Thursday, October 2, 2008

Hawaiian Camp from Hell

Up to that point in my short adult life, it was the hardest thing I had ever had to go through. Everything you're about to read it true, as far as my brain can recall. (Some names have been changed and you know why.)

I was fed up with school. My relationship was on the verge of suck, I had no friends since my high school buddies had turned their backs on me. I was not doing so hot at the whole life thing. So what's a better answer to all of life's problems than to run away.

So I did.

I wanted to be far away from home but still make money and maybe have some fun too. So I applied for a job teaching kids age 10-17 photography in Maui. (the camp also taught surfing.) And what do ya know, I got the job. (mostly because of the awesome recommendation from my old photo teacher and the fact I have my diving license.)

So the summer I was 21 years old, I flew to Hawaii. I met two of my 8 fellow councilors right away. K and Canola were all smiles and jokes and we became friends instantly. I also met the camp director, named Lew Lazurus. He was a big man. He was over six feet and 300 lbs+. There was something strange about him. Odd fellow.

We slept at his house the first couple of nights, as we didn't have access to camp grounds until later in the week. That was fine, because we had a little training to do and the ocean view was amazing. My first night at the house, I met Squirrel. He was quiet and sweet. He was renting out a room in the garage and working at one of the local hotels that dotted the island. Llew offered him a job to work with us at the camp, so he became one of us.

The last night we spent in the house, the four of us sat on the curb in front, smoking as it just started to sprinkle rain on us. We sat quietly and I leaned up against K. There was a strangeness in the air. We didn't know it yet, but it was the quiet before the storm.

We arrived at the camp and started to get to work cleaning, setting up and airing out. We had scuba gear, kayaks, paint ball guns, jump ropes, and tons of other fun things for the kids (and us) to play with. We were setting up the dozens of tiki torches when the van carrying the rest of the councilors arrived. Keo was a native and gorgeous. Q was going to college there, and like Keo, was an avid surfer. Mama J was the matriarch and den mother to us all. J was the other photography teacher. (You could tell who the photo teachers were; we were the palest things on the island!) His skill was obvious and his photos were beautiful.

We bonded instantly. It was all so strange to me. The eight of us got along so easily. We joked and teased and in the end, truly cared for one another. And I was part of it, something I had never been a part of before. Even after a long day with the kids, when we had been up since 6am, we would still hang out, singing along with Q's guitar or just talking until midnight or later. We were a great team.

The kids began to arrive. We bandaged knees and ate in the mess hall and helped patch up friendships when they fought with each other. Life was simple and good.

I was head of house #3, which held the youngest of the girl campers. Now I have never been great with little kids. I never understood them. When I was a kid, I was more grown up and serious than my friends. But my girls, they were special. They were sweet and kind and listened to me and I listened to them. One little girl in particular caught my attention. She had dark hair and wore glasses. Her father had been killed in an accident and her mother had remarried a family friend. He was now serving in Iraq and she was scared for him. I hope she is happy now, where ever she is.

As the days went on, we (the councilors) called a meeting. We had a few concerns and asked Llew how we could resolve them. Camp seemed caotic at times, like he didn't have a plan or perhaps he did and he wasn't communicating. He said he would work on that with us. Also, we needed to keep all the kids together on outings. One of the little girls had been running around and split her chin open when she should have been eating dinner with everyone else. He agreed. But our major issue was the way he drove. We asked that he slow down, be more cautious while driving a van full of kids. Some of the kids got so carsick from his sharp turning and speed that they threw up in the car. He dismissed us. He had been driving longer than we had been alive, he said. He was being perfectly safe, he said. This was the beginning of my uneasiness. He wouldn't yield to our concern about the children's safety?

One evening, I was heading up towards the bonfire when I looked around and realized that there weren't any councilors around watching the kids. I kept an eye on the kids, eating around the fire until I spotted 7 people sitting and talking in one of the vans. They started to pile out. I asked Squirrel what was going on. He brushed past me.

I don't remember who told me. I don't remember what I said. Everything just happened so fast.

One of the older girls, 16, had spoken to one of our junior councilors and he had come to one of us. She had told him that our camp director, Llew, had said some things that had made her uncomfortable. She said he had offered her a place to sleep in the van with him while we were on an overnight a few days ago and that he had said some things about the way she looked.

All hell broke loose.

Word spread. Someone called the police. Kids began to call their parents on their cellphones that they weren't supposed to have. Representatives for the Girl Scouts of American came for a visit. (they owned the camp grounds) And then, Llew disappeared.

We had no contacts, no support and no money. We decided it was time to close camp down. We started contacting all the airlines to get the kids back home. We shuttled nearly 40 kids to and from the airport all day, contacted parents to advise them of the situation, finding somewhere for these kids to go. We had to fly 2 of the kids, brother and sister, to their grand parents in Texas, because the next flight home to Australia wasn't for another 5 days.

We were all devastated. We cried. K said it best. We were walking outside camp grounds, taking a breather and smoke break. We sat on the side of the dirt road and she said that she felt like someone had died. That nailed it. Maybe it was the death of our care free summer. Or maybe the death of our innocence, that things like this would never happen to us.

By the end of that day, we had sent home all but 7 kids. Those 7 had flights the next morning. So we got in the van and drove around. The kids were too scared to go back to camp but there was no where else for us to go. We drove around, bought them food and distracted them as much as possible, until, inevitably, we returned to camp. We all slept in the mess hall together that night. The guy councilors took turns staying up and keeping watch so we could sleep.

The 4 girl councilors, including myself, decided it was time to leave; the boys would finish up and meet us the next day. One of the wonderful mothers set us up with a hotel room so we packed our things and headed out. It was so nice to have a hot shower and clean sheet to sleep in.

I got a call at 3am that night/morning. It was J. He said that a new bunch of kids had arrived for camp so they had called the GSOA for help. (Our angels!) After they did some research they found that Llew had forged insurance documents on the camp and called the police. Then when the new kids arrived, Child Protective Services took them for the night until arrangements could be made. He told me that the four of them and all the kids were in a safe place. And there was something else. Llew was not who he seemed. His real name was Raymond Thomas and he had served time for 'sex crimes involving a child' in California. He said to call the front desk and tell them to not release any information about which room we were in because he might be looking for us.

The other girls had woken up and were looking at me through the dark. I hung up and they asked me what was wrong. They couldn't see my face but they had heard the tone of my voice. I didn't want to tell them. It was too awful. We were devastated. We didn't sleep well that night.

The boys arrived after all the kids had been put back on their planes. And it was just the 8 of us again. We bounced from hotel to hotel until the money ran out. We ate cheap local food. We stole the camp's surfboards and went surfing all day. At night, we slept in the van and on the beach. The sand flea bit me everywhere that wasn't covered; even years later I still have scars on my chest and arms.

Then came the day I left. The Maui police had helped us change our flight arrangements to get us home. My parents paid the $100 flight change fee. We sat at the Krispie Kreme, wasting time before I had to get on my flight, staring at each other, unable to make sense of everything that had happened to us. I kissed my friends goodbye. This group, where I felt loved and accepted for the first time in my life, our unstoppable team, was disappearing. I tried not to cry. I handed them all notes I written to each of them the night before and told them to write me. I got on the plane and it was gone.

I came home and slept for a week. I felt as if I had been to war. I didn't eat. I cried a lot.

When I was ready, I got on the internet and did some research. With the help of the Honolulu Advertiser and other newspapers, I found this.
"Thomas was sentenced in 1991 to six years and eight months in prison for lewd and lascivious acts on a girl who was 6, and for two counts involving sexual intercourse with a 15-year-old girl and using her for the purpose of making sexual photos or videos."
I threw up. I couldn't take it. How could this man be allowed near children? How could this have happened? How could I not have known? I'm a woman, I should have some kind of instinct about this, right? I mean, I should have know when he introduced himself as Llew Lazarus... Lazarus was a man in the bible who died and came back to life. It's synonymous with rebirth and 2nd chances. It's so I was so confused and sad and really fucking angry.

It turns out this guy wasn't stupid. (Fucked and sick but not dumb.) He had done his research. There was a loop hole in Hawaii's laws. First, the sex offender registry wasn't public. (Whether this information is public or not is up to the individual state.) And second, a camp that is registered as a 'specialty camp' didn't require background checks. Ironically, he required all the councilors to get fingerprinted (something the papers got wrong) and have background checks. Not for himself though. Hawaii has since tweaked their laws a bit for the better but I still think they have some more work to do...but I digress.

Raymond L. Thomas ran off with over $45,000 of the camps money. (those who paid with their credit cards did eventually get their money back...) He resurfaced in 2006 in Nantucket, Mass when he was found living in a van. They arrested him when he failed to register as a sex offender in that state. He was in the middle of setting up another program for international high school students to come and study. He was facing up to 5 years. I couldn't find anymore information. I don't know if he's in jail or roaming the streets.

I still have nightmares. I'm underwater, I can't breath. I grasp at K but I can't reach her. He jumps out of a dark cave and snatches me away, like a octopus does a fish. I dream he is waiting at my car when I come out of the grocery store. I dream he calls me and writes me letters, asking me to testify that he's a good person.

None of the kids have come forward to say that they had been hurt. I hope that it's true. I hope that no one is holding on to a dark secret. Squirrel said that G-d had brought us eight together to bring him down. He had run this camp 2 years prior but G-d had decided to step in and brought us to Maui to keep him from hurting anyone else. I hope that is true.

If it is, this is the most important thing I have ever done.

All the photos in this piece are mine or J's. If you want to use them, please let me know and link this site. thanks.

This is me.

Check out these articles about this whole mess-
http://the.honoluluadvertiser.comarticle/2004/Jul/ 18/ln/ln02a.html 19/ln/ln11a.html thomassex-offender-who-ran-maui-camp-reemerges_ post11462.html

If you know anything more about this guy, like where he is, please help me out and drop me a line. I might sleep better knowing. Thanks.

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