State probes boy's death
Camp's risky punishment cited

By Jill Young Miller - Staff
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, May 6, 2005

Counselors at a state-run camp for troubled youngsters held a 13-year-old Douglas County boy facedown on the ground for an hour and a half before he stopped breathing and later died, state records show. [Emphasis added]

The counselors subdued Travis Parker using a hold that has been banned by the state Department of Juvenile Justice because officials there consider it too dangerous.

Travis, who had asthma, died on April 21, the day after he was restrained by at least three counselors[Emphasis added] at the Appalachian Wilderness Camp, an outdoor therapeutic program in Cleveland, in the North Georgia mountains.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is looking into the matter, and the results of an autopsy are pending, said GBI spokesman John Bankhead.

The boy was "placed in a full basket restraint due to his acting out behavior," according to a Department of Juvenile Justice report obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution under the Open Records Law.

The Juvenile Justice Department doesn't allow its workers to use the hold. "We don't use any holds that could possibly restrict a child's ability to breathe," said Bill Reilly, the agency's chief of staff.

The camp is one of two operated by the state Department of Human Resources. Troubled children aged 6 to 17 are placed there from a variety of sources, including the juvenile justice system and mental health programs. On average, the children stay less than 12 months.

Reilly said that his department had been assured by DHR officials that the facedown restraint would no longer be used on children at the wilderness camp.

The DHR refused to discuss the case, but a department spokeswoman said it allowed its employees to use the "basket restraint."

"Yes, that restraint is continuing to be used," said DHR spokeswoman Dena Smith, who said the department was reviewing the "application of the restraint, as well as all policy and procedures."

While the details of what happened the night Travis was restrained are sketchy, the Juvenile Justice Department's incident report suggests that counselors were trying to place the boy under control after an outburst.

The report says that boys at the camp began misbehaving at about 3 p.m. on April 20 and continued "acting out" until 10 p.m.

By then, 11 campers had missed their evening meal because of their behavior, the report said. When two campers were rewarded with food for being good, Travis "became enraged," the report said. A counselor grabbed him by his jacket, Travis resisted, and the counselor "put him in a full basket restraint." The report did not identify the counselor.

One counselor held Travis from behind, crossing the boy's arms against his chest, the report said. The boy "was taken to the ground, where another counselor was holding his legs and another counselor holding the hip area," the report said. "The camper is face down during the entire time."

A counselor told authorities that the boy had to be restrained after about 10 p.m., according to an incident report filed with the White County Sheriff's Department. The boy started having trouble breathing, and camp officials called 911.

Before an ambulance arrived, the boy quit breathing and staffers started CPR, the sheriff's report said. He was taken to a hospital in Gainesville and transferred to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston. He died the next day.

Staff members at the wilderness camp have been put on administrative leave while the incident is investigated.

A Douglas County Juvenile Court judge committed Travis to juvenile justice custody after a community group recommended placing him in an outdoor therapeutic program, Reilly said. Being in the agency's custody expedites a child's placement in such a program.

Reilly was unsure why Travis was in court, but he said the boy had a history with juvenile justice authorities. He had his first brush with the law at about age 9, Reilly said.

Wilderness therapy programs take children who are addicted to drugs, in trouble with the law or out of control at home and school and put them in a primitive outdoor setting where they must learn to live and work together.

The Juvenile Justice Department has about 20 children at the camp, which has room for 50, Reilly said. Travis entered the camp in February, records show.

The boy lived in the small town of Winston with his grandmother. The boy's family members could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Peggy Walker, a Douglas County Juvenile Court judge who knew Travis and attended his funeral last week, was troubled by the circumstance that led to his death. "I'm very distressed that he would be restrained for an hour and a half."

"When we work with children, what we're trying to do is provide the assistance they need," the judge said. "Certainly the last thing that we want to do is to do harm." [Emphasis added]

--- Staff writer Craig Schneider contributed to this article.

A partial list of boot camp victims
    Michelle Sutton, dead at age 15, Summit Quest
    Kristen Chase, dead at age 16, Challenger
    Paul Choy, dead at age 16, Rite of Passage
    Aaron Bacon, dead at age 16, Northstar
    Dawnne Takeuchi, dead at age 18, VisionQuest
    Lorenzo Johnson, dead at age 17, Arizona Boys Ranch
    Carlos Ruiz, dead at age 13, VisionQuest
    Mario Cano, dead at age 16, VisionQuest
    John Vincent Garrison, dead at age 18, VisionQuest
    Bernard Reefer, dead, VisionQuest
    Robert Zimmerman, dead, VisionQuest
    Charles Lucas, dead, VisionQuest
    James Lamb, dead, VisionQuest
    Tammy Edmiston, dead, VisionQuest
    Leon Anger, dead, VisionQuest
    Charles Collins, Jr., dead at age 15, Crossroads for Youth
    Jamie Young, dead at age 13, Ramsey Canyon
    John Avila, dead, Rocky Mountain Academy
    Danny Lewis, dead at age 16, VisionQues
    Nicholas Contreras, dead at age 16, Arizona Boys Ranch
    Edith Campos, dead at age 15, Desert Hills
    Matt Toppi, dead at age 17, Robert Land Academy
    Chirs Brown, dead at age 16, Robert Land Academy
    Eric David Schibley, dead at age 17, VisionQuest
    Chad Andrew Frenza, dead at age 16, Polk County Boot Camp
    Robert Doyle Erwin, dead at age 15, VisionQuest
    Lyle Foodroy, dead, VisionQuest
    Gina Score, dead at age 14, State Training School (South Dakota)
    Bryan Dale Alexander, dead at age 18, Texas Correctional Services
    Michael Wiltsie, dead at age 12, Eckert Youth Alternatives
    Tristan Sovern, dead at age 16, Charter Behavioral Health System
    Robert Rollins, dead at age 12, Devereaux School
    Andrew McClain, dead at age 11, Elmcrest Psychiatric Hospital
    Anthony Haynes, dead at age 14, American Buffalo Soldiers Boot Camp
    Ian August, dead at age 14, Skyline Journey
    Charles "Chase" Moody, dead at age 17, The Brown School (CEDU affiliated)
    Roberto Reyes, dead at age 15, Thayer Learning Center Boot Camp
    Travis Parker, dead at age13, Appalachian Wilderness Camp


Return to Boot camp for kids: Torturing teenagers for fun and profit
Return to this Newsroom date
Select other Newsroom date range
Return to Project NoSpank Table of Contents at