Boy's mother sues York YMCA after alleged sexual assault

Liz Evans Scolforo

The mother of a York County boy has sued the YMCA of York, alleging staff members failed to protect him from being sexually assaulted by an older boy with a history of abusing young children.

YMCA of York (Amanda J. Cain photo)

It also claims that the YMCA didn't properly screen or train employees, that it failed to notify police about the alleged sexual abuse and that it failed to investigate despite knowing the 13-year-old boy had allegedly abused another child a year earlier.

"As a direct ... cause of the York YMCA's actions and omissions, and breach of the duties of reasonable care, (the boy) was sexually abused," the lawsuit states.

The assault allegedly happened last summer at the YMCA's Camp Spirit, a longtime day camp for children ages 5 to 15 that was advertised as a safe place for children to build "self-esteem, develop communications skills and create lasting friendships," the lawsuit states. Camp Spirit is located on 14 wooded acres outside Mount Wolf, its website states.

Northeastern Regional Police Chief Bryan Rizzo confirmed his department is aware of the allegation.

"The case involving Camp Spirit in East Manchester Township is still under investigation," he said. "No charges have been filed as of yet, but it remains (an open) investigation."

Impact unknown: Attorney Ben Andreozzi represents the boy and his mother.

"Like many sexual assault survivors, we won't appreciate the gravity of (the boy's) injuries until he becomes older," Andreozzi said. "This is something that can follow (victims) throughout their lives. Our hope is to get him into counseling and make sure the issues are addressed as best as they can be."

The boy was 5 years old at the time and is suffering from nightmares, anxiety, depression and social withdrawal as a result of the assault, the lawsuit states.

YMCA of York (Amanda J. Cain photo)

"(His mother) is incredibly frustrated with the fact that something that was preventable was allowed to occur," Andreozzi said.

The lawsuit, filed last week in Philadelphia County Court, also names the YMCA of the USA as a defendant and alleges negligence and gross negligence on the part of the YMCA and its staff.

Larry Richardson, president of the YMCA of York, said he learned of the lawsuit Thursday.

"While there's much I wish to say, I cannot comment because it's pending litigation," he told The York Dispatch.

The allegations: According to the lawsuit, the YMCA of York was made aware that a 13-year-old boy, identified in the suit by his initials, "had a troubled past, including being involved in sexual misconduct" before he began attending Camp Spirit.

"Additionally, at the 2014 Camp Spirit, B. was discovered by a camp counselor sexually abusing a special needs male camper in the woods during a camp outing," the lawsuit alleges, adding it's believed the counselor notified Camp Spirit's director, who in turn apparently notified Richardson of the abuse.

"It is believed that neither Richardson nor (the director) reported B.'s conduct to the authorities, in violation of Pennsylvania's law regarding the mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse," the suit states.

"At no point did the York YMCA inform other campers, their parents, or anyone outside the York YMCA that B. posed a severe risk of harm to other children," according to the lawsuit. "Despite all that the York YMCA knew about B., no one at the organization implemented any precautions during his time at Camp Spirit in 2014 or 2015."

No other details about the 2014 case could be obtained Friday.

Counselor unfit? On July 3, 2015, Camp Spirit counselor Kelsey N. Martin caught B. sexually abusing the 5-year-old under a wooden play structure during a camp outing, the suit alleges.

It claims Martin was "utterly unfit" to supervise children and did not have a Pennsylvania child-abuse clearance because she was at the time under investigation "for a crime involving her own child."

Martin, 21, of Springettsbury Township, was charged Jan. 28, 2016, with concealing the death of a child. She told police she didn't know she was pregnant and gave birth at home in April 2015, but panicked because her newborn daughter wasn't breathing, court documents state.

The baby's body was found in a shoe box in a bedroom closet at Martin's home, police have said. Her defense attorney, Chris Ferro, called it a "horrible, but explainable, tragedy."

As for the Camp Spirit incident, Ferro said Martin properly reported what she saw to her supervisors.

"I think at all times Kelsey handled the situation admirably," he said. "I believe she's been completely cooperative with all investigating (agencies)."

Mom called police: Camp Spirit's directors and counselors informed the 5-year-old's mother about the alleged sexual abuse, and she then notified police "despite Camp Spirit's director's objections," the lawsuit alleges.

It was only after the mother alerted police that YMCA staff told police about B. allegedly sexually abusing a special-needs camper in 2014, according to the suit.

In the fall of 2013, the state Department of Human Services, formerly the welfare department, revoked the York YMCA's license to run a day-care center at its Newberry Street location.

The agency has said the revocation resulted from a string of complaints to the state that began in April 2013.

The day-care center was allowed to remain open while the YMCA appealed, Richardson has said.

In compliance: A settlement agreement was reached Jan. 15, 2015, "which articulated numerous steps to increase supervision and return to full compliance with child care health and safety requirements," according to Kait Gillis, DHS press secretary. For the next six months, the day-care center operated with a provisional license, she said.

The day-care center remains in compliance and is fully certified, according to Gillis.

"Since last January, we've been on site there four times to ensure they are remaining in compliance," she said.

But DHS has no authority to regulate certain summer camps, including Camp Spirit, because of how state law is written, Gillis confirmed.

"Any time institutions don't rectify safety concerns after DHS citations, we have major concerns," Andreozzi said. "And oftentimes, the only way to address those concerns are through the course of civil litigation."

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at