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I like to think I live a nice life. I own a cozy, 3 bedroom home in a quiet neighborhood in the suburbs. I have a wife I care about deeply and a 9 year old son who is my world. I enjoy my job as an accountant, and I'm well recognized in the community. I can confidently say I greatly enjoy living and appreciate all that I have earned. I only wish my entire life had been like this.
You see, throughout my teens and early adulthood, I suffered from severe anxiety issues stemming from an experience in my youth; one that nearly ruined my life. I had done something that haunted me for nearly 15 years. It was only after 3 different psychiatrists and many sleepless nights that I was able to forgive myself and learn to live again. Fortunately, my memories of those days are cloudy, and the scars have long healed. I will now try my best to recollect the events that unfolded that summer of 1978 as best as I can.
My memory is a bit faded, but I distinctly remember various things in my childhood. I remember playing little league baseball, drawing my favorite super heroes to tag on my wall, going on bike rides to the corner store to buy candy & baseball cards, and staying out late on summer nights to play "jailbreak" with my neighborhood friends. In addition to all of these things, I was also a first year boy scout. I remember going to the elementary school auditorium every Wednesday after school dressed in my uniform.
In a troop of about 15 kids my age, I learned all kinds of things from fire safety to wildlife preservation. As a kid who grew up miles away from any forests, the lessons seemed incredibly abstract, yet entirely fascinating. I had never been camping before in my life, and the picture these lessons painted appealed to me greatly. Needless to say, after hearing about that year's 2-week long summer retreat, I was determined to attend. My parents were quite protective over me (they still are) and they were a bit concerned because I had never left home longer than a day or two, but after days of persistent bugging, they reluctantly agreed to send me.
That July, I was shipped off to Roaring Run Boy Scout Camp located in Boswell, PA only about 2 hours from my home. Coincidentally, it is still a summer camp, only under an entirely different name and affiliation. As we drove up the beaten gravel path, I remember looking in awe at the endless rows of trees and the rustic cabins on either side of the road. We came out to a wide clearing with all of the main buildings of the camp, and I noticed my troop leader in the distance among a handful of other troop leaders organizing their scouts. After my parents spoke briefly with my scoutmaster about various specifics of camp, my mother gave me a kiss on the cheek, and then they were off. I could hardly contain my excitement for the week.
We were paired up with several troops from neighboring towns because only a small amount of us showed up from each troop. We placed all of our belongings in our cabin, "Blue Ridge," one of the cabins I saw as I drove into camp.
Afterwards, we returned back to the main field and slowly got to know each others' names by playing various games. I quickly got to know just about all of them, but one in particular stood out to me. He was small; a lot smaller than the rest of us had been. He had frail limbs and messy blond hair, and the buttons on his shirt were not evenly buttoned. He hadn't said a word since he got there, and I noticed a few of the scouts from his troop were pushing him around a bit and picking on him during the games.
For the sake of anonymity, he'll be known as Michael. Taking the game at hand very seriously, I soon disregarded this bullying and continued on. I did notice that by the time dinner rolled by, several scouts from the other troops started picking on him as well.
That night, all the scouts on camp gathered to a bonfire located just past the main field in an outdoor auditorium of sorts. After reciting our honor code, the head counselor stepped forward and informed us about all the great activities ahead of us. There was swimming, canoeing, rifle/bow shooting, scavenger hunts, hikes, competitions, and nights under the stars all waiting for us, and I was ecstatic. After a speech on our core responsibilities as boy scouts to the environment and community, we were dismissed to our cabin for the night, a 10 minute walk from the main field. Our scout masters had forgotten something back at the main camp, so they left to go retrieve it.
Alone, nearly all of the scouts began picking on Michael. It started rather innocent, but grew a lot worse once another scout found a stuffed animal tucked under the blankets of Michael's bunk. It was a sickly looking creature; obviously enduring many years of abuse and quite frail. They started throwing the bear back and forth, and Michael had no choice but to stand and watch. The riot in the cabin began to spread, and it came to a point where the ringleaders of the bullying criticized the few of us who weren't picking on him.
"This is my first boy scout trip ever!" I thought to myself. I wanted to be one of the cool kids. I asked myself, "What if I'm the next they start bullying?" At that ignorant age, I somehow thought my life would be over if these two weeks turned sour. My cowardice got the best of me, and I hit a turning point; the start of a series of events that would devastate me for years to follow. I went over to Michael's bunk and grabbed the bear from another scout holding it over Michael's head. With a strong pull, I ripped its head clean off and the entire cabin boomed with roars as cotton rained from the now decapitated bear.
The look on Michael's face turned from frustrated to a depressing frown. That damn look on his face is still burned into my memory. For a brief moment, I felt a wave of extreme guilt. I had been raised better, and I knew my mom would be disappointed if she knew. However, I quickly forgot about it as the entire cabin continued their outburst of laughter and praised me with comments.
I was in. Just as the scout masters returned, one of them shouted, "What on earth is going on in here!?" We all grew silent, expecting to pay the price for destroying the bear. Michael showed little emotion. He gathered the cotton he could from the floor and retreated to his bunk without saying a word. We expected him to tell on us, but all he did was pull the covers on top of him and lay silently. We thought we had just lucked out... God, I wish Michael had just spoken up and got us in trouble right then and there...
My 15 minutes of fame had gotten to my head, and I longed to be praised more. It was odd. I didn't dislike Michael, yet I resorted to calling him names and pushing him around just for the shallow acceptance of my peers. As I write about it now, a great deal of guilt and shame is returning. If only I had known what my actions would lead to... a day passes. It is now the third day.
I'm unsure if this is still customary for boy scouts, but back then, we all had a few pieces of equipment to look after, particularly our mess tins, which we used for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. On the third afternoon of camp just before lunch, I had a perfect joke in mind. I talked with the other kids in my cabin, and convinced them all to leave their mess tins on their bunks so that we could force Michael run back and retrieve them. Though pretty innocent compared to the other things Michael put up with that week, my cabin mates thought it was brilliant. This is where it all began.
We all piled into the chow hall and found our seats. Michael was last to walk in, and took a seat at the end of the table with his head down, mess tin in hand. I spoke up, "Hey Michael, we all kinda forgot our mess tins in the cabin...think you could get them for us pal?" A few of the guys chuckled. Michael didn't move. I spoke up. "Michael, it'd be a real shame if you didn't listen to us. Now go get our mess tins!" Reluctantly, Michael got up and walked out the door. "I can't believe you got him to do that," one kid said. "What a puss," another said. "You're the man!" the kid to my right said to me. We all got a pretty great hoot about it.
10 minutes pass.
"What the heck is taking him so long? I'm hungry!" I said. "He's probably fumbling all of our mess tins!" one said. "That pansy better get his ass back here," another said.
30 minutes pass.
No Michael. "He probably just got lost," I thought to myself.
An hour passes.
We all figured he defied us to stay in the cabin. With empty stomachs, we were furious, and planned to deal hell when we found him. We arrived back at the cabin. No Michael, but our mess tins were missing from our beds. The scout masters had noticed Michael's absence, and had us come with them to see if he was somewhere back at the main camp. They left us in the main field while they searched. 30 more minutes passed. It hadn't hit any of us that anything bad could have happened. "He probably had to take a shit!" one kid said.
We all laughed, mainly at the profanity. Our scout masters seemed to have been gone forever, so we started to play games in the woods. We had just finished our third game of tag, when we heard something coming down the road. Two police cruisers came into light, and drove past us toward the main building. I think we all had an idea there was something wrong, but looked for other explanations. "You... uhh... think this is about Michael?" one said. "No way, there's probably just a bear or something!" another said. Logical enough for us at 10 years old.
It was about 6 hours past lunch, and we had nothing to do but lay in the grassy clearing. Just as before, we heard a sound coming down the road, only much louder. An influx of cars began coming up the mountain... our parents? Yes, but their cars are also accompanied by police cars mixed in between them, more than I had ever seen at one time. I recognized "Johnstown Police Department," on the sides of a few of them. Odd. They were from a small city at least 30 minutes away. One by one, we were intercepted by our parents and taken back down the beaten gravel road.
I was one of the last, but just as the others, I saw my parents come up the road. Once my father saw me, he stopped the car, and they both got out. "Come on sweetie, camp is over." my mother said. I responded, "But it's only been 3 days. Why?" She paused, almost as if she were thinking of what to say. "A little boy went missing so the police are going to help find him. They just want to look for him without the other campers getting in the way. I'm sure he just wandered into the forest" Made sense, I thought. What was most peculiar, is at that moment, I hadn't even made the connection to Michael. "Must have been some other kid," I thought. "No way I had anything to do with this." I was pretty devastated that my week at camp ended so abruptly, but I got in the car and went home nonetheless.
Two weeks had passed, and I finally made the connection that Michael may have been the one who went missing. Funny how a young kid can so easily ignore the most logical explanation. I noticed my parents had been acting a bit differently. They wouldn't allow me to attend the summer boy scout meetings anymore, and I was almost positive I heard my mother say she would never let her son leave the house again over the phone. Had I done something wrong? Little by little, I began to make ends meet, and thoughts of Michael came into my head.
I grew the intense curiosity only young kids are capable of having, and approached my father several times. Any time I asked about the missing boy, he would look away and respond to my question with, "I'm not sure. I haven't been checking the newspaper much lately." I knew he was lying. Every day before work, my father was accustomed to lounging on the couch to catch up on sports and local news. It was clear there was something he was hiding from me.
I knew he had a habit of leaving old papers on his nightstand, so I went to investigate while he was at work. Just as I had hoped, newspapers stretching back 3 weeks lay before me. Starting from the oldest, I looked through them in hopes of finding my answer... a ha! Dated the day after camp was canceled, I noticed the headline. "Search Begins for Jennerstown area boy scout." Michael's picture covered the front page. That must have been it... I skipped a week ahead and found another. "Search party for missing boy scout called off." Within the article, it described the mysterious disappearance of Michael who was last seen in the chow hall with his fellow scouts. I skipped several more days... my stomach turned sour.
"Bodily remains of child found at local Boy Scout camp." The headline made me sick, but I continued reading. Below is what I remember of the article.
Once the search party was called off, Roaring Run was reopened, and campers returned. It was very hot and humid that week, and those who stayed in Blue Ridge complained of a foul stench in the cabin the first few days. As the second week came by, the stench grew unbearable, and camp maintenance went to the cabin looking to find the source. The first thing they noticed was an abnormally loose floorboard near the center of the cabin. When they uncovered the board, they made a shocking discovery. Underneath was the mangled, decomposing body of a young boy, partially buried by several mess tins... our mess tins. The crevice he was jammed in was filled with blood, and his face was bludgeoned almost beyond recognition. The only piece of evidence they found was a bloodied, decapitated teddy bear in his hands with a note inside reading, "Speicher." There were no witnesses or suspects.
I hadn't fully realized what the course of my actions accomplished, but as I grew older, the guilt grew stronger, and I once nearly resorted to suicide. My actions killed an innocent human being... If I hadn't sent Michael back to get our damn mess tins, he would probably still be here. Fortunately, after many years, I am finally able to forgive myself of my actions so long ago.
Roaring Run was closed permanently, and the land was purchased by a logging company who used it for about 10 years. The land lay untouched until 1998, when it was purchased by a Marine Corps. general who turned it into a youth mentor camp.
Every once in a while when I visit my parents, I take a trip to the local library, and view the same archived headlines I discovered all those years ago. It's weird... what once caused me such pain and guilt for the greater part of my life has left me... desensitized. Though sometimes I can still see his desperate face that night I ruined his bear... if only I had known what was in store for the summer of 1978.
... Still, what does "Speicher" mean?