L. Jay Mitchell Named In Yet Another Tragedy Within Troubled Teen Industry by, Jack Swint - Publisher
“We left camp early in the morning to get to our next camping spot. After a while everyone was getting really tired and complained about feeling sick, thirsty and tired of walking. Everyone started collapsing and fainting but Matt and David kept pushing us. Some threw up, Greg fainted again and Dave hit him.”
As time passes, L. Jay Mitchell should be starting to feel the sins of his past catching up to him? Since our last stories focused on the death of 14 year old Ryan Lewis, and other abuse allegations by teens and parents that surfaced in WV, we received a new packet containing reports and written statements from Idaho law enforcement and additional victims there. It is now apparent that problems with Mitchells programs date back for the past thirty plus years and in many different states.
This time, there are written and signed statements from teens who were present during what was termed the “Death March” across the remote desert like terrain near Whiskey Springs Idaho. It happened back on July 3 and 4th of 1985.
When most of America was preparing to celebrate the 4th of July 1985 cookouts, fireworks and celebration; a small group of teens were trying just to stay alive in the Idaho desert. By noon, one counselor told them their hiking trip had become “life threatening." By the end of the day, the Elmore County Sheriff’s department was called in to investigate the untimely death of 14 year old Greg Jones. Written statements by the teens provided officials information that showed this day was far from being routine. Even in the words of other survival school officials, it was too much for even adults to endure, much less teenagers.
The statements allude to being, “kicked, slapped, fainting and collapsing from the extreme heat, no water, hunger and dehydration. And, before the day was over, one of their fellow teen novice survivalists fell off a cliff and plunged some fifty feet to his death. A tragedy that law enforcement says could have easily been averted.
According to information available, the July 3rd day was mapped out ahead of time by Mitchell and his SUWS team.
Other kids from the same SUWS program had passed this way before. This new group would be spending their first day hiking in a remote area, but with little supplies and no water. It was planned that way, they would stop at several pre-planned streams for water and during rest breaks they would eat cans of peaches for nourishment.
When they arrived at the first stream, the kids were already complaining of thirst. Problem was, no one knew ahead of time that the stream had dried up. They reportedly hiked on to the next stream where counselors assured the students there was definitely water. The suns rays had already began to beat down on the teens by the time they arrived to this new stream. No water there either.
Now, even the counselors were beginning to question their own plan. They found shade and everyone ate some peaches. By this time the teens were becoming exhausted and weary, they wanted to tuen back. Some complained of feeling sick and vomited. One teen, 14 year old Greg Jones fainted from exhaustion several times. The counselors, who were not much older than their students, became frustrated and worried too.
According to the investigation report, the counselors admitted that they too began to panic about finding water and their frustrations compiled with the teens complaining may have led them to be forceful in order to keep everyone moving. The students wanted to turn back, but they were ordered to move forward. They told the teens it was imperative that they keep heading for the next stream, that their situation had now become “life-threatening.”
Greg Jones stayed behind with one of the counselors. He was sick and stated he could not go on. By the time they finally reached water, everyone was totally exhausted. Greg somehow managed to get himself up onto a small area on top of a cliff above the stream. He slipped and fell some 50 feet to his death. The Elmore County Sheriff’s department received a call from Boise dispatch at approximately 1839 hours on July 3, 1985 in reference to a 14 year old who had fallen off a cliff near Thoroughbred Springs, 11 ½ mile north of King Hill.
A helicopter was dispatched to the scene, but they reported Greg Jones DOA. His body was flown out and taken to St. Alphonsis hospital in Boise.
Counselor Dave Weber told officers that after they had found water, he looked back up the hill where he had last seen Greg. When he went back up the hill, he found Greg “laying face down with his arms pinned back.” He stated Greg was having trouble breathing and felt he could not help him in the position the boy was laying in. He said that he carried Greg down to the creek. His breathing stopped and soon after his heart stopped beating. Both counselors said that they tried CPR for 1 ½ to 2 hours.
The police interviewed each of the survivors and had them write out statements as to what they saw occur throughout the day.
Excerpts from their signed statements tell part of what occurred that day.
Student Matthew Armitage wrote in part… “After a while everyone was getting really tired of walking. They started collapsing and fainting but David and Matt kept on pushing us. We got to a shade tree area and rested and ate a can of peaches. Greg had fainted a few times and everyone else, were on the way to the stream. I couldn’t see Greg because I was a ways ahead, but I heard Dave yelling at Greg to get up and get to the stream. They caught up and Greg was still fainting and Dave and Matt were kicking him to get up. At one point I couldn’t get up so Matt slapped me in the face.”
Student Richard Andrews wrote in part… “On July 3, 1985 it started out for me, Richard Andrews, as a very bad day because I did not want to hike and I started crying and telling them to let me go home. The counselors said no and threatened to drag me with some rope.”
Student Casey Stone wrote in part… “Greg Jones and the rest of the group were hiking along. Greg wanted to take more and more rests. Soon we got to some trees with shade. There we all rested and ate some peaches. Then the group broke up into 2 parts. Gregg and Dave (counselors) were last. Right after I passed Greg, he passed out. Then me, Emily, Richard and Matt walked all the way to the water stream. Soon after, Dave started screaming at us and he shook me with his hands. Soon after we found out that Greg had fallen off a cliff. I didn’t see it, but soon after he died.”
Student Emily Rowan wrote in part… “it was a very hot tough day, it all started about 2-3 miles away from camp. Everyone was hot and thirsty and tired. Greg seemed to be having a lot of problems with the heat and his thirst. He was very tired and kept fainting and threw up once. He had been pressured and threatened a lot by Dave, and Matt and was under a lot of pressure, he had been hit and picked up.”
Counselor David Weber wrote in part… “The morning of July 3rd seemed to be good, everyone was in high spirits. After a while of hiking, Richard Andrews threatened to run away which delayed the group about 45 minutes. We made frequent stops because of the heat and no water. Things began going array, David threw up, and both Matt and Greg fell down because of exhaustion. David continued on but Matt and Gregg needed help up and after about five steps Greg fell again.”
Counselor Matthew E Houghton wrote in part… “As we neared the top of the ridge, Greg Jones continued to give up hiking. We explained that water was as close as ¼ mile at Whiskey Springs. Greg was determined to give up. I lead the group, Dave stayed behind with Greg who laid down in the shade despite us having explained that he was in a life-threatening situation. I continued to lead the rest of the group to Whiskey Springs. It was dry.”
Early Signs LJ Mitchells SUWS Program Was Destined For Repeated Tragedy
Reports have now become available that clearly show LJ Mitchell’s SUWS schools for troubled teens came under scrutiny and suspicions as early as the inception of his program in 1982. A letter dated August 2, 1983 from Larry J Wells describes to authorities his involvement with L.J Mitchell, Larry D Olson and George Church who hired Wells in 1982 to manage their SUWS wilderness programs that were operating in Idaho.
He met the men in Provo, Utah and agreed to conduct outings in Idaho and Washington State where he was licensed by the state to do so. After only two trips, Wells says he terminated his relationship/employment with Mitchell’s group because… “Of my feeling for their apparent lack of concern for the safety and welfare of the students, and because they didn’t support field staff in their decisions regarding safety and control of the students.”
Operating Without Permits And Licenses
Records show a distinct and intentional defiance by Mitchell to acquire proper licensing and permits over the past 3 decades. Most recently in his former SUWS school in WV where 14 year old Ryan Lewis died. Mitchell failed to even get permits from federal authorities to operate on government land, much less state licenses needed to operate his survival school. He also failed to adhere to DHHR regulations and health codes.
Dating back as far as July 26, 1983, the Sheriff at Mountain Home Idaho received complaints that Mitchell’s school out of Redmond Washington was bringing children to Idaho and “dumping them out” to walk across certain areas for weeks at a time. This same report notes that information the department received stated each teen’s family would pay $3,000 for the three weeks of wilderness program.
In fact, the sheriff noted that Mitchells group was coming to his jurisdiction and had not obtained any of the necessary licenses or permits required by law.
In an August 1, 1983 document from Albert Lewis, enforcement officer for the state of Idaho’s Outfitter & Guides Board was written to the State Prosecutor of three counties involved in this outing. Lewis writes how he personally witnessed LJ Mitchell and other staff meet 15 juveniles at the Boise Idaho airport on July 30, 1983 at approx. 9:20am. “They were loaded into a van and taken to mile-post 29 on Highway 46 to start a 21-day survival class ending at Bennett.”
As they traveled through Elmore and Camas County, Lewis was in contact with the Sheriff departments for assistance. Lewis states that he spoke with one of Mitchell’s partners, Larry Olsen in the presence of the Sheriff Deputies and notified Olsen they were not licensed in Idaho to operate. Olsen stated that Lewis needed to talk to his partner and attorney LJ Mitchell. Lewis further writes that he in deed talked to Mitchell… “All Mr Mitchell wanted to do is argue.”
This story is based solely on the facts outlined in the official police reports and more so from the teens and counselors who were present and had to endure what was later called the “Death March” across a section of desert in the state of Idaho on July 3rd 1985. Totally unprepared, the counselors and students headed out across the desert not knowing that the streams they planned to get water from had dried up, that the teens would suffer from exhaustion, heat, thirst and physical abuse from their counselors who probably reacted that way because they to were scared.
14 year old Greg Jones also suffered from exhaustion, heat, thirst and physical abuse. But unlike the rest of the group, Greg didn’t know that July 3, 1985 would be his last.
Prior to this tragedy, Larry J. Wells, a highly experienced and licensed professional who had agreed to head up LJ Mitchells SUWS program and lead the teens on these trips suddenly quit after just two outings. Wells felt compelled enough to write a letter to Albert Lewis, an investigator with the State, on August 2, 1983… “Because of my feeling for their apparent lack of concern for the safety and welfare of the students, and because they didn’t support the field staff in their decisions regarding safety and control of the students.”
Lewis actually went out into the field and witnessed firsthand LJ Mitchell and company bringing teens into the state, loading them directly into a van and taking them out and dropping them at mile marker 29 on highway 46. Lewis confronted Larry Olsen, one of Mitchell’s business partners and informed him in front of deputies that they were not licensed to operate in Idaho.
Lionel J. Mitchell has managed to stay one step ahead of any criminal charges for abuse, neglect and causing the death of teens in his care. As noted in our other stories about Mitchells SUWS programs in at least WV, he has been quoted by former staff as saying these kids are “throw-aways” and nobody cares what happens to them.
He reportedly believes that society doesn’t care what happens because they are “troubled” and their parents are wealthy and are willing to pay thousands of dollars to send them to him for help. Over the years he has tried many versions of his programs, from calling them survival schools to what is now his latest approach to troubled teens called “Therapeutic Boarding School For Girls” which is located in Pence Springs WV.
This is the same philosophy as it has been since 1983, the same philosophy that is well documented with cases of abuse and at least two deaths. This is nothing more than a behavior modification facility; which he now is marketing as a boarding school.
End Of Story
Jack Swint – Publisher
West Virginia News
LinkedIn: Jack Swint
Links To Past Stories On L.J. Mitchell
Ryan Lewis Story
Greenbrier Academy For Girls