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Children removed from wilderness therapy camp after 12-year-old boy dies

By WRAL Staff

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    TRANSYLVANIA COUNTY, North Carolina (WRAL) — The state has removed children from a western North Carolina wilderness therapy camp and stopped all camp admissions after a 12-year-old boy died at the site.

According to the Transylvania County Sheriff’s Office, the boy, who is from New York, arrived Friday, Feb. 2, at Trails Carolina Camp, 500 Winding Gap Road. The camp is described as a “wilderness therapy program” for kids and teenagers ages 10 to 17 “who struggle with mental health challenges,” according to its website.

The boy was assigned a cabin with other youth and four adult staff members, officials said.

On Feb. 3, the day after the boy arrived at camp, someone called 911 around 8 a.m. to report the boy was not breathing.

Firefighters responded and performed CPR on the boy but stopped, because the boy had been dead for “some time,” according to the sheriff’s office.

Deputies from the Transylvania County Sheriff’s Office responded at 9 a.m. to collect evidence. The boy was transported to a local hospital, where the medical examiner said his death appeared suspicious “since he had arrived at the camp less than 24 hours prior to his death.”

A forensic pathologist told investigators the boy’s death did not appear to be of natural causes, but the cause of death is still pending.

On Feb. 16, the state Department of Health and Human Services said all children were removed from Trails Carolina, and all new admissions are suspended. Parents have been notified and children will be temporarily taken into care of Transylvania County DSS.

The state released a statement, reading: The death at Trails Carolina is tragic and concerning. We extend our deepest sympathies to the family and loved ones of the child who died, and commit to them that we are conducting a thorough investigation with our county partners and will take every appropriate step based on the outcome of our and other investigations.

Investigators on Feb. 6 searched the camp where the boy died and another camp location at 618 Sundance Lake Road in Pisgah Forest, where some campers were transported after the boy died.

According to the Transylvania County Sheriff’s Office, Trails Carolina Camp “has not completely cooperated with the investigation.”

Trails Carolina Camp said the staff members assigned to the boy’s cabin were placed on leave.

An investigation is ongoing, and the report from the state’s Chief Medical Examiner may not be available for several months.

Agencies involved include the Transylvania County Sheriff’s Office, Transylvania County Department of Social Services-Child Protection Services, Lake Toxaway Fire and Rescue, Transylvania County EMS and the N.C. Medical Examiner’s Office.

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