By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Mark smashed his ear to the phone. Even in the crowded cafeteria, he didn't want anyone else to hear what his mom was asking. Phone calls between parents and campers weren't allowed, but Mark had sent a letter to his mom saying he wanted to come home and she'd told Blake Smith, the owner of Camp La Junta, that she would speak to her son or he would be withdrawn immediately. On the other end of the line, Kelly tried to make out Mark's voice over the clatter in the Camp La Junta cafeteria. She was across the state in Houston, but she was ready to get in the car — she wouldn't even stop to pack a bag — if her 11-year-old son confirmed her suspicion.
"Don't say anything but yes or no," she said. "Just tell me, do you want to come home? Has that counselor been touching you? Are you OK?"
She rattled off questions while in the back of her mind the thought pulsed, "Please don't let it be true. He wasn't abused. He was only homesick like they said."
"No. I was just homesick," he said quickly. "Everything's OK, Mom. I want to stay."
Kelly felt relief rush through her like a tranquilizer dart. His letter home talked about shower checks and how camp wasn't fun anymore. "Please do something," the last line read.
"I have to go, Mom. I need to get off the phone," Mark said. Maybe he said it too fast. Maybe she should have listened harder, caught the blade of fear in his voice. She had no idea that Smith, the owner of the camp, who stood to lose a lot if Mark was being abused, was standing on one side of him.
Counselor Matthew Bovee stood on the other side of Mark. Mark knew the counselor had a knife in his pocket. Mark knew Bovee was zeroing in on every word he said. Mark was sure the man would reach out and stab him right there if he told his mother what Bovee was doing to him. So he told his mom he was fine.
In July 2009 they were a normal family. Kelly was a stay-at-home mom devoted to her children and to running their spacious, quietly expensive home in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Houston. Her husband, George, had a good job in a technical field, and they had the means to provide excellent private-school educations for their children. Mark, the oldest, was a bright, happy child, a boy who got good grades and loved playing with his friends.
Kelly and George had never done the summer camp thing as kids, but other parents in their circle were sending their boys to Camp La Junta in Hunt, just outside Kerrville, and Kelly and George decided Mark should go, too. The first year had been wonderful. Mark hadn't written a word home, but he'd come bouncing out to the car when they arrived to pick him up, full of stories about horseback riding and swimming and hanging out with all his friends. Kelly pulled her car past the well-manicured entrance to Camp La Junta the second year expecting to see her son come running out with a happy grin on his face.
All the kids were gathered at the front, waving to their parents like something out of a brochure. Mark sprinted to the car and darted into the backseat. A high-pitched animal moan filled the car. Looking over her shoulder, Kelly realized it was Mark.
Ten months later Mark found the courage to tell someone he had been sexually abused by counselor Bovee. Mark's family has filed a civil suit against Smith and the camp, contending that Smith was negligent and could have prevented the abuse. They also believe Smith spread rumors about Mark and his family to try to minimize the implications of a child being sexually abused under his care. Smith and his lawyer, Ken Adams, have declined to comment for this story. (Mark's name and the names of members of his family have been changed for this article.)
There are dozens of youth summer camps across Texas. Parents send their children to these camps expecting they'll have safe, memorable summers, never dreaming they could be sending their children into the path of sexual predators.
While the Texas Department of State Health Services — the government entity that oversees all licensed youth camps in Texas — will check to see if the food is properly prepared and the bathrooms are properly stocked with antibacterial soap, when it comes to child sexual abuse, you're pretty much on your own.
Kelly and George chose Camp La Junta because it had received excellent reviews and because it was the camp that Mark's school friends attended. There are about 24 camps in Kerr County, right in the heart of the Hill Country, a bucolic place of rolling terrain where the grass, the Spanish oaks and the cypress trees are a concentrated, vibrant green, but there hadn't been much in the way of industry or money in those parts until the youth camps started popping up, most of them in the late 1920s.
Hey Larry, I'm sure Luther is really proud how you've handled his legacy. Maybe the Black Eagles can step in and clean up the mess? They're very special you know.
Grom the camp website (note the sentence about sincere interest in young people).
All of La Junta’s staff are carefully screened, interviewed, provide references and their backgrounds are checked for criminal histories to confirm that each is appropriate for a camp position as well as commanding a sincere interest in young people. During staff training, our entire staff undergo Sexual Abuse Awareness training, First Aide, CPR and waterfront rescue training. It is our intention to prepare them for most every safety decision which may arise.
There should be no blame on this child at all! He is an innocent victim and abuse can occur even when the parent thinks he/she is vigilant. There are predators in all walks of life. The parent may not have responded well, but it is not something encountered every day. The camp is totally responsible for hiring someone whose credentials were not thoroughly investigated.
There most certainly is oversight on child abuse and molestation. In 2005 then Senator Kyle Janek (R-Houston) now the Executive Commissioner to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, proposed and passed a bill requiring all youth camps to train each person who has unsupervised time with a camper in the prevention of child abuse and molestation. The training consists of a one hour training and examination. A similar law was passed in 2012 covering all institutions of higher education.
"when it comes to child sexual abuse, you're pretty much on your own."
There is much more that should be happening, but there is indeed oversight. So the statement is dramatic, but false.
TEXAS HEALTH AND SAFETY CODETITLE 2. HEALTH
SUBTITLE G. LICENSES
CHAPTER 141. YOUTH CAMPSSec. 141.0095. TRAINING AND EXAMINATION PROGRAM.
This truly breaks my heart. I can't believe we don't have better precautions set up in Texas and all other states.
Not literrally, or until it was legal, but life in prison at the least.
I would not be opposed, once it was proven they are guilty in the court of law, that they by killed by lethal injection. I do not think these sexual deviants can be rehabilitated. Their mind is twisted and nothing can change it...................
@bvckvs It can only be hoped that you regretted this post when you sobered up this morning. Also, how did you go about fighting back and speaking out?
I hadn't pegged you for a troll, so I guess you actually believe that idiotic crap.
Stupid, stupid, stupid, and everything the others said.
I'm politically liberal but my lifestyle is conservative. Yes, the c word. The two are unrelated. The ability of a child to divuldge abuse is entirely about that's child's personality. Anyone who has more than one kid knows how differently kids can be wired.
Hey -- have any of you liberal parents ever told your kids "now don't be ashamed if you get raped -- it happens all the time." Stupid. And no, it's not the "general attitude" it's the individual kid.
I've read a lot of BS here but I think you just won the idiocy prize. Now go away and stop making Democrats look bad. And men. And human beings.
@bvckvs you are a fucking idiot.
@bvckvs You are a twisted and sick individual - trivialzing something like child abuse and making it political. I sincerely hope you get raped some day so you can come to terms with what it feels like to be abused. What a jerk!!!
@bvckvs you sir are truly sick
@bvckvs "only ever a problem"...
such a stronghold on truth!
The idea that "this is really only ever a problem in conservative families" is callous, uninformed, and plainly untrue. Just because a family is "liberal" "conservative" "progressive" "moderate" or any other flavor of political leaning (or non-leaning) does not mean there are not sexual issues and abuse. To draw such a line between politics and morality is dangerous (regardless which side of the aisle).
The truth is that sexual abuse is more rampant than is ever reported. The politics of a family have no input on abuse and reporting of abuse.
@bvckvs it's worth more pointing out that politicizing things like this is callous, disgusting, and absolutely wrong. abuse is about control and has nothing to do with anything else.
@janerleblanc Better precautions? Hell! I'm surprised there are any precautions. It is Teas after all.
@janerleblanc it costs too much and is too much regulation.
At least, that's what the state legislature will say since they are blind to anything that isn't cutting government to know when it should be expanded.
@bvckvs You posted in the wrong place.
@bvckvs; They really didn't pay attention did they? It's much easier to go with the conventional wisdom.
@bvckvs wow, so you actually meant what you posted in this thread. I hope you have no other forum to spew your misdirected thoughts.
You make a biased, unresearched, IGNORANT comment like the one above and then have the audacity to call someone else "fucking stupid?" YOU, sir, are a piece of work.
Uh no, that's not at all what I said. You can't find the best way to put the guy away without doing a full investigation.
I can see you're just to stupid to grasp the concept.
OF COURSE the parent blames herself.
And yes, the molester is to blame dumbass -- don't you get that they prey on kids they recognize as vulnerable? That means less likely to report abuse.
Oh I forgot, you're stupid...'nuff said.
And btw, I am LE and no, "they" look for the best way to put the perv away. "They" don't waste time trying to analyze the reason it took the kid time to come forward.
Yeah, I let you get to me. I'm a parent of 3 and couldn't live with myself if I'd been that mom, but I won't blame her. I won't blame her politics or her religion. You are the only one placing blame.
Only the perv child molester is to blame.
Now, I just need the Jon Stewart choir to sing "go eff yourself" just for you.
"...BLAMING THE RAPED KID?" You've gone from idiot to asswhole now.
So, saying that kids have unique personalities and consequently unique and varied coping skills or reactions to situations is BLAMING THE RAPED KID?
Let me be succinct...eff you.
@bvckvs Your obsessive focus is amazing. Everything you dislike or disagree with in the world can be blamed on your one all powerful ever present boogeyman.
YOU are right in substance, but misplaced in making this a left or right issue.
Although, I understand your point on conservatism making the child less able to speak openly about sex. Its the truth, I was raised in a very conservative household not allowed to even say a curse word or talk about sex.
But, had I ever been molested as a child, I would not have hesitated to tell my parents. Thank God, it never happened to me. As a parent, it kills me to read about this horror!