Preteen boy dies 1 day after enrolling in controversial North Carolina therapy camp: ‘Suspicious death’


An investigation is underway after a 12-year-old boy died at a wilderness therapy camp in North Carolina only one day after enrolling into the controversial program, according to a statement from the Transylvania County Sheriff’s office. 

According to a press release from the sheriff’s office, on Friday, Feb 2., a 12-year-old male, with parents consent, was transported by two men from New York to the Trails Carolina camp in Lake Toxaway. 

After intake, the teen was assigned to a cabin for lodging with other minors. Four adult staff members were also reportedly assigned to the cabin. 

The following morning, at 8:10 a.m., a 911 call was made in reference to a 12-year-old male not breathing. 

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A 12-year-old boy died at a North Carolina wilderness camp over the weekend, just one day after he checked in to the controversial facility. (COURTESY: Trails Carolina)

First responders were dispatched to the camp along with deputies. According to camp staff, CPR efforts were made. 

Upon arrival, rescue efforts were initiated and then ceased as emergency crews said the boy had been deceased “for some time.” 

“We are shattered by the tragic loss of a young life and our deepest sympathies are with the student’s family and loved ones,” the camp said in a written statement to Fox Carolina. “Our priority is to acknowledge and respect the unfathomable impact on their lives and maintain the integrity of the investigation into the cause.”

The camp stated that it’s fully cooperating with investigators and plans to conduct an internal investigation of the incident.

“While we understand the need and value of keeping the public informed, protecting the family’s privacy and the privacy and well-being of our students and staff is our primary concern,” the camp wrote. 

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Trails Camp counselors in North Carolina

Transylvania County Sheriff Chuck Owenby released more details Wednesday, Feb. 7, on the death of a juvenile at a camp in Western North Carolina over the weekend, including that the camp where the death took place has not been fully cooperative in the investigation. (COURTESY: Trails Carolina)

Deputies said an autopsy revealed that the child’s death appeared suspicious since he had only arrived at camp less than 24 hours prior to his death.

A forensic pathologist stated to investigators that the death appeared to not be natural, but that the manner and cause of death is still pending. 

Trails Carolina states on their website that their wilderness therapy program’s mission is to give children the confidence, coping mechanisms, and communication skills that will help them become the best version of themselves.

The program, which also costs around $715 per day depending on a student’s age, focuses on repairing family relationships and is dedicated to helping teens work through behavioral or emotional difficulties, and achieve academic success.

The camp also states it has a track record of “proven results” with “compassionate methods” informed by “the natural healing benefits of outdoor behavioral care.”

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Lake Toxaway in North Carolina

The forensic pathologist conducting the autopsy told investigators the 12-year-old’s death appeared to not be natural, but the manner and cause of death are still pending. (COURTESY: Trails Carolina)

This is also not the first death that has occurred at Trails Carolina, as WYFF reported that missing Atlanta teen, Alec Lansing, 17, died in 2014 from hypothermia after running away from the program. 

Trails Carolina was fined $12,000 but was allowed to continue operating.

Kathleen Reilly, who was 16 at the time, detailed her experience to WBTV Chicago in a 2021 interview, saying the experience left her worse than when she arrived. Reilly and another person who was enrolled in the program said they would go weeks in the wilderness without access to showers or other basic hygiene, describing it as emotional and psychological trauma and little time with a trained therapist.

“I remember laying there every night praying to a god I don’t even believe in saying ‘if you get me out of here, I promise I will do whatever I can to help whatever child so they don’t have to go through this,’” Reilly said.

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Map of Lake Toxaway

A 12-year-old boy was found dead at a wellness therapy camp in North Carolina on Saturday, one day after he was enrolled in the program, according to multiple reports. (Google Maps)

Trails Carolina is one of dozens of so-called “troubled teen” facilities that have come under scrutiny in recent years as survivors have detailed the alleged abuses they endured while attending the camps. 

Trails Carolina did not immediately respond to Fox News Digital’s request for comment on the suspicious death.



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