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North Carolina officials reveal possible cause of death for boy, 12, found dead at wilderness therapy camp

A North Carolina boy likely died of suffocation in a tent at a wilderness therapy camp for troubled youth after staff failed to check on him, according to a state report released Tuesday.

Staff at Trails Carolina, located in Lake Toxaway on the western side of the state, told North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) workers that a 12-year-old boy who was found dead on Feb. 3 after being at the camp for less than a day likely suffocated in his tent, a Statement of Deficiencies and Plan of Correction from the North Carolina Division of Health Service Regulation states.

One staff member answered “yes” when asked, “[D]o you think he suffocated?” the 88-page report states.

The boy was told to sleep in a bivy — or a small, single-person tent — inside a cabin at the camp. The bivy’s zipper apparently broke off, and staff used a zip-tie to enclose the tent instead, according to the report.

FORMER STAFF AT NORTH CAROLINA THERAPY CAMP SAYS TROUBLE KIDS, INEXPERIENCED STAFF IS ‘LEATH COMBINATION’

A 12-year-old boy died at a North Carolina wilderness camp over the weekend, just one day after he checked in to the controversial facility. (Trails Carolina)

The staff member told DHHS his belief that “he and the camp were responsible” for the boy’s death. And when asked what he could have done differently, the staff member stated, “I could have opened [the boy’s tent] up, re-positioned him.”

NORTH CAROLINA HEALTH OFFICIALS REMOVE CHILDREN FROM TROUBLED WELLNESS THERAPY CAMP

Staff were supposed to check on campers at midnight, 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. Around 3 a.m. on Feb. 3, another staff member said he heard heavy breathing and “mumbling” coming from the bivy but did nothing. He conducted another check on the bivy around 6 a.m. and said he was “certain” he heard breathing but said the boy was “no longer heavily breathing.”

Later that morning, the boy was found unresponsive inside the bivy. Law enforcement were dispatched to the camp at 8:28 a.m. that morning, according to the report.

Trails Camp counselors in North Carolina

Transylvania County Sheriff Chuck Owenby released more details Wednesday, Feb. 7, in the death of a juvenile at a camp in Western North Carolina over the weekend, including that the camp where the death took place has not been fully cooperative in the investigation. (Trails Carolina)

“My actions that night was to perform night checks… that was my responsibility, which I failed on,” the staff member told officials, adding, “I do feel like the bivy had a lot to do with it,” and “suffocation is always a possibility when equipment is used wrong.”

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Trails Carolina regularly made new campers sleep in bivys with alarms on the zippers when they first arrived at camp until they were deemed safe enough to sleep outside of a bivy — a practice the camp’s executive director was not aware of, according to the report.

The camp describes itself as “a wilderness therapy program helping teens and adolescents ages 10-17 who struggle with mental health challenges” on its website.

Lake Toxaway in North Carolina

The forensic pathologist conducting the autopsy told investigators the 12-year-old’s death appeared to not be natural, but the manner and cause of death are still pending. (Trails Carolina)

Autopsy results for the 12-year-old boy are pending, but Trails Carolina previously said his death appeared to have been accidental.

NEW ADMISSIONS HALTED AT TRAILS CAROLINA THERAPY CAMP AMID INVESTIGATION INTO 12-YEAR-OLD’S DEATH

The state suspended admissions to the camp earlier this year, and children who were staying at the camp in February were removed. In March, NCDHHS officials notified the camp that the state planned to revoke its license because it was in violation of state health codes.

A former Trails Carolina employee who previously spoke to Fox News Digital on the condition of anonymity said the camp’s website, which showed a photo of children fishing, is a “false advertisement.”

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“These kids aren’t fishing because you’re afraid they are going to use the pole as a weapon and kill someone. You see kids riding in canoes, that’s false advertisement,” the former staff member alleged. “Those kids aren’t riding in canoes because they may go out on the lake and try to kill themselves. Those kids aren’t repelling or going on mountain hikes because you’re afraid they are going to push someone off the cliff.”

Fox News’ Stepheny Price contributed to this report.

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