Videos of a youth boot camp instructor forcing children to drink water until they vomit and of instructors yelling at a pre-teen boy carrying a truck tire around his neck have sparked a police investigation of the Pasadena, Calif., operation.
"What we're going to try do to is find any of the young people depicted in the videos, their parents, and many of the adults who we saw in the actual video," Pasadena Police Department Deputy Chief Darryl Qualls said.
Pasadena City Councilmember Victor Gordo said he found the videos "really disturbing."
"The videos are really difficult to watch because these minors who are looking for guidance, whose parents have entrusted these camp operators with their children's lives, appear to be going through a very traumatic experience," he said.
The boot camp, Family First Growth Camp, is run by Kelvin "Sgt. Mac" McFarland. The camp's motto is "Family: The gift that lasts forever."
Some of the children in the camp are as young as 9 years old.
ABC News' phone calls to the camp were not answered, and staff did not reply to an emailed request for comment.
William Edwards, who attended the camp, told the Pasadena Star News that harsh treatment was commonplace at the camp and that in 2010, he witnessed an instructor handcuff a girl to a fence and kick dirt on her.
Edwards' adoptive mother, Helen Edwards, told the newspaper that children of immigrants and the illiterate were targeted for membership.
McFarland was arrested May 16 on suspicion of kidnapping, child abuse, child endangerment, extortion and unlawful use of a badge after he allegedly handcuffed a truant Pasadena Unified School District student and told her parents, who spoke limited English, that if they didn't pay him $100, he would put their daughter in a juvenile detention center.
McFarland has pleaded not guilty and is out on bail awaiting trial.
"In my view it appears to be intimidation and degrading of young people disguised as physical activity directed to instilling discipline," Gordo said. "Anyone who has played sports knows physical activity can instill discipline, but this is different. There was a case up north of an adult woman who entered some water-drinking contest and died. It's potentially life threatening and I refuse to accept that it's appropriate for anyone to put a child through that for any reason."
He said that some of the camp's instructors, who appear in military-style uniforms in the videos, have military training and experience, which the camp uses as a selling point.
"These are young people at a very impressionable age and not young adults who understand military tactics and who have voluntarily signed up for the military," Gordo said. "Tactics that may be appropriate in training a young man or woman to go to war should never be employed to young people as young as 9 years old."
Other than the events leading up to McFarland's May 16 arrest, police said they had received no complaints regarding McFarland or the boot camp.