COLUMBIA — Christian Van de Riet, 39, was shocked to receive an e-mail message on Tuesday that said sex abuse charges had been filed against her sons' former camp director.
Peter Newman, 33, a former Kanakuk Kamps director, turned himself in Tuesday after four charges of sexual abuse were filed against him in Taney County. The charges include second-degree statutory sodomy, enticement of a child and two counts of sexual misconduct or attempt involving a child under 15.
According to Taney County detective Ronnie Roberts, Newman pleaded not guilty to all four charges.
"My first reaction was 'no way,'" said Van de Riet, who worked as a nurse at Kanakuk's K-Kountry location where her sons attended camp. "Everyone who ever knew him or went to camp loved Pete Newman. They thought he was the biggest thing since sliced bread."
Many mid-Missouri parents have sent their children to Kanakuk camps, and many MU students have a connection to the camp, having either worked or attended there in the past. The allegations come weeks after similar abuse allegations were lodged against a United Methodist congregation in St. Joseph and the overseeing bodies located in Columbia, as well as against a former Catholic priest in Boonville.
The Christian sports camp has eight different locations: seven in the Branson area and one in Colorado, according to Doug Goodwin, Kanakuk's chief operating officer.
The alleged incidents of abuse occurred during the months of May and September, which are outside of the June-to-August camp season. Goodwin said he could not confirm or deny whether the alleged sex abuse took place on camp property.
Newman, who worked at K-Kountry since 1999, served as the director for four years. The camp terminated Newman's employment in March after Kanakuk administrators found out about the abuse allegations. Collin and Rachel Sparks now serve as the directors for K-Kountry.
"The safety and security of our campers is our No. 1 priority," Goodwin said. "It's the first and last thing we think about — the most important thing."
The Kanakuk employment screening process includes criminal background checks, personal interviews by trained staff, reference forms and extensive pre-camp training, which covers standards of employee conduct with campers.
On Tuesday, Kanakuk sent an e-mail to all families who have sent children to the camp in the past 10 years. There were 17,000 e-mail recipients. The camp also sent a separate e-mail to its staff members.
"We have made ourselves available and are personally responding to e-mails we're getting," Goodwin said.
Currently, the camp is considering working with agencies that assist interviewers in detecting potential threats to their organization. Kanakuk is also working on guidelines for outside-of-camp interaction, including requiring staff members to communicate with parents before contacting children outside of camp.
Kanakuk, which was established in 1926, draws families from across Missouri and the U.S.
"Kanakuk was one of the highlights of my life," said Kinsey McCartney, 22, who graduated from MU in May. "I was blessed to be a camper and work there as a counselor."
Despite the allegations against Newman, many campers continue to support Kanakuk's mission. According to the camp's Web site, three K-Kountry summer sessions for 2010 are already full.
"Kanakuk has had an impact on so many lives that I would never dream of holding something like this against the camp," Lauryn Perz, who attended Kanakuk's K-2 camp, said in an e-mail. "They are a very respectable camp that I one day plan on sending my kids to."