They shaved him bald that first morning in 2008, put him in an orange jumpsuit and made him exercise past dark.   •   Through the night, as he slept on the floor, they forced him awake for more.   •   The sun had not yet risen over the Christian military home when Samson Lehman collapsed for the sixth time. Still, he said, they made him run.   •   The screaming, the endless exercise, it was all in the name of God, a necessary step at the Gateway Christian Military Academy on the path to righteousness.   •   So when Samson vomited, they threw him a rag. When his urine turned red, they said that was normal.   •   By Day 3, the 15-year-old was on the verge of death, his dehydrated organs shutting down.   •   Slumped against a wall, cold and immobile, Lehman recalls men who recited Scripture calling him a wimp. And he thought: Maybe, if I die here, someone will shut this place down.   •   Not in Florida.

Below, read more of Alexandra Zayas and Kathleen Flynn's yearlong investigation into Samson's experience and others like it.

Part 1: Kids claim abuse, little gets done

In the name of religion, children have been bruised and bloodied and threatened with worse. They've been berated for being gay and subjected to racial slurs. They've been shackled for days and made to exercise until they got sick. A few barely escaped with their lives. Florida regulators say they are powerless to stop it.  | Read the first story

Group homes featured in recent stories

The Tampa Bay Times spent a year gathering thousands of pages of public records and interviewing dozens of young adults who passed through the unlicensed group homes that operate in Florida.

The newspaper focused its investigation primarily on homes and reform programs for teens that are exempt from state oversight for religious reasons. Under state law, the authority over those facilities is the Florida Association of Christian Child Caring Agencies, a private, nonprofit group.

During its reporting, the newspaper also uncovered and included in its analysis several reform homes that had no state license or FACCCA accreditation. Some of those homes had previously been accredited by FACCCA. Others never had credentials.

For all the homes, the Times requested information on every abuse investigation prompted by calls to the Department of Children and Families’ abuse hotline. The newspaper also talked to dozens of former residents and gathered health inspection reports, 911 dispatch records, police reports and lawsuits related to the homes.

Alexandra Zayas is a general assignment reporter based in Tampa. She has been with the Times since 2005.

Kathleen Flynn is a photojournalist based in Tampa. She has been with the Times since 2002.

 
 

Last updated Feb. 22, 2013, 12:04 p.m.

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