2 CHALLENGER TEENS HEAD HOME AMID ALLEGATIONS OF ABUSE

Relates to:
Date: 1990-08-16

Brent Israelsen
The Deseret News

Two 15-year-old boys who were removed from the Challenger Foundation program by court order last week amid allegations of abuse were on their way home Thursday.

During a hearing Wednesday afternoon in Kanab, 6th District Juvenile Court Judge Louis Tervort ordered Justin Morris, Citrus Heights, Calif., and Matt Callahan, Newark, Dela., out of Challenger's temporary custody and into their parents' custody.

As part of the order, the parents must make the boys available to testify should Kane County file abuse charges in connection with their allegations.

Kane County deputy sheriffs, armed with a protective order, removed the boys from Challenger - a privately owned wilderness therapy program for troubled youths - on Aug. 8 after obtaining information that the boys were being abused and denied medical care.

Sheriff Max Jackson, referring to the order, said Morris had allegedly been ``knocked around'' by Challenger counselors. Morris also alleged that he was forced to sleep while hog-tied.

Callahan was denied proper nutrition and had numerous scrapes and bruises from being dragged, according to a doctor who examined him, Jackson said.

``He looked like he came out of Auschwitz. He was skin and bones,'' Jackson said. Callahan was also suffering an intestinal disorder, believed to be giardiasis, according to the doctor, who attended Wednesday's hearing.

Tervort ordered Morris' parents to keep him out of Challenger permanently. Callahan, whose parents have stood behind Challenger, cannot return to the program until it has been cleared of the allegations and only with the permission of the court.

Challenger President Steve Cartisano said the cases are being exaggerated. Morris, he said, can't be trusted because he had earlier lied about being sexually abused. Admitting that Callahan may have been ``over-disciplined'' by two Challenger counselors, Cartisano said one of the counselors has been fired and the other was placed on probation.

Jackson said he will review the boys' allegations with County Attorney Jim Scarth.

Earlier this week, Kane County charged Challenger, Cartisano and his field director, Lance Jaggar, with negligent homicide in connection with the death of a Florida girl who died June 27 while hiking as part of her Challenger experience. They were also charged with five counts of child abuse involving four victims.

In addition to the criminal allegations, the Provo-based Challenger is in financial trouble, having recently filed for bankruptcy protection from about 20 creditors. Challenger owes $196,000 to the Internal Revenue Service, $66,000 to the State Tax Commission and $49,000 to a California woman, according to court records.

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