ROCKY MOUNT, Va. (AP) - Three teenage counselors at a 4-H camp were charged Thursday with child abuse, disorderly conduct and assault for allegedly forcing young campers into bare-knuckle fights, then charging admission and allowing betting.
Two 15-year-olds and one 16-year-old were charged in juvenile court with 24 felony and 34 misdemeanor counts. The counselors, whose names were not released because of their ages, worked at the camp near Smith Mountain Lake from June 30 to July 4.
Franklin County prosecutor Cliff Hapgood said the counselors helped organize fights that involved eight boys between the ages of 10 and 12.
Sheriff Quint Overton said other campers were charged $1 for admission, and the counselors and children bet up to $4 per fight.
By the time the campers left for home, several had black eyes and one had broken his hand as a result of the fights, Overton said.
In all, 300 campers ages 9 to 13 attended the camp about 120 miles southwest of Richmond. They were supervised by 22 adult volunteers and extension staff, 50 teen counselor volunteers and permanent summer camp staff.
Hapgood would not comment on whether any of the adult staff had witnessed the fights, saying the investigation was continuing.
The counselors have been suspended by the 4-H, and security has been bolstered at all six 4-H centers in Virginia. "It's shocking that this happened," 4-H spokesman Stewart MacInnis said. "We thought we had some darned good procedures in place to prevent something like this from happening."
Authorities learned about the fights when the father of one camper called to complain about his son returning home with a black eye.
Richard Rawls said his 11-year-old was forced to defend himself five times during the five-day camp. When D.J. Rawls was knocked out the day before the end of camp, counselors told him to tell his parents that he was hit with a basketball, Richard Rawls said.
Rawls also said his son required treatment for a concussion he got at the camp.
The state 4-H program is overseen by Virginia Tech and Virginia State University.
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