Death in a Boot Camp

This article was originally published in October 2002.

ON 1 JULY 2001, in a boot camp in the Arizona desert, where the temperature hit 115 degrees, 14-year-old Anthony Haynes succumbed to the tough love his parents had hoped would save him. Beaten, humiliated and deprived of water, he became the 34th child to die in America’s 100 or so military style camps for problem children in the past five years. The staff of these camps, where children are subjected to degradation and corporal punishment, have been accused of abusing and endangering the youngsters in their charge, yet new camps continue to open, and their popularity is growing. Many have waiting lists. One reason is an epidemic of confused and damaged children, almost always using drugs, whose parents have all but given up hope. (They all say the same thing: “I’ve tried everything.”) And the directors of the camps tell parents exactly what they long to hear: they will straighten out their troubled children. “America’s youth are running wild like undomesticated horses on the plains,” says Colonel Charles F.

Long II, director of America’s Buffalo Soldiers Re-enactors Associate (ABSRA) boot camp, where Anthony Haynes died. “Before wild horses can ever be of real service, you must corral and saddlebreak them, or they will continue to run astray.”

Tony Haynes parents divorced when he was four. Two years later, his three-month-old half-sister was shaken to death by a babysitter. Anthony watched it happen. His mother, Melanie Hudson, shows me his seventh-grade picture. Tony appears earnest behind round glasses that sit crookedly on his nose. His brown hair falls over his forehead and stands up at the back in an unruly cowlick. When he was five, doctors identified attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and prescribed medication. By his mother’s account, Tony had good friends and was an attentive older brother when she and her second husband had two more children. Anthony’s father, Gettis Haynes, whom the boy visited every summer, recalls that his son liked to fish, swim and go to the local amusement park. As he entered his teens, however, Anthony became sullen and defiant. “We didn’t see eye to eye,” says Hudson. “He was gaining bulk and strength. I couldn’t even get him to take a bath.”

At 14, Anthony was arrested for shoplifting a $7.99 action figure. That week his mother found a bag of marijuana, cigarette papers, and pipes for smoking pot in his bedroom. “I needed to get him turned around,” says Hudson. A therapist recommended ABSRA boot camp.

Long, the 57-year-old director, is a former marine who insists on being addressed as colonel even though military records indicate that he rose only as high as lance-corporal. Dressed in a Hawaiian shirt or his commander’s get-up, Long is a formidable figure, tall and powerfully built, with a shaved head and fierce eyes. He can be shrill and iron-faced, but also charismatic and understanding, with a preacher’s soothing voice. Since he founded the ABSRA camp in 1994, more than 800 children have been through the programme.

Hudson and Anthony’s father agreed to split the fee of $695, and enrolled their son, signing the required waiver. “It indicated that I agreed that the camp could use corporal punishment, which sounded reasonable to me,” she says.

Tony attended a dozen weekend camps during the school year. On overnight stays in the desert he was forced to march, run up mountain paths, work and do intensive physical therapy (PT). Campers were severely reprimanded by Long as well as by drill instructors (DIs) and “yellow scarves”, children promoted to a position of some authority. Like the other overweight or out-ofshape children, Anthony got extra doses of dressing-down. At night, there were group therapy sessions in which children were screamed at by DIs and belittled by their peers. Children who had misbehaved were forced to perform additional PT, often to the point of collapse. Depending on their behavior, children were either allowed to go to sleep at nine or ten o’clock or ordered to “dance” – jog all night long around a campfire while chanting. If they slowed or fell down, they were prodded and chastised. “Sleep deprivation is good for children,” Long says. One of his oft-quoted mottoes is framed on the wall of his office: TIRED CHILDREN RAISE NO HELL.

Tony hated weekend camp so much that, in an attempt to prevent his mother from driving him to what would have been his final session, he slashed the tires of her car. That night he failed to come home by the time of his curfew. Hudson got in her car and scoured the neighborhood. She found Tony with friends on street corner. They were smoking pot. Hudson called the police, and the officer who arrived said he would arrest Tony, but Hudson stopped him. “I think I’ll let Colonel Long handle this,” she said.

She arranged a ride to Phoenix College, where Long had campers marching in formation for their parents. After hearing about the marijuana and tire-slashing, Long told Hudson that Tony needed the Summer Endurance Camp, a five-week session that costs $4,200. Hudson said she couldn’t afford it, but Long said he would put Tony “on sponsorship”. (Benefactors provide the fees for some children who can’t pay.) Hudson called Gettis Haynes, who reluctantly agreed. It meant that he wouldn’t see Tony for their regular summer visit, “but,” says Haynes, “better’n jail’s what I thought.” That night Tony was taken to Long’s home in Scottsdale, a ranch-style house which serves as headquarters for ABSRA. Handcuffed to an iron roof support, Tony spent the night on the concrete back porch. Long later boasted to me that during the night one of his dogs had urinated on the boy.

On Monday, 25 June, Hudson drove Tony to the departure point for camp and signed more documents, including one with instructions for the boy’s ADHD medicines. Then Tony boarded a chartered bus with 45 other off-the-track children, aged from seven to 18. Angel, a 15-year-old girl with a shaved head (her hair normally curled luxuriously to her waist, but Long cut it), had started drinking, using drugs and dressing, she admits, ‘like a hooker’. Justin, a skinny, sandyhaired 16-year-old, had stolen money, bank cards and his stepfather’s car. One boy had set off a fire alarm. Another had beaten up a schoolmate. The victim’s mother had agreed not to press charges if the boy attended boot camp.

They drove to a desert campsite. It was over 110 degrees when the children filed off the bus.

A shotgun blast got the campers up at 5am the next day. First came PT, then breakfast. The children worked out in squads led by DIs and yellow scarves. Long appointed Russell, an obese 14-year-old yellow scarf, captain of the Pillsbury Dough Squad – ‘captain of the fat kids,’ Russell explains. They were on half rations – half an apple for breakfast, half a carrot for lunch and a half portion of beans for dinner. Haynes was in the squad.

Monday and Tuesday were searing hot, but PT, forced marches and little sleep were familiar to children who had attended other camp sessions. On Wednesday morning Long, who slept at a motel, arrived at camp to drive a child to court in Phoenix. The campers were left in the care of the DIs – parents, step-parents, graduates of the programme and a man who says he was ‘running from a life of problems, looking for a new beginning’. The DIs had received no formal training. Ray Anderson, a tall, thick-necked army veteran, worked in exchange for the fee for his stepson. Ray Corriere, an electrician, was also working to cover the costs for his stepson. Long told Corriere, who had served time in prison for dealing amphetamines, that he could help troubled children because he had been one himself. Long also told a large, squarefaced man named Ray Hutty that he could benefit the campers. ‘I grew up in the ghetto,’ Hutty says. ‘My street experience – that’s what qualified me.’ Two other DIs, Sirveorge Jones and Matthew Fontenot, 16 and 17, both muscular and tall, were graduates of ABSRA. ‘Watch out for the troublemakers,’ Long warned his DIs. ‘Keep your eyes ‘ open for Jesse James. Babyface Nelson is here. Jeffrey Dahmer is in this camp.”

Late that morning, Anderson, Jones and Fontenot ordered the children to lie on their backs in the sun. Told to raise their arms and feet, they were then doused with – “chocolate milk” – water mixed with dirt. As it was poured onto their faces, the children were ordered to open their mouths and swallow. Anyone who spluttered or choked was stamped on. Fontenot pressed his foot on Angel’s throat and kicked her in the jaw. Fontenot and Jones jumped onto the chests of several children.

Anthony Haynes “got it especially bad”, recalls Angel. “They picked on him the most.” Some begged to go home. “To where?” Anderson asked. “Your parents sent you here because they don’t want you.” Fontenot stamped on several children, including Anthony. Angel was kicked in the stomach, chest, ribs, and neck. Fontenot hit a boy named David, 17, in the shoulder, breaking his collarbone. Sirveorge Jones dragged Anthony to a picnic table, forced him to bend over it, pulled down his pants and beat him. “If you say anything, you’ll get it ten times worse,” Jones said. “If you tell,” Anderson told Russell, “I will kill you and I will kill your mother.”

Long returned to camp after dark. Corriere and Hutty told him about the day’s events, and Long investigated. Some children, afraid of repercussions, refused to speak up. Others, including Long’s daughter Brianna, 14, told him what had happened. Though he dismissed some of the complaints, he reprimanded Fontenot and Jones and sent them home. They returned the next morning.

On Thursday, a 15-year-old named Hassan ran away. A cruising police officer soon picked him up. The boy reported that the children at the boot camp were being abused, and the officer called Hassan’s mother. Long always forewarns parents that their children will tell them horror stories, “Don’t be surprised if they tell you that we’re beating them to death out here,” he told Melanie Hudson. “They’ll say anything to get out of it. They just want to get back to their friends, to get high again.”

Perhaps it’s not surprising that Hassan’s mother asked the officer to return her son to camp, which he did. Hassan was handcuffed, and his legs were shackled to a barbecue grill. From then on, he was forced to sleep, exercise and march in chains.

On Sunday morning Long held the weekly ceremony at which he asks campers if any of them want to “drop on request” and go home. About a dozen children, including Tony, raised their hands. (Other children later told me they were afraid to ask to leave.) Long told them they disgusted him and sent them to wait in the sun while the other children were allowed to rest in the shade. He told “the quitters” he would call their parents, adding that it was unlikely anyone would want them back.

They were left in the sun, as the temperature reached 112 degrees, for three to four hours. Tony complained that he needed water because of his ADHD medication, but his request was denied. He began to hallucinate, saying that he saw Indians and pools of water. He ate handfuls of dirt and said people were throwing acid at him. Still deprived of water, he appeared to go into convulsions. Long said he was faking.

Then Long instructed Hutty and Jones to take Tony and several other children to his motel room for showers; he said it would wake Tony up. In Long’s room, they removed the boy’s clothes and left him in the running shower. Hutty called Long to say he was worried about Tony. Long said he would be fine. When Hutty checked the shower, however, Tony was face down in the water. Hutty dragged him out of the bathroom. Jones pressed on Tony’s abdomen and mud gushed out of his mouth. Jones later told investigators that he couldn’t generate enough pressure, so he used his foot, which forced up more sand. Hutty called Long again, and said Tony wasn’t responding.

Long repeated that he was faking and told them to bring him back to camp.

When they got there, Tony wasn’t breathing. Long ordered DIs to put him in the truck bed so he could drive him to hospital. When one child said Tony was going to die, Long’s wife, Carmelina, dialled 911, and Long began CPR. From the transcription of the emergency call, it is evident that Long had to be instructed how to perform CPR. Carmelina relayed instructions to Long until the emergency crew arrived and took over. A helicopter flew Tony to the nearest hospital, where he died before Melanie Hudson arrived.

“I had trouble controlling him, but Tony was basically a good boy,” Hudson told me later. “They’re always good boys,” Long replied with a snarl. “Then why do they bring them to me?” When I pressed him about the children’s accounts of events, he said, “And you believe them? These are not boy scouts. These children are pathological liars!”

When Long was a child, he took a joy ride in the family car. He says that his father “berated and whooped me, and no, I never did anything like that again”. After high school, he joined the Marines and served six years. In 1989 and 1991, Long was arrested first for breaking down an ex-girlfriend’s door and then for punching her.

Long worked as a substitute teacher and spent less than a year as a police officer in Washington, DC. “I could have been a scout master, could have worked with young people on church retreats, but that’s not my energy,” he says. Long developed “drama therapy”, which distinguishes his camp from its competitors. “Stunt people will appear to be part of the group of children in the program,” he explains. “They will break into a fight, and one of them will draw a gun and shoot. It will be a blank cartridge, but a child will appear to die. We will bring in a body bag. As far as the children are concerned, the boy is dead. Now that,” he bangs his hand sharply on his desk, “is drama therapy. Scare the hell out of ‘em.”

Long held the first summer ABSRA boot camp in 1999. He claims it is based on military boot camps, but a spokesman for the Marines disagrees. “We have strict rules and guidelines against any abusive behavior by anyone in a position of authority. We never denigrate anyone. There’s no physical abuse.” In addition, Marine Corps drill instructors must undergo psychological testing and various screenings as well as rigorous training, whereas many juvenile boot camp are run by people without qualifications.

There are as many as 10,000 children in US boot camps. Their rising popularity reflects the country’s “pick yourself up by your boot-straps” mentality, according to therapist Paul Ehrlich. “They say, ‘If your children can’t pull themselves up, we can force them to.’ Parents give up and say, ‘You fix my kid.’” But they almost never work. In 1990, the National Institute of Justice concluded: “Common components of boot camps, such as military-style discipline, physical training and hard labour do not reduce drug use or recidivism.” Another report found that three out of four children are back in some form of detention within a year after camp.

“If the anger and confusion underlying the child’s drug use are forced underground,” says psychologist Mike Riera, “there is a strong chance that they will become pathological, showing up in an inability to maintain relationships or in violence, depression, addiction, and suicide. Also, abuse breeds more abuse.”

The camps have been settings for child abuse and scores of deaths since they became popular in the 1980s. VisionQuest camps, which operate in eight states, have been investigated for abuse at least a dozen times. The Boys Ranch in Arizona has been investigated more than 100 times. A Boys Ranch staff member once scalded a child so severely withhot water that he needed skin grafts.

In 1990, at Summit Quest in Utah, 15-year-old Michelle Sutton complained of exhaustion, sunburn and nausea. Counsellors forbade fellow campers from sharing their water with her.

Michelle, who had volunteered for the course to recover from a date rape, died of dehydration. In February 2001, after Linda Ibarra’s 12-year-old son Michael was arrested for stealing cigarettes, she sent him to Florida’s Echard Wilderness Camp. “I had such a hope that this would be a good experience for Michael,” she told me. “I heard the word ‘camp’ and I thought for the first time he might get out into nature.” Michael weighed 65 pounds. A 320-pound counsellor sat on him and crushed him to death. Gina Score, 13, was caught stealing false fingernails and Beanie Babies. A judge placed her in state custody and sent her to a boot camp for teenage girls, where she collapsed during PT. She was hospitalised with a body temperature of 108 degrees, and the doctor who pronounced her dead told the local newspaper that hers was “the worst case of heatstroke” he’d ever seen.

There are also success stories. Many parents claim boot camps changed their children’s lives; even now, after the revelations about Anthony Haynes’s death and the abuse that occurred during the 2001 summer camp, parents continue to send Long their children. Jessica O’Neal enrolled her two daughters, aged six and seven. When I asked how she heard about the boot camp, she responded, “I read about it. You know, it was in all the papers – articles about the boy who died.”

In February 2002 Long was arrested and charged with second-degree murder and eight counts of child abuse. He shut down the summer camp, but in the autumn he opened again for business. “I am no quitter,” he said.

Last April, I flew to Phoenix to attend a camp session and meet Colonel Long. He was preparing instructors for the next day’s pre-dawn “extractions”, when DIs would slip noiselessly into the homes of their sleeping quarry, handcuff them and drag them off to camp. Long could not be present at the extractions because of a condition of his release from jail: he cannot have contact with children other than his own. Reading from a notepad, he warned the DIs about a boy named Alex. “He’ll try to butter you up, but watch out,” Long told them. “He’s dangerous – another Anthony Haynes.”

At four the next morning, under a full moon, I was in the passenger seat of Long’s Ford Explorer. Trailing us in a van were three of his current DIs, stocky men with freshly buzzed haircuts. When we reached a mansion, Long slowed and pulled into a long driveway, where a man and a boy were sitting on a wall near the house. “Hold back,” Long said into his walkie-talkie.

“Looks like Alex’s father decided to abandon the extraction,” said Long. “Alex doesn’t know how lucky he is.” Long is right.

I spoke to other children who were extracted from their homes by ABSRA. Justin was asleep in his bedroom. “I was slammed to the ground, hit in the ribs, handcuffed and shackled. I thought I was going to be killed,” he said. Angel was extracted during the day. “I had just done my hair, because I thought I was going to my sister’s graduation,” she remembered. “A man walked into my room and said, ‘On your feet.’ Handcuffed me. Screamed at me, ‘Stop crying, you baby. Say goodbye to your family. They don’t want to see you any more.’”

Long’s defense against the murder charge is that he didn’t kill Tony, because Tony killed himself.

“It was suicide,” he said. Long claimed Tony had faked hallucinations and his other symptoms, including passing out. “He pulled the Indian thing before.” Mimicking Tony, his face contorted, Long, feigning delirium, squealed, “‘Oh, the Indians, the Indians!’ He was an actor! He manipulated his mother, he manipulated his teachers, and here he found a place where he could no longer manipulate.” He told me Tony had tried to kill himself twice before, insisting that the boy would never have been admitted to the program if he were known to be suicidal.

Preparing to leave for the weekend session, two dozen children were assembled in a park, doing PT. Mothers huddled nearby. When I asked one what her 14-year-old daughter had done to deserve boot camp, she said the girl had gone from being “the perfect child” to one who was depressed, angry and secretive. She’d found evidence of drinking and drugs. Reading her daughter’s diary, she learned the girl was part of a group who wore longsleeved shirts to hide cuts they had inflicted on their own arms. Then her daughter swallowed a bottle of pills. A police officer recommended Long’s camp. (Long enrolled this girl in the full knowledge of her suicide attempt, which casts doubt on his claim that he wouldn’t have accepted Tony if he had been informed that the boy was suicidal.)

The investigation into Anthony Haynes’s death lasted nine months. Sheriffs searched Long’s residence and confiscated documents, photographs, videos and unmailed letters written that week by campers to their families, describing the beatings, kickings and mud-water treatment. Two letters were from Tony to his parents. He said he had been stamped on and promised that he hadn’t done anything to deserve it. He asked his mother to bring him cold water. He asked to come home. Long is still awaiting trial. Meanwhile, parents continue to call him for help.

‘People don’t understand that we’re desperate,’ says Cheri Butkowsky, whose son attended ABSRA camp last spring. Desperation compels parents to send their children to the ersatz colonel charged with murder and child abuse who believes, in spite of the evidence and expert opinion, that you can help troubled children by terrorizing them.

Long has a grand dream of opening a permanent boot camp and school in the Arizona desert. In one of our conversations, he boasted that 17 children from his camp have gone on to college and 26 into the armed forces. He often says that the sacrifices he makes, even the murder and abuse charges he faces, are worthwhile if he can help one child. But what if he hurts one child? What if one dies?

Factiva Dow Jones & Reuters. Capital Punishment -1.

DAVID SHEFF. 2,314 words. 19 October 2002. English. © 2002