News4 Investigates: Family of abuse victim wants answers from Kanakuk Kamps leadership
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - A Midstate family is breaking their silence, saying their son suffered years of sexual abuse by a senior camp counselor at one of our country’s largest Christian camps, attended by many Middle Tennessee youth.
The family believes the years of sexual abuse could have been prevented.
The family claims the camp’s leadership is guilty of lies and negligence, covering up when they knew about the abuse...and believe they should be held accountable.
“A lot of kids would be like, ya know, I want to be like Pete when I grow up,” said Logan Yandell, the boy at the center of the family’s accusations.
On the cover of a Kanakuk counselor “playbook” is Pete Newman, often considered the face of Kanakuk Kamps. He is also described as a popular and charismatic man.
Newman was a lead counselor and later promoted to camp director at Kanakuk, which is considered one of the elite and largest Christian camps with about 20,000 kids attending each summer.
Logan Yandell is now 27 years old, but started attending Kanakuk in Branson, Missouri, at age 7.
“He was our little boy that we sent to camp to have fun and have a spiritual mentor and have wonderful experiences,” said Christa Yandell, Logan’s mother. “It was just honestly the worst mistake we could have ever made as parents was to send him to that camp.”
Logan remembers the trust he built with camp counselor Newman.
“He worked for years to groom me into trusting him enough to get into this place where he could, ya know, molest me.”
Letters, phone calls, and eventually, alone time with Pete, then mission trips – even a visit to Pete’s personal residence – all places where Logan’s family said he was sexually abused by Pete, from age 9 to 13.
Logan was not alone, however.
In June of 2010, Pete Newman pleaded guilty to seven counts of sexually abusing boys. He is now serving two life sentences, plus 30 years.
The story doesn’t end there for the Yandells.
“No normal adult would have allowed another adult that rode naked with children on 4 wheelers, or skinny dipped or anything else,” said Greg Yandell, Logan’s father. “No normal adult would have allowed that person to stay in their camp, at all”
That is exactly what, the Yandell family says, happened.
Newman was allowed to continue his work with children at Kanakuk for years, despite – according to the Yandell family – Kanakuk leaders, specifically, camp leader Joe White, listed as Chief Executive Officer on the camp’s website, knowing about nude activities and inappropriate behavior involving Newman and young boys.
“He told me of instances in 1999 and in 2003 of which they caught Peter Newman 4-wheeling in the nude with campers,” Logan remembered. “Skinny dipping, of which he was caught multiple times and Joe White described these situations to me in detail.”
“We began to realize a lot of new facts that were coming out that actual evidence with,” Logan’s mother said. “You know, a piece of paper, or a date or someone’s testimony, that it was actual evidence that started leading us to go, ‘ok,’ we’ve been lied to.”
“They didn’t want these facts to get out, that in fact, they were negligent, and Joe White personally was negligent in making a decision after he was told specifically Pete Newman is a risk to be around kids.” Said Logan’s father. “He’s a risk to the camp, and he should not be here. Joe White, for some reason, decided not only to keep him in camp, but also allow him the opportunity to be promoted and continue full access to kids.”
“To have this mastermind behind Kanakuk come in and do the things he’s done,” Logan’s mother explained. “To hide and cover-up what he knew to be factual that could have completely prevented my son’s abuse, completely prevented it altogether,”
The Yandell family said the same camp leadership is still in place at Kanakuk and more victims are coming forward and sharing their stories on the website called FactsAboutKanakuk.com, but say many are unable to speak out because of their non-disparagement agreements.
In an open letter from Joe White to victims and their families this past February, White apologizes for the pain they may have endured as a victim of abuse during Pete Newman’s time with Kanakuk. He goes on to say, “I wish I would have understood what I was truly dealing with, and I am devastated by your pain and suffering under my watch.”
“Joe made a statement in that letter, and he said, ‘I wish we knew what we were dealing with.’ They did know. So even to this day, they are still not admitting that they knew that Pete Newman should not have been around kids, when in fact, they did know it, and they chose to allow Pete Newman to continue to be around kids which led to the opportunity for him to abuse so many kids.
“I applaud Logan and the victims,” said Logan’s mother. “I applaud them so much for their strength and standing up for what’s right and trying to make a difference.”
The Yandell family did settle and sign a non-disclosure agreement with Kanakuk but said had they known at that time in 2010 what they know now, they would never have signed it.
The Yandell family and “Kanakuk Abuse Survivors” who wrote an Open Letter to Joe White are asking for 3 things:
- Joe White and Kanakuk to admit what they knew, when they knew it and be held accountable.
- An independent investigation into Kanakuk.
- Victims to be released from their NDAs so they can share their stories.
Kanakuk released this statement in response to the family’s allegations:
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