Missing campers, falsified documents and other issues revealed in CT weight-loss camp investigation - Danbury News Times
Problems that arose at a Connecticut weight-loss camp before it closed in July included missing campers and falsified documents, newly released investigative records indicate.
After weeks of investigations, a witness list 34 people deep, and pages upon pages of interviews and inspection notes, a fuller picture of the goings-on at Camp Shane — informed by state documents obtained by Hearst Connecticut through a Freedom of Information Act request — is taking shape.
The state document release included an investigation narrative, interview summaries, a case summary, a license surrender affidavit, and the Notice of Proposed Licensure Action and Statement of Charges sent to camp owner David Ettenberg.
The weight-loss camp located at the South Kent School abruptly shuttered on July 13, and surrendered its 11-day-old license on Aug. 23, at which point the Office of Early Childhood and Department of Children and Families terminated their joint investigation. The investigation was announced in July after the camp closed its doors, but the OEC officially launched its investigation on July 8.
Since Ettenberg legally surrendered the license prior to the completion of the state investigation, violations that would be substantiated were not formally presented to the owner, the investigation summary explained.
In the affidavit surrendering his license, Ettenberg denies all charges set forth, but agreed that if he tried to reinstate or obtain a new license from the agency in the future, it would mean that the allegations “would be deemed true.”
Ettenberg has not responded to multiple requests for comment since mid-July when he said he shut camp down due to staffing issues.
The allegations in the records also include:
A camper sleeping on a common area couch.
Campers walking around unsupervised at night and in lightning storms, and who were encouraged to work out until they vomited.
Counselors leaving campers unsupervised to “hang out” and “party” in the lounge.
A counselor who yelled at and threatened to fight a camper.
Falsified medication administration training documents presented to the state.
Inappropriate “comments of a sexual nature” by a male camper toward a female camper.
Multiple reports of campers being bullied.
And the day before camp officially shut down, an 8-year-old girl suffered a serious head injury at camp. Her parents were leaving to pick her up when they got the phone call.
The OEC investigation summary states that “multiple families, many from out of state, reported trying to contact the camp about concerns with their child and not receiving any response via email, text or phone for extended periods of time.”
Medical oversight concerns
The most continuously reported investigation concerns, which were repeated throughout interviews with parents, campers, and a counselor, were lack of proper medical oversight and mishandling of medication.
In the final summary, the camp licensing specialist summed up her medical concerns: “Serious medical needs of the campers were not met when the operator failed to provide anyone trained to provide the necessary medications, failed to prepare the staff for emergency situations, and failed to seek medical assistance from trained professionals in a timely manner. Lack of supervision and untrained/uninformed staff led to campers being injured and not properly cared for.”
Earlier in the report, the investigation revealed that multiple campers had reported experiencing injuries, including sprains, knee injuries, smashed toes, and serious sunburn.
“Campers were not allowed to seek medical attention for up to a week in some instances. Other campers were told if they left camp to seek medical assistance, they could not return due to COVID-19 restrictions,” the documents read.
Despite multiple requests from the state, the operator of the camp never located a medically trained individual to administer medications, according to the documents. Additionally, the camp presented the state with falsified medication administration training documents, allegedly signed by a doctor who ran a training in 2019. The physician whose name was presented on the training certificate said that “the signature on the certificate is not his,” the report states.
The doctor, whose name is redacted, provided the OEC with samples of his signature.
“The certificate submitted by Camp Shane indicates a full training for oral, topical, inhaled and injectable medications as well as auto-inject medication. The signature is found to NOT be the signature of the physician,” the documents said.
Former camp director and girls’ head counselor Jennifer D’Ambrosio, who goes by Bella, quit her job on June 29 because she was concerned about camp administration and the safety and well-being of campers, she said in an interview with Hearst Connecticut Media.
D’Ambrosio was also interviewed at least two times by the OEC. Her name has been redacted in the report, labeled as “first director,” but her identification was independently confirmed by Hearst Connecticut Media.
D’Ambrosio said she was hired two days before arriving at the camp, claiming the camp “was in disorder when she arrived” and that “there was no paperwork ready for opening.”
The summary of the conversation between the investigator and D’Ambrosio included concerns about not having “appropriate staff, no guidance counselor, no paperwork about medical problems, no paperwork to the nutritionist regarding allergies and food restrictions, no certified medical staff on site, and no trained person for the behavior therapy program.”
“The fact that there was no medical person on campus, no information for counselors about the serious medical conditions of some of the campers and that there was a lot of medication concerns contributed to [redacted] deciding to leave the camp,” the summary states.
The OEC interview summary included a physician whose name was redacted from documents, along with parts of the summary of his interview.
The doctor told the OEC, according to the documents, that he had been asked to serve as camp doctor 10 days before the start of camp but declined due to the fact that he had a family vacation scheduled. He assumed the camp had found another physician. This was not the case.
The doctor agreed to help out until a replacement was found.
After an initial visit to the camp on June 30, the doctor reported having “immediate concerns” about the way medications were being administered.
The doctor also said that he “recommended that the camp close on more than one occasion to due to lack of safety.”
The new state investigation documents also show repeated instances of camper discomfort, at times the result of alleged “comments of a sexual nature made by male campers towards female campers,” and at others a result of bullying and a counselor’s alleged prior arrest that a camper found online.
One violation description reads: “operator took pictures of campers during Zumba class without their consent causing them to feel uncomfortable and ill at ease.”
When Ettenberg was asked about this, he “explained that he took pictures of a lot of the activities on the camp for the purpose of posting on an advertising website,” the interview summary reads.
In interviews with an OEC employee, a male counselor whose name has been redacted said that a female camper informed him that a male camper had “made her feel uncomfortable when he made sexual remarks about her.”
Another male counselor — who was hired to do Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) despite not being trained in the technique prior to camp — reported that he had a conversation with a female camper who told him that “an older boy (who left the camp prior to [REDACTED] arriving at camp) tried to force her to have sex.”
Further details were not revealed to the CBT counselor, but he told investigators that “he felt he should report what he was told.” The counselor estimated that the female camper was around 15 or 16 years old.
Problems until the end
Issues persisted through the camp’s official shut-down on July 13. Parents were alerted of the camp's closure via email at 7:51 a.m. on July 11. The email, obtained by Hearst Connecticut Media, said the children had to leave by the following Tuesday.
In interviews, parents said they tried to figure out how to get their kids home safely with little notice — booking expensive flights, calling relatives nearby or driving to the camp themselves.
On the day the camp closed, according to the investigation documents, one parent drove onto campus and picked up not only her own child, but another child as well without being asked for any identification. The records also indicate that another parent picked up her child earlier on June 30 and did not have to sign the child out or show any identification.
Camper Stellan Petto, 14, said in an interview that his general experience at camp, which included getting the wrong dosage of his essential hormone medication, “definitely left me with some trauma.”
Now at home with his mother in North Carolina, Stellan has entered his freshman year of high school. With some distance from his camp experience, he said he’s feeling better.