Arizona Boot Camp Where Boy Died Reopens

New York Times/September 7, 2001
By Michael Janofsky

Phoenix -- Two months after a 14-year-old boy died at a boot camp for troubled youths, the camp owner is open for business again, ready to welcome more than two dozen children who have registered for a 13-weekend program that starts on Saturday.

The resumption of the camp, operated by Charles F. Long II of the America's Buffalo Soldiers Re-Enactors Association, has horrified some parents of former campers, who contend that Mr. Long's staff is unqualified to recognize the kind of emergency that led to the death of Anthony Haynes on July 1, after complications from exposure to intense desert heat, according to the autopsy report.

Yet other parents in the Phoenix area say that the youth's death should not obscure the benefits their children have derived from a program that uses grueling physical activity and harsh discipline to improve attitudes and behavior. Nor has the death discouraged families from enrolling children in Mr. Long's $695 fall program. Mr. Long's wife, Carmelina, the camp administrator, said about one-third of the children starting camp on Saturday are new to the Buffalo Soldiers.

"There isn't any other way to help my children behave," Yolanda Jubran of Tempe, Ariz., one of the first- time parents, said in a telephone interview. Ms. Jubran enrolled her daughter, 14, and her son, 8. "I always try my best for my children, and if I didn't think it was not good, I would not send them," she said.

Doreen Hurff of Mesa, Ariz., offered a different perspective. She withdrew her two young sons from the summer program and called Mr. Long's plan to reopen this week "a totally insane idea." Her sons said children were routinely hit, kicked and made to eat dirt.

"People are putting their kids back in there, and we still don't know what happened," she said, referring to how the Haynes youth died. "Why would anybody take that chance?"

However parents are responding, the death has spurred state officials to look for ways that camps like Mr. Long's might be regulated. Arizona has virtually no health and safety laws governing programs for children that run for a period of less than a year. Mr. Long has run camps since 1994 at various sites in the Phoenix area for periods as long as six months.

Gov. Jane Hull, a Republican, recently appointed a 13-member panel to recommend what actions, if any, the state might take. In addition, Chris Cummiskey, a Democratic state senator, said the Legislature would review the issue when it returned in January.

Mr. Long's operation is among hundreds of so-called therapy camps that use rugged outdoor settings to shock teenagers out of bad habits. But many camp operators have been accused of abusing young people, and in the last two decades, 30 children have died of various causes.

Mr. Long, a 56-year-old former Marine lance corporal who refers to himself as Colonel Long, said he was eager to return to the outdoors with another group of children whose parents, in many cases, have turned to him as a last resort to separate their children from gangs, drugs and alcohol problems.

Sitting in his lawyer's office on Tuesday, he wore the black uniform of the Buffalo Soldiers Association camp and spoke animatedly for 90 minutes about his camps and his life. The only subject that his lawyer, David Burnell Smith, ruled off limits was the circumstances of Anthony Haynes's death, a matter still under investigation by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Department.

An autopsy report released last month concluded that the death was accidental, after Anthony was forced to endure 111-degree temperatures for five hours, a time in which investigators said he became disoriented and was "observed eating dirt."

A sheriff's affidavit said camp counselors took him to a nearby motel and placed him in a bathtub with the shower running. The affidavit said that when counselors returned they found him with his face in the water and then, at Mr. Long's direction, returned him to the camp because Mr. Long believed the youth was faking his distressed condition.

Back at the camp, the affidavit said, the youth stopped breathing and counselors called 911. He died that night. The youth's parents, who are divorced, have each filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Mr. Long and his program.

Mr. Long said he would operate his brand of camps "until the day I die." He described Anthony's death as a "tragic accident and a sad thing" for which he said he apologized profusely to the youth's mother, Melanie Hudson. He said he has not spoken to the youth's father, Gettis Haynes Jr. of Hannibal, Mo.

Yet the death also served as a rallying point, of sorts, he said, explaining how friends have encouraged him to persevere. "You're in a foxhole," he said, recalling the advice of a friend, who urged him to continue his work. "Bullets are flying. You are being bombarded. Do what you did in the United States Marine Corps. Do what you do best."

Mrs. Long provided the names of six families who had enrolled children with the camp for the first time. Besides Ms. Jubran, no one answered at one home and messages left at the others were not returned. Yet mothers of other children who have participated in Mr. Long's camps came to his defense.

Becky Martinez of Glendale, Ariz., said her 13-year-old daughter, Tracie Arvizu, had become "totally poisoned" by her friends, to the point she ran away for two weeks. "She hated me," Ms. Martinez said. "She blamed me for everything."

After Tracie returned home, Ms. Martinez said she persuaded her to enter Mr. Long's program, and the results, she said, "were stunning." "Colonel Long was a stranger who opened her brain, unlocked her heart and gave me my baby back," Ms. Martinez said.

Frances Lighty of Phoenix, whose daughters, Monica, 14, and Erica, 15, attended Mr. Long's summer camp, said she would "absolutely not" be scared to send them back, even after the death of another child. "I know who I'm talking to with him," Ms. Lighty said. "He comes from the heart."

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