Local camps address safety after counselor arrest
A Chattanooga man, serving as a church camp counselor, is behind bars in North Georgia, accused of sexual battery and child molestation.
Twenty-one-year-old Zachary Anderle was arrested last week after campers at Woodland Christian Camp in Temple, Georgia say he exposed himself and got into a bed naked with another child.
Anderle still sits behind bars in the Carroll County, Georgia jail.
Vineyard Chattanooga, the church where his father pastors, released a statement Monday saying in part, "All initial reports have indicated that the incident was an inexcusable attempt at unacceptable 'locker-room' type humor. (...) Regardless of whether the incident was an ill-conceived attempt at locker room humor or something else, it is clear that the incident was absolutely not consistent with church standards, and we are heartbroken for all those involved."
It can be a scary thing for parents to send their children off to camp. Parents we spoke with Monday say cases like this violate their trust.
"It is very unfortunate. It shines a bad light on all camps," says B.J. Davis. Executive Director of the YMCA Camp Ocoee
Davis' camp is in its 90th year of hosting kids for summer camp. It is not connected to the camp in Georgia.
"Camp is one of the most important social aspects a child can experience," says Davis.
Davis knows the parents of all 900 kids he has over the course of a summer are counting on him to keep their children safe.
"It is a nerve-wracking thing for moms to let go of their kids and let us have them for a week," he says.
Davis says on top of background checks, his counselors go through extensive training and have to abide by strict rules.
"Here we have a one to four ratio. One staff to every four kids. And so that helps a lot with that supervision. And we have policies and procedures that help with that. Staff are never alone with children."
"I want to be sure that they're safe. I want to be sure that they're comfortable," says parent Rachel West.
West has three children staying at Camp Ocoee for the first time. She says she made sure to do her research on the camp and its staff.
"All of my trust goes into...that my children are taking care of," she says.
Overall, Davis encourages parents to be proactive.
"I encourage parents to call the camp and ask those hard questions. Don't hold it inside. Ask them, those questions, and find out what their policies and procedures are," he says.
On top of child molestation and sexual battery, Anderle is also charged with cruelty to children and enticing a child for indecent purposes. He is being held without a bond. The Vineyard church also tells Channel 3 it has formed its own committee to full investigate what happened.
Here is the full statement released Monday from Vineyard Chattanooga:
"Because the allegations are against the pastor's son, the pastor has recused himself from the church investigation and decision-making regarding this matter. A separate committee has been established to investigate the matter further. All initial reports have indicated that the incident was an inexcusable attempt at unacceptable "locker-room" type humor. The committee is conducting interviews and is attempting to determine whether initial reports are accurate or inaccurate. Just as the committee avoids jumping to conclusions, the committee also cautions others against rushing to judgment about exactly what happened.
However, regardless of whether the incident was an ill-conceived attempt at locker room humor or something else, it is clear that the incident was absolutely not consistent with church standards, and we are heartbroken for all those involved. The church also wishes to offer its assistance to those families involved. In the event that any parent wishes to obtain counseling for their child as a result of this incident, the church is willing to make arrangements for independent counseling."