Boot camp sued over boy's death
North Bay youth, 15, died after a week at Missouri school
- Jim Doyle, Chronicle
Tuesday, February 8,
The parents of a Santa Rosa boy who died at a Missouri boot camp
for troubled youths have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against
the operators and some employees of the facility.
The boy's parents, Victor and Gracia Reyes, filed the suit
Friday against the Thayer Learning Center Boot Camp, its
affiliated Parent Help referral agency, and three boot camp
The lawsuit, filed in Buchanan County, Mo., states Roberto M.
Reyes, 15, was "subjected to sadistic, cruel, and harmful acts.
... He was thrown into solitary confinement, refused bathroom
facilities, and forced to (lie) in his own excrement for
extended periods of time."
An autopsy of the 6-foot-2-inch teen "documented numerous
bruises, cuts, and ulcerations consistent with physical abuse,"
the suit alleges.
"As you can expect, the death of any 15-year-old from any
cause would be a tragedy," said the Reyes family's lawyer, James
T. Thompson of Kansas City, Mo. "But the circumstances, as they
appear to come to light, are difficult for anyone ... to
Thayer Learning Center and the Parent Help referral agency
are owned by Willa and John Bundy, of Kidder, Mo. The couple
could not be reached for comment.
Missouri officials are investigating whether the teenager was
physically abused by camp counselors and provided insufficient
He died on Nov. 3, less than a week after he arrived at the
camp, in Kidder, 60 miles north of Kansas City.
State and county officials said in December that earlier
medical treatment of Roberto Reyes, who died of a spider or
insect bite, might have prevented his death.
The boy's parents could not be reached Monday for comment.
Roberto's death has renewed the call for tighter regulations
of camps and schools for troubled teens.
More than 30 teenagers in a dozen states have reportedly died
at such camps since 1980, including a 14-year-old San Mateo
County boy who died at an Arizona desert boot camp in 2001 after
being forced to eat dirt. Therapeutic programs for troubled
teens are a booming industry. There are several hundred such
wilderness camps, schools and military academies nationwide.
Several states, including Missouri, have no licensing
requirements for teen camps and schools.
The Reyeses decided to send their son to the Missouri boot
camp after he ran away from home for short periods of time. They
contacted the Parent Help referral agency, which referred them
to Thayer Learning Center, which has about 100 students and
charges nearly $50,000 a year.
In May 2004, three Thayer employees filed complaints with the
sheriff's office in Caldwell County, Mo. They described students
being stripped to their underwear, tied up, and ice water being
poured on them every hour. They also said a female student had
been forced to sit in a tub of urine for at least 2 1/2 hours.
A lawyer for the boot camp told the Kansas City Star that
every student "has immediate access to medical care at any
time." The school has no medical staff, but contracts with a
Research librarian Johnny Miller contributed to this
report.E-mail Jim Doyle at