When Madison Litsky arrived home after having lunch with a family friend, there were strange people in her house who told her she had to go away with them.
It wasn’t a kidnapping, but it was an abduction of sorts. Litsky’s mother, who was fed up deteriorating behavior, felt drastic action was necessary. So she found a Christian “boot camp” called the Restoration Youth Academy in small Prichard, Alabama that was affordable and signed her daughter over to its care. The camps are often a last resort of desperate parents, though there is great debate about their effectiveness.
"I had no idea my mom was even thinking about sending me anywhere," said Litsky, now 18.
What her mother didn’t know was that the camp had been plagued by abuse complaints in the past. Local 10 has learned that new allegations have led to current investigations by local law enforcement and the federally mandated Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program. The camp’s dean, William Knott, was also dogged by abuse complaints at a previous camp that had been shut down.
When the owner of the camp, John Young, a pastor, arrived with two other employees to take her away this past August, she resisted.
"What's going through my head is that I'm about to get kidnapped, raped, and killed," said Litsky. "The person considered (the) pastor started choking me and at that point, I thought I was going to die. I really did."
As she fought them, they cuffed her hands and shackled her feet and dragged her into a van. Inside the van she managed to kick Young in the head.
“He raised his fist and said 'Hit me again,’” she said. “This is when I got scared. … I was crying. I was terrified at this point and I said 'No I won't,' and then he hit me in the head the first time and I said 'Okay, I'll stop,' and then he hit me the second time."
She said she “almost blacked out,” and the next thing she knew they were riding down the road in the van. They drove all the way to Prichard, outside Mobile, Alabama, to the locked-down camp surrounded by barbed wire.
Litsky said when they arrived, she checked herself for injuries.
"I had the two scratches here from the choking. There was a bruise from here to here and they were on both arms. Bruise on my knee," she said, "(and) the left side of my face was swollen."
Litsky's mother said Young admitted to her on the phone that he hit her daughter after she had struck him. She also said she condoned it because that was the kind of discipline she felt might bring her daughter in line. But in a phone interview Young denied that he hit Litsky.
“I'm telling you I did not hit this young girl," said Young. "… All I did was restrain Madison."
"What do you mean by restrain?" said Norman.
"I held her hand," replied Young. "… I'm a 250-pound man. What do I look like hitting a frail girl like that? I can take a lick from a girl like that. I just restrained her."
When asked why Litsky’s mother, who stands by the camp, would say he admitted to hitting her in the face, he said he doesn’t know.
Litsky said she wasn’t abused during her four months at the camp, but heard other stories of abuse from other “cadets.” She also objected to the use of a small isolation room where she says some cadets were kept for several days. It was only when she left in December that she found out the camp had been under investigation.
Now she wants to see the camp shut down.
“I was hurt,” she said. “It’s traumatizing. No one should ever go through that. … They can do anything to you and you can tell someone, but they can lie.”
Litsky now lives with a friend, works at a pizza place, and hopes to get her high school diploma and go to college. She has been estranged from her mother but the two recently met and are trying to mend their relationship.
“It only hurt,” she said of the boot camp stay.
Bob Norman speaks with another teenager who says he was abused at the camp on Friday on Local 10 News at 11 p.m.