A federal study of "boot camps" and wilderness programs for troubled children has found evidence of hundreds, if not thousands, of allegations of death and physical, sexual and emotional abuse. One program examined in the report is the Catherine Freer Wilderness Therapy Program, which operates in Oregon and Nevada. The program has been praised by the parents of many troubled teens as a place where tough love worked. ABC News’ "Primetime" favorably profiled the program in May 2002. Photos: Inside Tough Love Teen Camps One month after that broadcast, the parents of 15-year-old Erica Harvey (pictured) of Phoenix brought her to the program to deal with her depression and drug use. "She pleaded with us, ‘Daddy, please don’t make me go,’" her father Michael said in an interview with ABC News Monday. "All my instincts said, ‘Leave this place now,’ and I didn’t trust my instincts." Within a day, Erica was dead, after collapsing on her first wilderness trip from heat stroke and dehydration. Click Here for Full Blotter Coverage. When he heard of his daughter’s death, "A knife went through my heart," said Harvey. Michael and his wife, Cynthia, are slated to testify before Congress Tuesday about their daughter’s death. Shortly after Erica’s death, two more children died at Freer’s Nevada operation, from a heart defect and a falling branch, according to the GAO report. In a statement to ABC News, the Catherine Freer Wilderness Therapy Program noted that no findings of fault in the students’ deaths were made. The program continues to operate in Oregon. Click here to read part of Brian Ross’ interview with Michael Harvey and his wife Cynthia. Erica is not the only victim. No national statistics are currently kept, but a 2005 survey by the Department of Health and Human Services found that 33 states had recorded more than 1,600 incidents of abused children in similar programs that year, according to the GAO. The parents of scores of children who died or were abused in therapy programs and boot camps are now coming forward, on Web sites and in Congress, to demand a crackdown. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., has pushed to improve oversight of the programs. Miller asked the Government Accountability Office to study allegations and cases of negligent deaths and abuse in such programs, and will chair the hearing. The GAO’s findings appalled him, he said. "Kids being forced to eat their own vomit, to eat dirt, to not be allowed to go to the bathroom…all in the idea that somehow this is building character," he said. Good Morning America Video: Boot Camp: Tough Love or Abuse? The parents of 16-year-old Aaron Bacon of Arizona say abuse at a wilderness camp in Utah led to the death of their son in 1994. Aaron "began to complain of a stomach ache, and they called him a faker and a slacker," Sally Bacon told ABC News. "He was in so much pain that he could not carry his pack…They humiliated him, called him names and decided that since he couldn’t carry his pack, his food was in his pack so he would go without food." Like the Harveys, the Bacons will also testify at Tuesday’s hearing, chaired by Rep. Miller. Aaron lost 23 pounds in his month at the camp before he died, because no one realized he had an infected, perforated ulcer, the GAO said. The condition "would have been treatable provided there had been early medical attention," the report states. A draft of the report was obtained by ABC News. After Aaron’s death, the state of Utah revoked the program’s operating license, and the program closed three months later, the GAO reports. Click here to read part of Brian Ross’ interview with Sally Bacon and her husband Bob. A spokesperson for the industry’s association says such deaths are tragic and agrees new regulations are needed so that good programs can continue to operate. "We cannot afford to take these away from the parents as an option," Jan Moss, president of the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs. "However, they must be regulated." But the GAO investigation also found many programs lack the trained counselors or therapeutic procedures they promise. In February 2001, the parents of 14-year-old Ryan Lewis took him to an outdoor therapy program in West Virginia after he was diagnosed with clinical depression and twice attempted suicide. The program billed itself as being especially prepared to handle cases like Ryan’s, the Lewises told ABC News. One day after threatening to kill himself, Ryan was left alone, accused of being manipulative. "That night at approximately 7:30 in the evening, he walked off by himself to his camp site and he hung himself," Paul Lewis recounted. Paul and his wife found out later that despite the operation’s marketing, the program Ryan attended had no procedures for handling suicidal behavior by its enrollees. Click here to read part of Brian Ross’ interview with Paul Lewis.
Justin Rood contributed to this report. This post has been updated. Do you have a tip for Brian Ross and the Investigative Team?