Newsbank Archive
October 10, 2015
Sex abuse alleged at camp for youths
by Blake Spurney
Jan 23, 2014 | 0 0 comments | 38 38 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Rabun County sheriff’s investigators are trying to determine whether a counselor for Second Nature Blue Ridge forced a 14-year-old camper into a sexual encounter in November.

Chief Investigator Gerald Johnson said the 14-year-old wrote a letter about the alleged event that was found weeks later in the woods by another employee. Second Nature turned the letter over to authorities.

Assistant District Attorney Maggie Hastings said the letter was turned over to the Rabun County Department of Family and Children Services, which in turn gave it to the sheriff’s office earlier this month.

Hastings also said the child, who lives in Connecticut with his grandparents, didn’t disclose the allegation to other campers.

“We are just trying to get to the truth of what happened that night,” she said. “We are trying to work with Second Nature to figure out what happened.

“Our sheriff’s department is working very hard on this.”

Second Nature operates four camps nationwide, including the one in Rabun, for troubled youths. Counselors spend weeks at a time with youths at campgrounds on U.S. Forest Service land in what is called wilderness therapy.

Johnson said the investigation had been challenging because the campers come from places all across the nation. The 14-year-old camper who wrote the letter has undergone a forensic interview at the Power House for Kids Child Advocacy Center in Toccoa. According to Johnson, he has alleged that he was forced to perform the sex act.

J. Tom Morgan, a former district attorney for DeKalb County, said he was conducting an internal investigation for Second Nature. He also said the counselor in question had been put on administrative leave pending the results of the investigation.

“It has nothing to do whether we believe the allegation or not,” he said. “You have to take every precaution to protect the child.”

The counselor had just begun working for the camp for troubled youths.

“He completed their internal training program and all the necessary background checks,” Morgan said. “He’d not been at Second Nature very long, just a short time.”

Part of the requirement for prospective campers is that a parent or guardian sign over guardianship to Second Nature. Morgan said it was essential for his client to assume guardianship in case a youth needed medical care.

“Second Nature is the guardian of these kids from the moment they leave their home or a juvenile court until they’re released back,” Morgan said.

“These kids are not there for church camp,” he added. “They’re there for severe psychological or behavioral issues. Parents want a therapist there when (campers are) being interviewed.”

Second Nature employees have been present during a couple of interviews with campers. Morgan said his client had been “completely cooperative with the investigation,” which is ongoing.

“Second Nature at this point has given me permission to turn my file over to the prosecutors,” Morgan said.

The counselor has retained the services of Atlanta lawyer Drew Findling, and has not been questioned by investigators.