Boy, 12, dies less than 24 hours after checking into controversial ‘wellness’ camp as mystery surrounds cause of death

A BOY has died at a wilderness camp just 24 hours after he arrived as forensics say the death appears to be ‘unnatural.’

The 12-year-old child was reportedly taken to the Trails Carolina Wilderness Therapy Camp in Lake Toxaway, North Carolina on February 2.

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Less than 24 hours after arriving at the camp in North Carolina, a 12-year-old boy was found deadCredit: Facebook/ TrailsCarolina

According to deputies from the Transylvania County Sheriff’s Office, the boy’s parents consented to two men taking him from New York to the camp.

The child was placed in a cabin with other children and four staff members.

However, police say that at 8:10 am on February 3, deputies responded to a call at the camp reporting that the child was not breathing.

Despite attempts to save him by camp staff and deputies, crews gave up their efforts when it was clear that he had been dead for some time, the press release from the Sheriff’s Office states.

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According to the statement, the camp staff had attempted CPR before they arrived at the scene.

“It’s just it’s not normal. It’s not humane.

Former camper Kathleen ReillyWBTV

Following an autopsy by a medical examiner, the boy’s death is said to not be natural, the police statement said.

The cause and manner of his death are still pending.

“The child was sent for autopsy to Winston Salem as his death appeared suspicious since he had arrived at the camp less than 24 hours prior to his death,” the press release stated.

“The investigation is continuing and the report generated by the N.C Office of the Chief Medical Examiner may not be available for several months.”

On Tuesday, police searched the area where the child died as well as where other campers were relocated to after his death.

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According to deputies, Trails Carolina Camp “has not completely cooperated” with the investigation.

They added that two members of staff assigned to the cabin where the boy died have allegedly been placed on leave following the incident, the camp informed officers.

A spokesperson for Trails Carolina said: “We are shattered by the tragic loss of a young life and our deepest sympathies are with the student’s family and loved ones.

“Our priority is to acknowledge and respect the unfathomable impact on their lives and maintain the integrity of the investigation into the cause.

“We are cooperating fully with investigators and have retained outside professionals to assist us in conducting our internal investigation.”

The camp is for children between the ages of 10 and 17 to address behavioral or emotional troubles through connecting with nature.

The average stay is 85 days with daily rates of up to $715 and an additional enrollment fee of $4,900, according to the Camp’s website.

It is accredited and licensed by The Department of Health and Human Services.

Despite this, the camp is no stranger to controversy with a former camper saying its treatment of children is “beyond cruel.”

In 2021, former camper Kathleen Reilly who was 16 when she was taken from her home in the middle of the night to the camp, with her parents’ consent, spoke out about her time there.

“We went once 17 days without showering,” Reilly told WBTV.

“We were denied basic hygiene all the time. It’s just, that was, again… ‘it’s just part of the process, yeah, I’m in the woods.'”

“It’s just it’s not normal. It’s not humane and it’s just not…. What it does to your brain, you still don’t even want to admit to it.

“It’s just like it’s still there and they have that power over you.”

Meanwhile, in 2014, Alec Sanford Lansing, 17, died of hypothermia and suffered a broken hip after running away from the camp.

In the same year that Reilly spoke out about her treatment, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services cited the camp for violating state regulations after an inspection in June 2021, according to WBTV.

The inspection reportedly noted three deficiencies: Failure to properly administer medications, refusal to allow participants to call their parents, and making physical improvements to the facility without permission from state regulators.

The U.S. Sun has reached out to the Trails Carolina Camp, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, and the Transylvania County Sheriff’s Office for comment.

In response to the query, the HHS told The U.S. Sun: “Protecting the health and safety of North Carolinians is a top priority for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.  

“We believe no patient should ever experience harm while in the care of a health care facility, and we take seriously our role to investigate all complaints, including this tragic death at Trails Carolina. And we extend our deepest sympathies to the client’s family and friends.

“While we cannot comment on an ongoing investigation, Trails Carolina notified NCDHHS Division of Health Service Regulation (DHSR) of a client death on Feb. 3, 2024. 

“DHSR staff have been on-site for several days investigating this incident and are working closely with local authorities. 

“Prior to the notification of this death, DHSR was last onsite at Trails Carolina on June 12, 2023.”

The record of that visit and others for the Trails Carolina camp can be found here. 

Meanwhile, in a statement to WBTV, the HHS said “there was no evidence of a systemic lack of supervision of the other clients served by Trails Carolina.”

It also pointed to inspections at the camp.

“Trails Carolina was founded in 2008 to help families and children who are struggling with significant mental health challenges,” the company also told the site.

“Our typical family has exhausted all local resources with school counselors, outpatient therapists, and other mental health professionals.

“Since its founding, Trails has helped make a difference in the lives of more than 2,800 adolescents.

“Today, we are proud of all that our 200 employee workforce does to help others.

“Their work is proven in the 5-year outcome study that shows decreases in students’ anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, and substance use.

“Seven years have passed since the tragic event in 2014 and we continue to pray for healing and peace for everyone involved.”

Jeremy Whitworth (pictured) is the co-executive director of the camp which focuses on helping pre-teens and teenagers up to 17 with unhealthy behaviors and emotions

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Jeremy Whitworth (pictured) is the co-executive director of the camp which focuses on helping pre-teens and teenagers up to 17 with unhealthy behaviors and emotionsCredit: Trails Carolina
Kathleen Reilly spoke out about her time at the camp calling it 'inhumane' and 'beyond cruel'

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Kathleen Reilly spoke out about her time at the camp calling it ‘inhumane’ and ‘beyond cruel’Credit: WBTV


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