The nightmare camp night part 2

The story started here.

So as agreed L and I went to stay in the other building where all the groups from Ghent were staying. I assume I had a good evening getting to know the other leaders on the camp, but I must honestly admit that I don't really remember anymore what happened before that night.

The next morning I was going to the other building to wake up the girls and have them get ready for breakfast whereas J was going to wake up the boys of our group and L was preparing the morning activity. It felt a bit strange walking up the hill to the other building all dressed already (usually you can dress yourself while the 14-year olds get them ready).

When I got upstairs there, I met already one of the girls on the top of the stairs very stressed out.
"Hi, do you know where Le. is? She is not in the room and is gone already for quite a while? We thought she was in the toilet, but she is not and she would have been back..."
While she was talking to me in a nervous way we had reached one of the 2 girl rooms. Everyone was already awake and there was an almost hysteric atmosphere. As soon as I entered the room they all came to me and were talking at the same time.
"Le. is missing"
"There's been someone in the room"
"Is Le. with you"
"Something happened last night"
"I thought S had rolled over, but she says that she doesn't move a lot at night"
"F's pyama has a hole"
"We already looked for Le. but we did not find her"

All their words were hitting my head as if they were pieces of a puzzle thrown at me. Pieces I could not put together immediately although I felt a great sense of urgency. They were upset and I had to reassure them, but I did not know how. Hell, I didn't even understand what was going on. I wanted to think faster, but I couldn't. And where on earth was Le.? Damn, I had to look for her first of all. Panic started to cramp my stomac.

I walked out quickly and popped my head into the second room where fortunately there was more peace.
"Hey, what's up next here, where is Le.?"
"I don't know, I am looking for her".
I sure sounded more certain than how I felt.

I wanted to run downstairs to look outside, when I saw P. the districtleader of Ghent approaching. I quickly briefed him that something was wrong and while we were still there, we saw some leaders from district Tielt approaching us. They brought good news: Le. was with them. The rest of their message was much more disturbing. There had been an intruder at night in the room of the girls: one room of Ghent and also in a room of Tielt. Le. had woken up and had seen the intruder. The leaders of Tielt had been warned....the police had come and the police was just finishing off the interrogation of Le.

Oh great, a police investigation while we are sleeping. How "polite" not to disturb us.

When going back in the room that was still full of hysterical girls, the puzzel finally settled in my mind:
  • Some pervert had intruded the buildings.
  • He had been in a girls bedroom of Tielt. Some girls had woken up but had not dared to move or react.
  • He had been in one of the 2 bedrooms of Ghent.
  • He had touched some girls but fortunately most of them had slept through it all without realising at night what was happening. But they put 2 and 2 together in the morning and the reality hit twice as hard.
    Some had felt their sheet cover being pulled down and remember pulling it up again one or more times.
    A girl had felt a hand, but thought the neighbour girl had rolled over too far and had mumbled that she had to stay on her side and had turned around again
    A girl had slept through it all, but the buttons from her pyama had been cut off.
  • At one point Le. had woken up when she saw a man next to her bed. In her honest naivity she thought nothing wrong and assumed he was a leader from another district or someone from the domain looking for someone. When she asked him what he was looking for, he left the room immediately (she slept next to the door).
    She had gotten up and ran behind him on the stairs, still thinking he was looking for something/someone. But he ran outside and disappeared.
  • When Le. came upstairs again, the girls next door from Tielt called her in. They were awake but too terrified to get up and go to the leaders 2 rooms further and wake them up. Since Le. was running around anyway and she still kept her cool , she went to get them for them.
  • The leaders from Tielt had assumed that no one else from Ghent had woken up or had been effected. So they alerted the police, but since Le. was the only true witness, she had to be interrogated.

Shortly after Le. indeed returned and could do her story as all the others. Everybody was crying, all were upset at the shock of what had happened that night and of what had not happened that night. Slowly they relaxed a little bit and with faces swollen from all the tears and emotions we finally headed to the restaurant for breakfast where they had to face the few other hundred kids who were not up to date yet. In fact nobody was.
Other groups of Ghent came over and asked questions why they all had been crying but Le. and her best friend quickly sneered "we had a crying contest this morning" ...and no further questions came.

Needless to say that the rest of the day, the planned activities had to be altered. I don't think anybody had an idea what to do or how to react. I surfed on my own intuition the next days. We talked a lot within the group, we talked a lot seperately with the most affected girls, we still tried to organise games and activities to distract our minds, ...but we kept our group seperately from the rest of Ghent to avoid them getting too many remarks and questions from the others. The district leader spent a lot of time with us to give us extra support.

In the evening we decided to let the children phone their parents. We had all talked a lot and the group all wanted to stay on this camp, so they had to been thinking how to phrase the events to their parents to inform them well, but to reassure them. After all, we all believed that it would not happen again. Nobody had been physically harmed, yet our sense of security, our naïvity, our worryless vacation feeling had been stolen. The girls from Tielt did not phone their parents...which would result in a law suit after our return.

Needless to say that we did sleep in the same building again from that night on. The leaders of Tielt had all moved their mattrasses in the hallway and were blocking the staircase. L and I slept back in the little room nextdoors whereas the districtleader P. slept on the floor in the affected girls room. The other girls felt ok enough with all the sleeping adults in the hallway. We were told that the police was going to come by regularly through the domain at night and the building doors would be locked until the morning. Anything to give the children a safe feeling again and to make sure that this pervert could not come back, ... even if that meant breaking the fire escape regulations.

Bedtime was a struggle nevertheless. They feared nightmares, the tears came back, ... and we had to sit on their beds and promise to stay there until they were sound asleep. The presence of the district leader with his big posture sure was helping to bring that safe feeling.

That scenario had to repeated each night although the days slowly went back to normal. Not entirely though. L, J and I both had a totally different attitude and approach...which was maybe good as the individual children dealt quite differently with the situation as well. But it made me feel very lonely.

J pretended the whole time nothing had happened. He hang out mostly with the boys of our group, playing soccer, making jokes, ...and certainly not talking about that night much at all.
L and I alternated focussing on the activities to distract ourselves, stretching the rules by letting some of the girls go relax alone or sit seperately without participating or we sat with them talking about our feelings and thoughts. A couple of more times the police came over to talk to Le. and even our stay in a cabin on top of the mountains had to be in one that could be reached by an arial tramway. The district leader spent a lot of time with us which I appreciated a lot as I felt so uncertain how to deal with this. I know he's been criticised over it by the other groups from Ghent, but we needed his support and experience. And most importantly: he was the man the girls trusted very much (more than their own male group leader J).

All in all we managed to have a more or less normal camp, but it never felt normal at all. I didn't spend any evening with the other leaders anymore, I never went to the bar anymore and I was in bed each evening after the district meeting around 22-23u if I attended and earlier if I did not attend it. It was my one and only camp where I came home well rested :p. At this moment I cannot name any other leader from the other groups from Ghent. I don't remember them anymore.

We didn't know yet at the camp that in Belgium that same week 2 girls had been liberated from the a monster pedofile's basement. We did not know that more corpses had been found in his garden. We did not know yet that Belgium was nationally in shock by the horrendous acts of Dutroux that became global news. We didn't know yet that since Dutroux, parents would feel more paranoia as ever. We didn't know yet that Belgium would be labelled worldwide a pedofile country (a reputation that has now been passed on to Austria due to Priklopil and Fritzl I suppose ) and that foreign school trips and camps to Belgium would get cancelled in a hurry. We did not know yet that J's fathers political carreer would directly get influenced by the Dutroux scandal aftermath. We did not know yet we'd come home to a country in hysteria over pedophilia .

Rather than coming home after an eventful camp to the peace and quiet of their homes and families, the children could see news bulletins all the time showing the horrors of this type of perverts and they'd read their own story in the newspapers. I fear that the "what if" question that had been haunting them already during the camp all the time, stayed alive a bit longer. But fortunately they could wonder " what if", fortunately no serious harm had happened.

I did hear afterwards that Le. had the Swiss investigators visit her once more in Belgium. And 5 years later I met one of the other girls who had become a leader in the same organisation Kazou CM in the mean time. I was so very very glad to see her again there taking up this volunteering role herself and enjoying herself.

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Wow, you are so right that this wasn't what I expected. I'm so sorry all of those girls had to go through that, and especially you and L., as young leaders.

There are many sick people in this world.

In the States, the parents would have been called right away and the camp probably would have been canceled, I think. We're very paranoid and very overprotective about things like this.

Nightmare, indeed!
Drun said…
Ugh. Griezelig.

Wij hebben ooit een soortgelijk iets gehad in een tentenkamp, maar het bleek later dat het een paar jongens van een nachtspel van een ander kamp waren, die hun weg kwijt waren.

Politie kon daar niet mee lachen :-p
Lilacspecs said…
Ugh, that's so vile and creepy. I have no doubt those poor girls were really upset.
anno said…
Shudder. What an unsettling and creepy experience! Did you ever lead any other groups of campers after that?
Goofball said…
@Jen: well I suppose nobody expects a pervert intruder on a camp.

We really talked with our group and they truly wanted to stay on the camp. It had happened and we could not change that anymore, and we all did believe that he could not come back. So they were very carefull in their phone calls to convince their parents that they were alright and that they could stay.

Cancelling the camp (with a few hundred kids of different districts there) has never been an option that was taken into consideration.

@Drun: waren die ook gewoon de tenten binnengekomen? Ik kan het geloven dat die politie daar niet mee kon lachen. Jammer genoeg was het bij ons geen grap of misverstand. Een pyama met afgesneden knopen is echt griezelig!

@lilacspecs: yes they were, but not all in the same degree. That was difficult to manage: some wanted to move on and play and not talk about it anymore....some needed time alone and comforting...some were very rational and said "well all in all we slept through it, so it's not that bad at all" whereas others had nightmares.

@anno: oh yes I did. I went twice more to Switserland (4 times in total) , but not to Fiesch anymore. And I did a camp with younger children in the south of Belgium and I assisted a week on a playground.

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