LAUREL HILL STATE PARK, Pa. (KDKA) — Laurel Hill State Park is the best of what Western Pennsylvania’s woods have to offer, an oasis of nature.
It is where the Steel Valley Midget Football Association has been coming every year for its Camp Ruffhouse, a training camp, bonding experience for kids ages 11-14.
But the Somerset County District Attorney says the week in early July was highlighted by hazing and abuse.
The issue first came to Park Rangers’ attention when other visitors to the park noticed a young boy on a park road being beaten by other older boys. When the Rangers intervened, the young boy told them he was trying to run away from Camp Ruffhouse.
When another boy came home from the week at Laurel Hill he was sporting a black eye and swollen lip.
His mother reported to the investigators the boy said the injuries came from daily physical abuse by the older players. Something he said was routine for younger players. And if the younger player went to an adult, they were reportedly told to fight back and then were subjected to retribution and more abuse.
But Somerset County District Attorney Lisa Lazzari-Strasiser says the tipping point of the investigation was what happened in the campground bathroom.
“Including showers that there were children that were exposed to inappropriate touching of their private parts, indecent exposure on behalf of other campers and physical assault,” she said.
The Steel Valley Midge Football Association and three of its leaders, Director Aaron Knight, Camp Director/Leader Michael Todd and Executive Director Loren Ford are all charged with endangering the welfare of children.
But the investigation is still very open.
However, with the football league refusing to give investigators a list of everyone who attended the camp, the investigators are turning to the public. They know there were other victims and need them to contact either the rangers at Laurel Hill at 1-814-445-7725.
If more victims come forward, more charges may be filed.