Staff members responsible for giving sleeping aids to participants in a summer program at Camp Beckwith have been suspended, the Rev. Russell Kendrick, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast, wrote in a statement to parents.
The statement follows complaints made by as many as 12 families to the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office after it was discovered campers there were given the hormone melatonin without parents’ permission.
Capt. Steve Arthur, head of investigations at BCSO, said the complaints reference a recent camp featuring 8-to-12-year-old children.
“The kids were told to take sleepy-time candy or pill,” Arthur said. “Apparently one or more counselors in one or more cabins gave melatonin to the children.”
While an investigation is ongoing, it’s not likely criminal charges will be filed, Arthur said, given that melatonin — naturally produced in the body — is not a controlled substance.
“It doesn’t look like it fits any criminal statutes,” he said.
Despite this, Arthur said Monday that the office wants to bring the case in front of a grand jury once the investigation is complete. He said investigators would be meeting with Baldwin County District Attorney Bob Wilters to determine if a grand jury is necessary.
Arthur said 11 of the 12 complaints came from families in Mobile.
At issue for some of the parents of the affected campers is that the well-known sleep aid was disbursed without proper consent.
One parent, who spoke to Lagniappe on the condition of anonymity to protect her child, said she signed a waiver for over-the-counter medication to be given under certain circumstances, but never saw melatonin listed in the paperwork.
“I feel like it was administered without permission,” the parent said. “I think it was a bad decision and I think it was wrong.”
In the statement, Kendrick appears to agree, apologizing to the affected families.
“Camp is meant to be an experience that creates memories of joy, growth and love,” he wrote. “I regret that in this instance, we have failed to live up to the standards that campers and families have a right to expect from us. Anyone impacted has my sincerest apologies for any failure and my promise that I will do all within my power to ensure that nothing like this happens again at Camp Beckwith.
“I want to assure you of my personal attention to this,” he continued. “While this situation is developing, we are striving to provide pastoral resources to the campers, families and camp staff impacted by these events. Our Episcopal tradition takes seriously our stewardship of children. Our church was among the first in the country to institute and require standards of conduct for their care and nurture.”
While the parent feels the decision to distribute the sleep remedy to her child was wrong, it did not harm the child. The parent added the suspension of those involved was “the right move” for the camp.
“I feel satisfied with the steps the camp has taken,” the parent said.
In addition, the parent said the child in question had a “wonderful time” at Camp Beckwith and a second child would be attending a camp there.