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.

It's a lucrative business, built on the idea of clean, safe summer fun. The youth camp world is very tight-knit, a place where reputation is everything and even the hint of a scandal can tarnish a camp's name and send parents running for the door. "We're just like any business. We live and die by our reputation," longtime Texas camp director Danny Dawdy said. Dawdy, the executive director of Highland Lakes Camp & Conference Center, a Baptist camp organization near Austin, argued that this means camps have a motivation to take every precaution to prevent abuse, making sure counselors are never alone with campers and that everyone is trained to notice red flags from other counselors.

From May to the end of July, families bring their children from the busy, smoggy cities in Texas and elsewhere around the country to spend a healthy summer here. It isn't a cheap endeavor — Mark's ten-day stay cost more than $2,000. The camps bring more than $24 million to the Kerr County economy, according to a 2007 study by the Kerrville Convention & Visitors Bureau. That's not counting the spillover from spending on meals, hotels and shopping by parents when they come to drop off and pick up their children. It's high tide for the Kerr County tourism business.

There's evidence this may play a part in local legal decisions, as in the lawsuit involving nearby Camp Mystic. The Kerr County jury in that case ruled in favor of the owner, Richard Eastland, despite the evidence the state district judge believed clearly showed that Eastland had been skimming money off the rest of his family for years. The judge ordered a new trial, and the case was appealed all the way to the Texas Supreme Court before the family finally settled out of court.

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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Bob Wynne, the Houston lawyer representing Mark's family in a civil suit filed against Smith, Camp La Junta and CLF Management Systems LLC, a Texas limited liability company registered to Smith, was concerned enough about getting a fair trial that he made sure to file in Harris County instead of Kerr County. The suit, claiming defamation and negligence, is set to be tried in Harris County beginning next fall.

In 2009, Bovee was a 20-year-old with a mop of blond hair hanging over heavy-lidded blue eyes. He was small and wiry and looked like a surfer, but he had a rigid quality that seemed a little harsh to Kelly. He had grown up near Lincoln, Nebraska, and told parents he was a former Marine and had gone to school on a wrestling scholarship. Kelly thought he came across as stern — she and the other parents immediately nicknamed him "The Marine" — but maybe that was good for kids.

Bovee didn't get along well with the other counselors, but the boys in his cabin thought he was cool because he had a knife he always carried in his pocket — sometimes he'd take it out and pretend to stab one of the kids. They'd heard him talking to another counselor about the gun he said he kept in his car. He taught the Indian hour, and he said he could show them a war dance he'd taught at one of the neighboring camps.

Bovee was strict about showers. The counselors conducted shower checks to make sure the boys actually washed. The other counselors would lean over and sniff a boy's head for the presence of shampoo, but Bovee stood just outside the shower door to inspect each kid as he walked out. Bovee would smell the boys' hair, then put his hands under their arms and behind their knees.

Mark came back a different person. He refused to get off the couch, and fought with his siblings and all his friends. He only picked at his food during meals, and soon he was rail-thin with dark shadows under his eyes. He couldn't always sleep at night, and when he did he was plagued by nightmares and woke up in the dark convinced Bovee was there waiting for him and preparing to kill him and his entire family. For months he whispered the truth only in the ear of the family dog, late at night after he woke up from another bad dream.

His parents were so concerned, they found him a therapist. He was in her office playing a card game when he finally told her what had happened. The therapist called Kelly in from the waiting room. Mark had something to tell her, she said.

Mark eventually told the therapist — and later a forensic interviewer — that Bovee started by putting his hands behind Mark's knees, but then he began sliding his hand further up underneath the towel Mark was wrapped in after he finished washing. One night, he made Mark take six showers. Bovee checked him after each shower, sliding his hands over Mark's butt and touching and pulling on his penis. Once he slid a finger into Mark's anus. Bovee would look the boy in the eye and smile while he did these things to him.

Sitting in the therapist's office almost a year later, Mark told his mom what had happened at camp. Kelly listened to him and tears ran down her face, but she'd known it all along, she realized. It was right there in front of her, but she hadn't wanted to see it, had willed it not to be true.

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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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