Longform

A Texas Boy's Summer Camp Nightmare

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His parents were so concerned, they found him a therapist. He was in her office playing a card game when he finally told her what had happened. The therapist called Kelly in from the waiting room. Mark had something to tell her, she said.

Mark eventually told the therapist — and later a forensic interviewer — that Bovee started by putting his hands behind Mark's knees, but then he began sliding his hand further up underneath the towel Mark was wrapped in after he finished washing. One night, he made Mark take six showers. Bovee checked him after each shower, sliding his hands over Mark's butt and touching and pulling on his penis. Once he slid a finger into Mark's anus. Bovee would look the boy in the eye and smile while he did these things to him.

Sitting in the therapist's office almost a year later, Mark told his mom what had happened at camp. Kelly listened to him and tears ran down her face, but she'd known it all along, she realized. It was right there in front of her, but she hadn't wanted to see it, had willed it not to be true.

"I should have come to pick you up. I'm sorry. I feel like I failed you," she said.

Mark dropped his head and looked away.

"You did," he said.

That same summer, Camp Stewart, one of the oldest camps in the area, located down the road from La Junta, had a case of abuse. Counselor Scott Zirus was charged with and eventually convicted of sexual abuse. When the story broke, Smith sent an email out to all Camp La Junta parents with the point of the message in bold letters: "Camp La Junta is NOT the camp involved."

Smith's letters to parents took on a different tone when he was writing about his own camp after police started investigating Bovee in May 2010. First the letters went to Mark's parents and to the parents of everyone else in Cabin 6, reassuring them in soothing language that he had everything under control. In every letter sent out about Bovee before his conviction, Smith wrote that the camp stood firmly behind the victim, but he usually noted that the abuse claim was just an accusation or that Bovee was maintaining his innocence.


After Bovee was arrested in fall 2010, Smith sent out a letter to every parent of a child who'd had Bovee as a counselor, including Mark's parents, declaring that after a thorough investigation, he was sure their son was not the boy who had been molested. The lawyer and Mark's parents say Smith never sent a letter informing parents that Bovee was convicted of endangerment to a child in a deal with the assistant district attorney. Bovee was required to abide by sex-offender rules — no contact with children and no alcohol, firearms, pornography or unmonitored access to a computer — and would be on probation for 10 years, but he would never have to register as a sex offender.

Sexual abuse of a child can shape much of how that child grows up and sees the world, Megan Mooney, a psychologist who specializes in this type of trauma at the DePelchin Children's Center in Houston, said. An abuser will start out by grooming a child, doing things to earn the child's trust and touching him or her in increasingly inappropriate ways as the predator closes in. "The special attention often feels good, but when it crosses that boundary over into sexually explicit behavior, they can get confused," Mooney said. "Children's brains aren't designed to understand that."

According to Mooney, the effects of abuse are wide-ranging, depending on the severity of the abuse and how long it lasted, with many victims blaming themselves and believing there was something they did that made the abuse happen. "Unfortunately, sexual abuse is often perpetrated by someone a child knows. That can make it even more devastating if it was an adult that was supposed to be someone who they knew and trusted and who was supposed to care for them," Mooney said. The immediate aftermath of abuse can show up in behavior, changes in how victims interact with friends, in how they do in school, she said. They might show a lot of anxiety and fear and start having nightmares, she noted. A trigger in the memory — specific settings, sounds, smells, someone who looks like the abuser — can leave victims panicked and watchful, she said. "They become very worried about future relationships and about trusting people in the future, because someone they were supposed to be able to trust abused them."

This can also persist through the years as victims mature and develop. "We always try and prepare kids and teens and their parents to watch out for coming developmental stages and further anxieties," Mooney said. "It can be difficult to form the levels of emotional and sexual intimacy. Some kids are extraordinarily afraid and fearful, while others are too free."

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Dianna Wray
Contact: Dianna Wray