsaw.

In a Fox 28 exclusive investigation, we spoke to many former students who say, for them, Hepsibah House was a house of horrors.

“The paddlings or beatings were very frequent.”
“Every single day, we had to write down what our bodily functions were on a board, they called it the b.m. board.”

“She actually had a pail and she threw up into the pale and they literally made her drink it.”

“They were all about controlling you and the different incoming mail and and your communication with other people. They did everything in their power to control your every movement.”

These former students are all from different parts of the country. Their stories span decades. But they all have Hepsibah House in common. These women were students at the religious school for troubled teen girls in Warsaw.

For years, they say their story has remained under cover much like the school.

Jennifer was a student 11 years ago and she says this happened on the first day.

“People started circling around me and they all held me down. People were sitting on my legs and on my arms and they just started smashing me with this rod and I heard them calling it the rod of God,” Jennifer Sengpiehl says.

Susan was a student there 25 years ago.

“When I first got there, the first 3 to 4 months, I was paddled almost every day. And very severe. I fainted twice when I was being paddled. I saw a girl who had puss and blood oozing through her clothes,” Susan Grotee says.

They say all of their communication was monitored and they had a “talking list.”

“It was a real list and each girl had specific people they were all to talk to or were not allowed to talk to. Some girls actually could not talk to anybody for months on end,” former student, Gabriella Fluery says.

Many spend anywhere from 15 months to more than 3 years here, never leaving the property. And most of them tell us they remember vividly strip searches and female exams.

“They took me into a closet and there was a nurse and a man and at this point, I was a virgin. I had never had a physical exam. Just thinking about it to this day disgusts me.”

So why are these women who’s experience range from 4 years ago to 25 years ago, talking now? They found each other through the internet after several started web pages about their experience.

“As we came together. Alot of us talked about it. Alot of us prayed about it and I for myself want to make sure other girls don’t have to go through this experience.

“So What does Hephzibah House and Pastor Ron Williams say about the accusations? We started trying to sit down with them last week. Their attorney told us Williams wouldn’t be available until this Thursday. They did ask many others to call on their behalf, including some former students.”

“I can’t say it was a walk in the park. It was hard. I didn’t want to e there. I wanted to be with my family.” according to Shannon Grant.
Grant continues, “When I look back at it, there are alot of things that today I would not be able to do if it weren’t for that. Hephzibah House had given me character.”

Another former student, Alisha Gorbet says, “My experience there was great. I didn’t have any problems with the place. I was never beaten into submission or forced into anything.”
She goes on to say, “My parents just were never there and when I went there, they became family to me. I couldn’t trade it for the world.”

We also received countless phone calls from Pastors across the country supporting Hephzibah House and saying they have alot of success stories from there.

Pastor Williams attorney has told us he will sit down to interview with us on Thursday.

And Wednesday, the group we spoke with is protesting in front of the Kosciusko County Courthouse.

Teen “Boot Camps” Under Congressional Investigation

This article courtesy of www.abcnews.com. This story is not talking specifically about Christian homes for troubled teens, but Christian homes may be included in the investigation, which is why I am reporting it.



April 22, 2008

Residential programs for troubled teens will be getting more scrutiny from Congress this week, where investigators will reveal the results of an undercover investigation.

Some of the outfits, which purport to help troubled children, have generated hundreds of allegations of death and physical, sexual and emotional abuse, ABC News reported last October.

“Kids being forced to eat their own vomit, to eat dirt, to not be allowed to go to the bathroom…all in the idea that somehow this is building character,” is how Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., described what congressional investigators found when they probed some of the programs.

At a hearing before Miller’s House Education and Labor Committee Thursday, investigators are expected to reveal alarming new details showing how deceptive marketing and conflicts of interest could lead good parents to send their children to bad programs, Hill sources say.

Miller is also expected to introduce legislation aimed at strengthening oversight of the programs.

At a hearing last fall, investigators told Congress that “boot camp”-style programs tend to be loosely regulated and are sometimes found to have untrained staff using reckless or negligent operating practices.

“We cannot afford to take these [programs] away from the parents as an option,” Jan Moss, president of the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSAP), told ABC News last fall.

She acknowledged, however, before Congress later, “We have made mistakes in the past; we recognize that.”