LAKE TOXAWAY, N.C. (AP) — A 12-year-old boy's death a day after his arrival at a western North Carolina nature-based therapy program did not appear to be natural, but the cause is still pending and the medical examiner’s report may not be available for months, authorities said.
The autopsy was performed because the death at Trails Carolina in Lake Toxaway on Saturday appeared suspicious since it occurred less than 24 hours after the boy arrived, the Transylvania County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release Wednesday. The forensic pathologist who conducted the autopsy told investigators the death appeared to not be natural, but the manner and cause of the boy's death are still pending.
The boy was transported by two men from New York to Trails Carolina on Feb. 2 and assigned to a cabin with other minors and four adult staffers were assigned to the cabin, the sheriff’s office said.
Around 8 a.m. the next morning, staff called 911 when the boy did not respond to attempts to wake him, the program said. Staff said CPR efforts were made and CPR masks were found on the scene, the sheriff's office said.
When fire/rescue personnel arrived, they initiated rescue efforts, but then stopped as the child appeared to have been dead for some time, the sheriff’s office said.
On Tuesday, investigators executed search warrants at the base camp where the boy was found and another location at Trails Carolina where other children from the cabin were moved after the boy’s death.
The sheriff’s office said Trails Carolina has not completely cooperated with the investigation, but the program disputed this in a statement Thursday, saying its staff fully cooperated.
Trails Carolina said no other students were involved and students from that cabin were moved to minimize the effect on them. Students have cooperated to the extent authorized by parents, Trails Carolina said.
Trails Carolina’s internal investigation and an investigation by outside professionals found no evidence that the program failed to supervise or caused harm or that the facility’s conditions were unsafe or unhealthy, the program said.
Preliminary findings don’t suggest foul play and the program was not made aware of any suspicious findings, Trails Carolina said. Conversations with officials and preliminary reports indicate it was an accidental death, the program said.
Trails Carolina, which is about 35 miles southwest of Asheville, describes itself as a nature-based therapy program that helps 10- to 17-year-olds “work through behavioral or emotional difficulties, build trusting relationships with their family and peers, and achieve academic success.”
The state Department of Health and Human Services said Thursday that it could not comment on an ongoing investigation, but Trails Carolina notified its Division of Health Service Regulation of the death on Saturday. Division staff have been on-site for several days investigating this incident and are working closely with local authorities.