By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
By Angelica Leicht
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to come home and she'd told Blake Smith, the owner of Camp La Junta, that she would speak to her son or he would be withdrawn immediately.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.
"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."
"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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Beautifully written. I'm glad someone wrote about this so that poor child can hopefully have justice. Well done, Houston Press and Dianna Wray.
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.
Trust me Boy Scouts and Christian camps are not innocent of these things happening either. Please guard your children