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Camp is open despite probe of boy’s death

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PHOENIX — A group that ran a "tough love" boot camp where a 14-year-old died this summer has a new class registered for a program designed to teach discipline and respect to troubled youngsters.

Authorities and some parents have questioned whether the America's Buffalo Soldiers Re-Enactors Association should take in more children when it remains under investigation in the July 1 death of boot camp participant Anthony Haynes.

"It makes me sick to my stomach," said Chris Hanner, whose son was sent home with other campers after Anthony's death.

But camp director Charles Long said he does not have to justify his decision to keep operating. Twenty-five children arrived Saturday for the start of the 13-week program, which is separate from the group's tougher desert boot camps.

"My business does not exist if parents don't find some value. I think it kind of washes itself out," he said.

Those who arrived for the camp Saturday wore black sweatsuits, baseball caps and bandanas tied around their necks. They lined up at attention and shouted, "Sir, yes sir!" in response to Long's directions. They ranged from girls about 3 feet tall to teenage boys nearly twice as big.

No criminal charges have been filed in Anthony's death, and the autopsy report by the county Medical Examiner's Office declared the death accidental. It said he died of complications from near-drowning and dehydration after being made to stay in direct sunlight for up to five hours in 111-degree heat.

Maricopa County Sheriff's investigators, however, have alleged in a search warrant affidavit that camp operators abused the campers, deprived them of adequate food and water and denied medical care.

A year ago, participants in another boot camp operated by the group reported that they were kicked and subjected to other cruelty by drill instructors. Authorities said no juveniles were injured, and no arrests were made.

Lawsuits have been filed by Anthony's parents and by Cathy Mesa, who says her son was beaten, forced to eat mud and deprived of sleep at camp.

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said he had hoped the group would hold off further camps until the investigation was complete.

Anthony's mother, Melanie Hudson, was urging parents to reconsider sending their children, said her attorney, Michael Wade.

Long would not talk about Anthony's death, but his attorney, David Burnell Smith, called it a "tragic accident."

Smith said the death hasn't changed camp procedures but it has made the staff more sensitive to dehydration and other physical problems.

"What it has brought about is more emphasis on watching the kids, making sure if they get any indications that they need water, that they get water," Smith said. "If they need any kind of medication, they will receive those."

Theresa Triplett, whose son has attended two summer camps and four weekend programs held by Long's group, believes the camp is safe. Her son is part of the new class.

"I understand that the parents have fears and concerns," said Triplett, president of the Buffalo Soldiers Parents Association. "But the program has helped a lot of children."

Smith said the group's focus after Anthony's death was to continue with children who wanted to finish the program.

"It's one of those unfortunate accidents that everybody wishes they could change," Smith said. "We don't think anybody was criminally responsible for this young man's death."


On the Net: America's Buffalo Soldiers Re-enactors Association: www.thebuffalosoldiers.com