Parents Never Dreamed Sending Their Kid to Camp La Junta Would Turn into a Sexual Abuse Nightmare

An 11-year-old sent to summer camp returns to his family with a horrible secret.

Mark smashed his ear to the phone. Even in the crowded cafeteria, he didn't want anyone else to hear what his mom was asking. Phone calls between parents and campers weren't allowed, but Mark had sent a letter to his mom saying he wanted to come home and she'd told Blake Smith, the owner of Camp La Junta, that she would speak to her son or he would be withdrawn immediately. On the other end of the line, Kelly tried to make out Mark's voice over the clatter in the Camp La Junta cafeteria. She was across the state in Houston, but she was ready to get in the car — she wouldn't even stop to pack a bag — if her 11-year-old son confirmed her suspicion.

The youth camp world is very tight-knit, a place where ­reputation is everything.

"Don't say anything but yes or no," she said. "Just tell me, do you want to come home? Has that counselor been touching you? Are you okay?"

She rattled off questions while in the back of her mind the thought pulsed, "Please don't let it be true. He wasn't abused. He was only homesick like they said."

Kelly didn't realize Mark was being watched by Blake Smith, the camp director, and Matthew Bovee, the counselor who was molesting him, when her son called her.
Illustration by Peter Ryan
Kelly didn't realize Mark was being watched by Blake Smith, the camp director, and Matthew Bovee, the counselor who was molesting him, when her son called her.
Bovee used shower checks to touch Mark in increasingly inappropriate ways. Mark didn't tell his parents about the abuse until months later.
Illustration by Peter Ryan
Bovee used shower checks to touch Mark in increasingly inappropriate ways. Mark didn't tell his parents about the abuse until months later.

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"No. I was just homesick," he said quickly. "Everything's okay, Mom. I want to stay."

Kelly felt relief rush through her like a tranquilizer dart. His letter home talked about shower checks and how camp wasn't fun anymore. "Please do something," the last line read.

"I have to go, Mom. I need to get off the phone," Mark said. Maybe he said it too fast. Maybe she should have listened harder, caught the blade of fear in his voice. She had no idea that Smith, the owner of the camp, who stood to lose a lot if Mark was being abused, was standing on one side of him.

Counselor Matthew Bovee stood on the other side of Mark. Mark knew the counselor had a knife in his pocket. Mark knew Bovee was zeroing in on every word he said. Mark was sure the man would reach out and stab him right there if he told his mother what Bovee was doing to him. So he told his mom he was fine.

In July 2009 they were a normal family. Kelly was a stay-at-home mom devoted to her children and to running their spacious, quietly expensive home in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Houston. Her husband, George, had a good job in a technical field, and they had the means to provide excellent private-school educations for their children. Mark, the oldest, was a bright, happy child, a boy who got good grades and loved playing with his friends.

Kelly and George had never done the summer camp thing as kids, but other parents in their circle were sending their boys to Camp La Junta in Hunt, Texas, just outside Kerrville, and Kelly and George decided Mark should go, too. The first year had been wonderful. Mark hadn't written a word home, but he'd come bouncing out to the car when they arrived to pick him up, full of stories about horseback riding and swimming and hanging out with all his friends. Kelly pulled her car past the well-manicured entrance to Camp La Junta the second year expecting to see her son come running out with a happy grin on his face.

All the kids were gathered at the front, waving to their parents like something out of a brochure. Mark sprinted to the car and darted into the backseat. A high-pitched animal moan filled the car. Looking over her shoulder, Kelly realized it was Mark.

Ten months later Mark found the courage to tell someone he had been sexually abused by counselor Bovee. Mark's family has filed a civil suit against Smith and the camp, contending that Smith was negligent and could have prevented the abuse. They also believe Smith spread rumors about Mark and his family to try to minimize the implications of a child being sexually abused under his care. Smith and his lawyer, Ken Adams, have declined to comment for this story. (Mark's name and the names of members of his family have been changed for this article.)

There are dozens of youth summer camps across Texas. Parents send their children to these camps expecting they'll have safe, memorable summers, never dreaming they could be sending their children into the path of sexual predators.

While the Texas Department of State Health Services — the government entity that oversees all licensed youth camps in Texas — will check to see if the food is properly prepared and the bathrooms are properly stocked with antibacterial soap, when it comes to child sexual abuse, you're pretty much on your own.
_____________________

Kelly and George chose Camp La Junta because it had received excellent reviews and because it was the camp that Mark's school friends attended. There are about 24 camps in Kerr County, right in the heart of the Hill Country, a bucolic place of rolling terrain where the grass, the Spanish oaks and the cypress trees are a concentrated, vibrant green, but there hadn't been much in the way of industry or money in those parts until the youth camps started popping up, most of them in the late 1920s.

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22 comments
John
John

This is sick to think that the camp is at fault for this and should be shut down. They get home-sick cases every year, Mark just happened to be one. This camp has changed the lives of many kids and adults in a positive way for years. This story is also WAY over-exaggerated, Smith was probably not standing near the child as he was talking on the phone and listening in. He was simply monitoring the child to make sure he wasn't doing anything he shouldn't be doing. I am sorry for the child who has been scarred, but it is not the camp or Smith's fault. The counselor who did it secretly is to blame.

mom2011
mom2011

I love my children very much, AND I send them to camp - THIS camp, for nine years in a row now.  As I type this, one of my sons is till there, and my other son recently returned from his first term there as a counselor, following seven great years of camp experience.  It's heart-breaking that this happened to this poor child, but to blame the entire institution of summer camp, and to label any parent that sends their child to camp as neglectful, uncaring, or insensitive, is absurd.  Sadly, abuse happens in schools, parks, churches, scout troops, and locker rooms too, but do we jump on parents and blame them for neglectfully and uncaringly putting their children in harm's way by sending them to any of those places?  Having had children at this camp when this incident happened, knowing what the camp's staff did in follow up for months afterwards to make sure it hadn't happened to other campers (one of my sons was in the same cabin as this child, with this same counselor), and knowing the precautions they have put in place to protect the campers and train the staff, I am confident that this may well be one of the SAFEST camps a child could attend at this point.  We will always have to be vigilant in protecting our children, and predators will always be out there.  Summer camp is one of many choices parents can make among potential activities for their children.  For mine, it has been one of the most valuable experiences they have had.  I don't insist that parents who chose not to send their children to camp are doing the wrong thing, and for readers to suggest that I am an unloving parent by choosing to send mine to camp is equally ignorant.  And, to suggest that this camp, which continues to provide great, and in some cases life-changing, experiences for more than 500 children each summer should be categorically "shut down" over the actions of one sick person is like suggesting that every school, church, activity center, youth athletic league, etc., in which a predator has managed to slip through the cracks, should be shut down. 

And BTW, the counselors, and senior-level campers, almost all have sporting/utility knives in their pockets or hooked on their belt, at all times.  It is a tool they are carefully trained to use, in their day to day responsibilities as outdoorsmen and ranch hands.  The campers see them in use throughout every day. To sensationalize that detail in this story is incredibly misleading.

myhealthtoo
myhealthtoo

don't send your kids to camp if you love them!!!!

over55phillips
over55phillips

What do we have to do keep kids from these kind of people! I don't have kids, but what I'm 

is a person who whose raped. And I get mad as hell when a child goes though the same 

thing that I went though. And I praise the parents who shows love & care for not just for they kids, but for other kids


sp91546
sp91546

Nice article. Well done. So does anybody know the status of the camp?

Thanks

Rodney Barnes
Rodney Barnes

I stopped after page 2. If children are not off-limits to these scum, then they shouldn't be off limits to the victims family.

Ken Cornelius
Ken Cornelius

read this on the bus this afternoon. Guy next to me saw the front page and asked to read it afterwards. All my youth was mad at my mom for not letting me go to camp. Now I completely understand why.

robinvtx
robinvtx

heart wrenching story of the evil that goes on every day in this ugly world. 

falcon130013
falcon130013

This sick person needs prison time this child needs help.

pgc77099
pgc77099

I feel so sorry for Mark. I pray he can get through this, and bless his loving mother who put herself in the middle to get this story public.

Jerise Harris-Henson
Jerise Harris-Henson

Ugh, how awful. I hope this family gets justice and this camp is shut down.

Elisa Flores
Elisa Flores

Very very sad...makes me thankful that I couldnt afford to send my son to camp when he was younger...plus being that far away for a week is just too much for me, i need to know and see for my own eyes that my son is ok.

sarahperry24
sarahperry24

Beautifully written. I'm glad someone wrote about this so that poor child can hopefully have justice. Well done, Houston Press and Dianna Wray.

Katy Parks
Katy Parks

Records are always clean until it happens. They have to be caught to have it show up in their record. Until they're caught it doesn't mean it's not happening. Scary and disgusting that people do this.

Kelley Jones Workman
Kelley Jones Workman

Camp Cho Yea in Livingston Tx has a very clean record. But this makes me think twice.

Daniel Rex
Daniel Rex

Trust me Boy Scouts and Christian camps are not innocent of these things happening either. Please guard your children

springs.vicki
springs.vicki

@sp91546 It seems as though the only thing allowed to print on here are negative opinions about the accuser, when I posted true facts about the case it was deleted.   

 
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