Bob and Cathy Sutton, Pleasanton, Calif., are in town this week to make sure their daughter, Michelle, didn't die in vain a year ago.
Appearing at a two-day conference on wilderness therapy programs, the Suttons said they want to let state officials from around the West know that the programs need to be made safer.On May 2, 1990, the Suttons put Michelle, 15, on an airplane bound for Las Vegas.
From there, she was whisked away into the northwestern Arizona desert, where she became a participant in Summit Quest, a Utah-based wilderness therapy program for wayward teenagers.
She died seven days later of dehydration.
Fighting back the emotion accompanying the first anniversary of the last time they saw their daughter alive, the Suttons spoke Thursday to a group of officials from nearly every Western state.
The officials were in town to learn more about wilderness therapy programs and how to regulate them. (Please see related story.)
In an interview, the Suttons said they were pleased to see that officials throughout the West were taking the issues seriously.
"This is the first light at the end of a dark tunnell," said Cathy Sutton. "It's been a hard year for us. This is something that's very positive because people are pulling together to make sure the kids will be safe in all the states."
The Suttons were hesitant to talk about their daughter's case because of a federal lawsuit they have filed against Summit Quest and its owner, Gayle Palmer.
But Bob Sutton said he feels Utah's new wilderness therapy regulation law, which didn't go effect until last July, "probably would have saved our daughter."
"We want to let the other states know it could happen to them if they don't get some regulations in place."
In addition to telling the story of their own tragedy, the Suttons shared a letter from Sharon Fuqua,
the mother of Kristen Chase, who died June 27, 1990, of heatstroke while hiking in the Utah desert as a participant in the Challenger Foundation wilderness therapy program.
In that letter, Fuqua - who has been a strong supporter of Challenger even after her daughter's death - said she now believes Challenger was negligent.
"After 10 months of thinking and searching, I believe she could have been saved," Fuqua wrote in the letter.
"If she had been treated like an individual, and if help had been more readily available, I think my daughter would be alive today."