All Kids Removed From Nature Therapy Program After Boy’s Shocking Death

All Kids Removed From Nature Therapy Program After Boy’s Shocking Death

North Carolina health officials ordered the removal of all children from a nature therapy program in the Appalachian Mountains on Friday, nearly two weeks after a pre-teen suspiciously died there less than 24 hours after he arrived.

The program, Trails Carolina, was warned earlier this week that it could not accept any new children into its program and now, the state says it’s taken temporary custody of its children until they can be returned to their families.

The development adds to the mystery surrounding the death of a 12-year-old New York boy, who was found to be bruised and not breathing in a Trails Carolina cabin on the morning of Feb. 3.

First responders said the boy, who was not named, was cold to the touch and had undergone rigor mortis by the time they arrived to assist him. He also was said to have bruising under his eye.

A forensic pathologist determined the boy’s death did “not appear to be natural,” the Transylvania County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement, adding to the list of red flags surrounding the death.

Making matters worse, deputies said Trails Carolina had “not completely cooperated” with their probe—something the organization refuted in a statement.

“The death at Trails Carolina is tragic and concerning,” health officials said in a news release. “We extend our deepest sympathies to the family and loved ones of the child who died, and commit to them that we are conducting a thorough investigation with our county partners and will take every appropriate step based on the outcome of our and other investigations.”

The sheriff’s office has not shared a cause of death for the 12-year-old, but, citing an affidavit, the Associated Press reported that the camp gave investigators a version of what it says occurred.

A counselor told detectives that after the boy’s arrival, he became “loud and irate,” refusing to eat his dinner. The affidavit said the counselor claimed the boy had calmed down and ate snacks eventually, and went to sleep on his bunkhouse’s floor in a sleeping bag that had an alarm on its zipper that triggered when someone tries to exit. Inside the same cabin were four adults and other minors in the program, the affidavit said.

The counselor said the boy had a panic attack around midnight, but went back to sleep. He was allegedly checked on at 3 a.m. and 6 a.m., but was stiff and cold to the touch when he was found dead at 7:45 a.m. on the morning of Feb. 3.

Trails Carolina characterizes itself as a “therapeutic” camp in Lake Toxaway, about 35 miles southwest of Asheville. Its website says it’s “a wilderness therapy program helping teens and adolescents ages 10-17 who struggle with mental health challenges.”

The program has come under fire over more than this child’s death in recent months. In a federal lawsuit filed Feb. 9, a former camper said she was 12 when she told staffers that another child was sexually assaulting fellow campers. The lawsuit claims counselors at Trails Carolina did nothing to stop the alleged assaults.

“The most upsetting part for me is the trauma I experienced was preventable,” that former camper, now 20, told The Charlotte Observer.

Those claims came on the heels of a similar federal lawsuit that was filed in 2023. In that suit, a former camper alleged counselors didn’t do enough to prevent an older camper from sexually assaulting her in 2019, despite her repeated requests for help.

Trails Carolina did not release a statement about its latest lawsuit to the Observer, nor did it publicly address the state effectively closing its entire program on Friday.

The Daily Beast

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