Trails Carolina is a wilderness therapy program that claims to help troubled teenagers overcome their behavioral and emotional challenges. However, the program has also been involved in several controversies and allegations of abuse, neglect, and mistreatment. One of the most tragic cases is the death of Alec Sanford Lansing, a 17-year-old boy who went missing from Trails Carolina in 2014 and was later found dead in a remote forest area. What happened to Alec and what is the truth behind Trails Carolina? This article will explore the details of Alec’s disappearance, the search and discovery of his body, the autopsy findings, and the controversies surrounding Trails Carolina.
The Disappearance of Alec Sanford Lansing
Alec Sanford Lansing was a teenager from Atlanta, Georgia, who had a history of self-harm and suicide attempts. He was sent to Trails Carolina by his parents in November 2014, after being discharged from a psychiatric hospital. Trails Carolina is a wilderness therapy program located in Lake Toxaway, North Carolina, that offers outdoor activities and interventions for adolescents with various issues. According to Trails Carolina’s website, the program aims to “foster personal and social responsibility and emotional growth” through “therapeutic assessment, intervention and treatment”.
However, Alec did not seem to benefit from the program. On November 10, 2014, he walked away from his group expedition in the Nantahala National Forest and disappeared into the wilderness. He was reported missing at 6 p.m. that evening by the staff of Trails Carolina. The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement launched a search operation for Alec, involving multiple agencies, volunteers, dogs, helicopters, and drones. They also alerted the public and distributed flyers with Alec’s description and photo.
The Search and Discovery of Alec’s Body
The search for Alec lasted for two weeks, covering a vast and rugged terrain of over 6,000 acres. The searchers faced many challenges, such as cold weather, dense vegetation, steep slopes, and wild animals. They also had limited clues about Alec’s whereabouts, as he did not leave any tracks or signs of his presence. The only possible sighting of Alec was reported by a volunteer firefighter in Cashiers, who claimed to have seen someone matching his description near a gas station on November 10. However, this lead could not be verified due to technical issues with the store’s surveillance system.
On November 22, 2014, the searchers finally found Alec’s body in a remote forest area near Cashiers. He was lying face down in a small stream, about three miles from where he was last seen. His backpack and some of his belongings were found nearby. He was wearing only a T-shirt and pants, despite the freezing temperatures at night. His body showed signs of decomposition and animal predation.
Autopsy Findings: Cause of Death
An autopsy was performed on Alec’s body by Dr. William Selby, a pathologist from Asheville. The autopsy revealed that Alec died of hypothermia, which is a condition where the body loses heat faster than it can produce it, resulting in dangerously low body temperature. Hypothermia can cause confusion, drowsiness, loss of coordination, and eventually unconsciousness and death.
The autopsy also found that Alec had suffered a broken hip, which was likely caused by a fall from a tree. The investigators speculated that Alec had climbed the tree to get a better view of his surroundings or to escape from the cold water of the stream. However, he fell into the stream and injured himself severely. The broken hip would have prevented him from walking or moving much. He probably succumbed to hypothermia within hours or days after his fall.
The autopsy did not find any evidence of drugs or alcohol in Alec’s system. It also did not find any signs of foul play or external injuries other than the broken hip and the animal bites. However, the autopsy raised some questions about the impact of Trails Carolina’s program on Alec’s physical and mental condition.
Unveiling the Truth Behind Trails Carolina
Trails Carolina is one of many wilderness therapy programs that operate in the United States. These programs are often marketed as alternative or complementary treatments for adolescents with behavioral, emotional, or substance abuse problems. They typically involve outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, survival skills training, group bonding exercises, and therapy sessions with mental health professionals.
However, these programs are also controversial and criticized for their lack of regulation, oversight, accountability, and evidence-based practices. Many former participants and their families have accused these programs of abuse, neglect, mistreatment, exploitation, deception, coercion, manipulation, and violation of human rights. Some of these allegations have resulted in lawsuits , investigations , and media exposés .
Trails Carolina is no exception. The program has faced several controversies and allegations over the years, such as:
- The death of Alec Sanford Lansing, which sparked outrage and grief among his family and friends, and raised questions about the safety and effectiveness of Trails Carolina’s program.
- The lawsuit filed by the parents of a 14-year-old girl who was sexually assaulted by another participant at Trails Carolina in 2016. The lawsuit claimed that Trails Carolina failed to protect the girl from harm, did not report the incident to the authorities, and tried to cover it up.
- The lawsuit filed by the parents of a 16-year-old boy who was physically and verbally abused by the staff of Trails Carolina in 2017. The lawsuit alleged that Trails Carolina violated the boy’s civil rights, inflicted emotional distress, and caused him to develop PTSD.
- The allegations of former participants who shared their traumatic experiences at Trails Carolina on various online platforms, such as Reddit , YouTube , and TikTok . These allegations included being forced to hike for long distances with heavy backpacks, being deprived of food, water, hygiene, and medical care, being subjected to harsh punishments and humiliation, being isolated from their families and peers, and being coerced into signing contracts and giving testimonials.
These controversies and allegations have exposed the dark side of Trails Carolina and the wilderness therapy industry in general. They have also highlighted the need for more regulation, transparency, accountability, and research in this field. They have also raised awareness among parents and teenagers about the potential risks and harms of these programs, and the importance of seeking professional help from qualified and ethical providers.
Trails Carolina is a wilderness therapy program that claims to help troubled teenagers overcome their challenges. However, the program has also been involved in several controversies and allegations of abuse, neglect, and mistreatment. One of the most tragic cases is the death of Alec Sanford Lansing, a 17-year-old boy who went missing from Trails Carolina in 2014 and was later found dead in a remote forest area. His death revealed the harsh realities of Trails Carolina’s program and the wilderness therapy industry in general. It also sparked a wave of lawsuits, investigations, and media exposés that unveiled the truth behind Trails Carolina. Parents and teenagers who are considering enrolling in a wilderness therapy program should be aware of these facts and exercise caution before making a decision. They should also seek professional advice from qualified and ethical mental health providers who can offer them safe, effective, and evidence-based treatments.