HUNT, Texas - A popular Texas summer camp recently received a warning from state regulators stemming from a case of abuse that occurred in 2009.
At that time, an 11-year-old boy said he was sexually abused by a counselor in his cabin at Camp La Junta, just outside Kerrville.
“We gave him a lot of help, and a lot of support and a lot of counseling,” said the mother of the boy, who asked not to be identified. “My son is fantastic, he is the bravest kid I know.”
This mother spent years battling to expose what happened to her son that summer. The counselor, Matthew Bovee, eventually pleaded guilty to injury to a child and is currently in prison. The family also sued the camp, claiming the boy’s initial complaints about Bovee performing "shower checks" were not handled properly.
The civil case settled under a confidential agreement and camp owners wrote an apology letter admitting the "sexual abuse." However, Channel 2 Investigates discovered no one at the camp reported the abuse to state regulators, which is required by the Texas Youth Camp Safety and Health act.
Following KPRC’s inquiry, officials with the Texas Department of State Health Services opened an investigation and recently determined Camp La Junta violated the portion of the Act that requires youth camps to report cases of abuse and neglect to the Health and Human Services Commission’s Office of Inspector General.
DSHS recently sent officials at Camp La Junta a warning letter, but imposed no fines. However, the letter reads further violations of the Act could result in tougher sanctions.
“Do you feel the punishment went far enough in this case?” asked KPRC’s Robert Arnold.
“No, I am truly disgusted,” the boy’s mother answered.
This mother has been pushing for greater oversight of youth camps.
In February, KPRC reported DSHS licenses and inspects youth camps, which are required to do background checks, sexual abuse awareness training and must have policies for a variety of activities. However, state officials said they don't actually approve a camp's policies and procedures for most activities, they simply check to make sure those policies exist and follow state guidelines. This means policies and procedures can vary from camp to camp. In an email to KPRC last February, state officials wrote, "Our oversight of camps is largely related to health and sanitation."
Since our series of reports first aired, officials with DSHS wrote, “As part of our camp inspections this year, our sanitarians will be closely reviewing records of background checks and the required sexual abuse training for staff and reinforcing the requirement to report suspected abuse and the reporting procedure.”
“Something needs to change; our children deserve better than this,” the mother said.
In response to follow-up questions from KPRC, DSHS’ s Chris Van Deusen wrote, “Reviewing those records is a normal part of our inspections, but we want to give it some additional attention in light of this case. We also want to make sure camps know when and how to report abuse and are communicating that to their employees and volunteers.”
The state’s database of enforcement actions shows several camps have been fined in the last six months for not following state requirements. You can check enforcement actions taken against camps during the last 12 months here.
Officials with Camp La Junta also sent KPRC a written response following the receipt of the state’s warning letter.
“At Camp La Junta we’re proud of our safe, outstanding summer camp experiences for our campers. Attention to safety is a 24/7 focus. We remain heartbroken over this camper’s 2009 experience, and we applaud his courage in helping educate and inform others about safety from predators. We believe that through open communication about sexual predators all of us can find real solutions for the protection of children in schools, camps and other activities. Benchmark safety protocols are implemented throughout Camp La Junta: in organizational operations, staff and camper policies, staff screening and selection, staff training, monitoring and supervision, internal feedback and responding to challenges. We wholeheartedly support the Texas Department of State Health Services in their constructive efforts to keep the summer camp experience one that campers will benefit from and treasure forever,” wrote Camp La Junta co-owner/director David Domingue.
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