Maia Szalavitz, who interviewed Cynthia Clark Harvey for her book Help at Any Cost, strongly disagrees. "Anybody who knows anything about psychiatric medication or methamphetamines knows that overheating is what kills you in relation to those drugs," she says. "They should have known not to do it before they even started, and the fact that they didn't shows such a basic lack of information. It's Pharmacology 101."

Much was up for debate in this case. Charges were never filed, but the police report did recommend them — specifically, "felony child abuse leading to death."

Cynthia and Michael hold the camp responsible for what happened. And they hold themselves responsible, too.


THE LOST KIDS: Part 2 of an Ongoing Series

Part 1 told the story of Alex Varlotta, a boy who has struggled with mental illness. When he was 12, his mother called the police as a last-ditch attempt to get him help and keep her family safe. It worked — but at a price. Because their insurance wouldn’t pay for care, the Varlottas had to give up custody of their son to Child Protective Services. Now the state pays about a quarter-million dollars a year for Alex’s care. Today, the Varlottas play a tiny role in the caregiving process.

Part 2 explores another family’s struggle — and the tragic outcome. In both the Varlotta and this case, it’s painfully apparent that adequate services for mentally ill teenagers are tough to come by in our community.

"We violated Erica's trust," Cynthia says. "We had a lot of help. But we violated her trust."

On October 16, on what would have been Erica's 23rd birthday, her family went to see the movie Where the Wild Things Are.

Michael found it disappointing. Erica would have appreciated the fantasy aspect of the movie, he says, but it wasn't close enough to Maurice Sendak's book for Michael — or, he thinks, for Erica.

When she was very young, she memorized the book, he recalls, and would "read" it to him and Cynthia.

Of the movie, he says, "We wanted it to be more nostalgic."

Michael has a lot of memories. He recalls the time Erica asked Cynthia to "make her a mermaid." Cynthia sewed costumes for both girls, who were about 12 and 10 at the time. It wasn't Halloween; these were costumes to be worn in the pool.

"It was exactly what Erica had envisioned, and she got into the pool and transformed herself into a mermaid."

Then there was the time the girls begged to see the movie Jaws, and Michael obliged — then hid under the covers in a bed upstairs 'til the girls came looking for him, and got the scare you'd expect after a scary movie. There was lots of teasing and games, family traditions of hide-and-seek, Easter egg hunts.

It was a good life. Better than good. Not long after they met, Cynthia and Michael bought a poster from the Christmas classic It's a Wonderful Life and hung it on the wall.

"We always felt that we were very blessed and that we had a wonderful life. And after Erica died, I took the poster down and put it in the garage," he says.

Now, life includes Cynthia's advocacy work. Michael admits he lets her take the lead. His job requires a lot of energy, he explains, quickly adding he knows that might just be an excuse. Still, he says, he and Briana completely support Cynthia.

"I hate the fact that, because of this, I now have a cause that I need to be out there with. But at the same time, that's what I've got and I will be out there with it if Cindy needs me to be," Michael says.

Cynthia is not done. Since George Miller introduced federal legislation in 2007, more children have died in suspicious circumstances at wilderness camps. The latest was Sergey Blashchishen, a 16-year-old boy from Portland, Oregon, who died in August at a camp in rural Oregon.

Details have emerged about Sergey's final hours. After reading an account, Cynthia sent an e-mail with a link to a newspaper story.

"I am sick, sad and angry," she wrote. "Sergey's last hours read like a re-enactment of Erica's, up to and including calling the program office before any emergency number, when the kid was, for all intents and purposes, already dead. WTF?????"

Like Erica, Sergey was on his first hike. He, too, took off ahead of the group, and like Erica, began talking gibberish shortly before he went down.

His death is under investigation.

Yeah, Cynthia says, in some ways, it might be easier to move on. But she can't. Her explanation is painfully simple.

"I can't go back and un-know what I know now," she says. "So that's why I keep at it."

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Kids have been dying at these things for decades.

Why didnt she bother to spend 5 minutes looking into their qualifiacations?

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