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Monday, May 20, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Mother Says Son Was Sexually Abused at Camp

PHILADELPHIA (CN) - A mother claims in court that her six-year-old boy was sexually abused by another child under the watch of a camp counselor later charged with covering up the death of her own baby.

According to the lawsuit filed last week in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, a staff member at a YMCA-sponsored summer camp discovered the young victim being abused underneath a piece of playground equipment in July 2015.

The York, Pa.-area YMCA camp turned out to be anything but the "safe environment" it touted itself as, according to the mother of the alleged victim, who is identified only as John Doe in the lawsuit.

He and his apparent attacker, both of whom were enrolled at Camp Spirit, had been left unattended at the time of the incident by a counselor who was "utterly unfit to supervise children," the complaint states.

Not only did 20-year-old Kelsey Martin lack the state "child abuse clearance" the YMCA had advertised as a mandatory credential for all of its counselors, she was also being investigated at the time for an April 2015 incident where she was "found to have placed her dead infant's body in a shoebox," according to last week's lawsuit.

Martin was ultimately charged on Jan. 28 of this year with concealing the death of her child. According to a report by York's local Fox affiliate, she had been unaware of her pregnancy and delivered the baby at home, then panicked after seeing the newborn was not breathing and put its tiny body in a shoebox.

She is scheduled for a preliminary hearing in connection with the charges on March 31, a representative from the York County District Attorney's Office said.

Meanwhile, the York County YMCA entrusted her with the welfare of minor children in the summer of 2015 when the investigation was ongoing, Doe's mother alleges.

She also claims that the YMCA was aware that her son's alleged attacker was trouble before the two even met. A Camp Spirit counselor had already caught the 13-year-old boy sexually abusing a special needs camper the previous summer, the mother says.

But they nonetheless allowed him to return to the camp the following season, giving him "unfettered access to other campers" in spite of the staff's "awareness of [his] past abusive conduct," the lawsuit states.

The camp's director and YMCA executives also allegedly failed to report the suspected abuse to the police, in violation of a state law requiring them to do so.

The dangers the young victim faced were contrary to the YMCA's "false representations regarding the safety of children entrusted to [its] youth programs," according to the lawsuit.

His mother, who is identified only by her initials in the 11-page complaint, contends that the camp held itself out as having "well-trained staff" members who had undergone "pre-camp training including child abuse prevention."

Its marketing materials painted a picture of "a safe place for children to build 'self-esteem, develop communication skills and create lasting friendships," according to the lawsuit.

Instead, the boy was left with "severe psychological injuries including...nightmares, anxiety, depression and social withdrawal" due to the camp's "failure to protect [him] from unreasonable bodily harm," the complaint states.

The anonymous plaintiffs are seeking unspecified punitive damages from both the YMCA's national entity and its York County chapter for their alleged negligence.

Their lawyer, Benjamin Andreozzi of Harrisburg, Pa. firm Andreozzi & Associates, said that he hopes the litigation will "force change and obtain accountability" in the face of the YMCA's "fail[ure] to implement necessary changes to protect children."

"This is an upsetting case because we believe the abuse our client suffered was preventable. Our lawsuit and prior DHS records outline serious child safety concerns at the York YMCA and we hope to confront these issues immediately," he wrote in an e-mail to Courthouse News.

Chapter President and CEO Larry Richardson said in a written statement that the YMCA "immediately reported" the alleged abuse to state child protection agencies when they became aware of it, and vowed that his organization "will continue to cooperate with the authorities" on the matter.

Local police, meanwhile, say they are continuing to investigate the matter.

"No charges have been filed as of yet, but we are looking into all aspects of the incident," Chief Bryan Rizzo of the Northeastern Regional Police Department said.

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