Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Why Are Police Stifling the Investigation Into 3 Teens Who Vanished From a Controversial Residential Treatment Facility?

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In late 2021, Alisha Rosa, a newly-promoted San Bernardino County detective at the aptly-named Twin Peaks Station, came upon a startling fact while reviewing missing persons cases in her mountain communities 75 miles east of L.A.: Three teenagers vanished from the same location over an 11-year period.

In 1993, 1994, and 2004, John Inman, Blake Pursley, and Daniel Yuen disappeared from CEDU, a for-profit residential treatment facility in the remote California mountain town of Running Springs. Prior to its 2005 closure, CEDU existed for almost 40 years, over which it became one of the country’s most influential, cultic, and scandal-plagued private treatment facilities. 

“CEDU and its offspring programs were notorious for ritualistic abuse and complex emotional trauma which would take even a dedicated adult many years to unravel,” Jen Robison, a youth rights advocate, told LAMag. “Beyond loss of basic rights and autonomy, CEDU children were forced into physical labor, disturbing ceremonial ‘therapies’ requiring complete emotional breakdown, and sexualized group ‘cuddling’ among staff and minors. This was all administered by an intentionally unprofessional staff who were participating in the so-called treatment themselves.”

A full-page ad for CEDU that appeared in the Desert Sun newspaper.

A fresh look at CEDU—and the disappearances of John, Blake, and Daniel—led Detective Rosa to a 16,000-word exposé that I posted anonymously on Medium in 2018.

In the winter of 1999, I was shipped off from my suburban Chicago home to CEDU’s Running Springs compound to treat misdiagnosed mild depression. My parents only considered, and knew about, one residential treatment program. And according to their memory, they were reluctant to throw this high school freshman into it; I wasn’t that far gone in my adolescent at-risk-isms for, in their words, “a giant leap.” Still, they were curious about this ancient, venerated institution tucked away in a California forest. And then they were hoodwinked in full. 

Nostalgically appealing to Boomer parents, CEDU masterfully pulled off the image of a magical, mountain-perched community—a sort of touchy-feely theater camp for sensitive, creative children where hippie counselors at outside tables read aloud passages of Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

I’ll give them this: CEDU remained unabashedly frozen in another era. But to quote retired attorney Phil Elberg—who triumphantly fought the abusive teen treatment industry and also served as president of the International Cultic Studies Association—this shaggy costume drama was “a closed system…presided over by ignorant, amateurish, and sometimes sadistic true believers.”

An involuntary two-year term, many parents pulled their children from CEDU early; mine shaved off the final eight months. Still, for over a year, I was stripped of my rights—blocked from even freely accessing a phone. And day-to-day, I was decimated by the program’s complex array of punishments and its aimless, around-the-clock experiment in group confrontation, confession, screaming, humiliation, and cuddling. 

I arrived back home in 2000, a rattled public high school returnee forcing myself to forget the prior sixteen months. Opting to stay silent, I kept CEDU my secret for the next 15 years. 

David Safran as a fifteen-year-old CEDU resident. (Courtesy: D.Safran)

In 2015, the ten-year anniversary of CEDU’s closure in Running Springs, I realized I had become more curious than haunted. This prompted a grueling, years-long investigation into CEDU. I wanted to understand this institution more; to see beyond my own confinement. 

With a few language and marketing adjustments, a youth-obsessed furniture salesman named Mel Wasserman repackaged his oddly-named, locally reviled experimental drug rehab run by untrained ex-addicts into a national empire widely considered to be “the flagship enterprise of the ‘troubled teen boarding school’ industry,” to quote NPR Illinois. And yet, despite decades of law-flouting dominance, CEDU’s history had never been sufficiently exposed. 

Early into her research, Detective Rosa found my CEDU investigation. Impressed with its findings, I received an appreciative email requesting my assistance in John, Blake, and Daniel’s cases. 

CEDU’s missing teens generate a good deal of frothing media attention. Almost always, this infuriating coverage depicts John Inman, Blake Pursley, and Daniel Yuen as “students” enrolled at a “boarding school” for “troubled youths” or “special needs children ” or “mentally handicapped teens.” 

Let’s spend a moment making some corrections. 

First, while CEDU may have marketed itself as “the nation’s first emotional growth boarding school,” it was actually licensed by the state of California as a group home. We were residents, not “students.” Second, teenagers were largely troubled by CEDU but we otherwise arrived far more unlucky than disordered. 

At its disconcertingly confident core, CEDU always remained an unprofessional, anti-therapeutic drug rehab program. But a rabid, money-hungry need to get “asses in bed,” a demand reportedly uttered by CEDU’s founder, Mel Wasserman, and an unchallengeable belief that the program’s carefully guarded treatment was a cure-all eventually meant luring in other enrollees. 

In the words of CEDU’s former president, the focus moved from young addicts to “a softer kid.” 

Recruiting softies meant CEDU needed to catastrophize normal teen behavior. To support that quest, the program built a robust network ranging from business leaders and media titans to loyal educational consultants, incurious school districts, misguided (or corrupt) mental health professionals, and proselytizing, deep-pocketed parents of CEDU alumni, etc. As a result, by the 1990s, the good CEDU word had fanned out across the country. “The children who come out of CEDU are the future, are our future, are the country’s future,” a fawning parent shamelessly declares in a late 90s promotional video filmed a handful of years after two children disappeared from it. 

John Inman, Blake Pursley, and Daniel Yuen were among the program’s “softer” kids. Like me, Daniel was sent to CEDU for basic teen blues. Blake had a variety of physical and health impairments due to a horrific accident in toddlerhood. Blake’s mother enrolled him at “CEDU Middle School,” having been duped into believing the program offered individualized attention. (CEDU launched its “middle school,” an insidious cash-grab aimed at children as young as nine-years-old, a couple of years before Blake’s disappearance.) 

A local news article about Blake Pursley going missing. (The Sun)

John’s history is less known and his family has been elusive. It seems, though, that he had a visual impairment and, like Blake, a seizure disorder. Both boys reportedly disappeared without their medication, a common enough occurrence considering the program didn’t employ full-time (or qualified) nurses and med-drenched residents weren’t allowed easy access to their prescriptions. 

John’s exact CEDU sentence length remains unclear. But according to an old Deseret News piece, Blake endured the program “for less than a month.” Daniel’s stint was even shorter. He first stepped foot in Running Springs on January 26th, 2004 (almost exactly five years after my arrival) and was reported as a “runaway juvenile” 13 days later. 

This much is irrefutable: CEDU wasn’t equipped to handle children with food allergies let alone ones with depression or developmental disabilities. Attempting to flee the program’s “no-boundary, no-warning, no-escape adventures in 60s and 70s home-grown self-help psychodrama,” as another investigative CEDU survivor succinctly wrote, was a risky, regular occurrence. CEDU’s daunting (yet dated and occasionally cutesy) secret lingo even had a word for it: “split.”

The escape narrative for John, Blake, and Daniel has them vanishing after they split CEDU. While it’s entirely possible they left campus, I can’t ignore a troubling aspect: CEDU staff provided the circumstances surrounding these disappearances. Details we continue to regurgitate were originally reported by a program known for serial lying and aggressively weaseling out of any responsibility.

These kids have been identified as runaways since 1993, 1994, and 2004. But is this factual? 

Looking into John, Blake, and Daniel’s disappearances for most of my thirties, I’m knowledgeable enough to state exactly one point: A complacent—or worse—Twin Peaks Station severely bungled any chance to find all three boys. Naturally, an unassailable program—one, by the way, that maintained a “no snitching” stance—benefited from local law enforcement’s passive attitude. At every turn, CEDU controlled the narrative.

Blake’s mother, Zylpha, filed a wrongful death suit against CEDU, but eventually dropped the case. Daniel’s parents, Lisa and Wayne, succeeded in their legal action only to quietly settle with an insurance company several years after CEDU’s parent company, the Brown Schools, filed for bankruptcy and an eccentric self-help institution deposited in the San Bernardino Mountains abruptly ended its four-decade reign over Southern California. 

Daniel Yuen before CEDU. (Courtesy Yuen Family)

Among the 13 accusations against CEDU: the program knowingly misled law enforcement and “lied on the runaway incident and police report.” In a closed-door deposition, Robert Warrick, the officer assigned to Daniel’s case, supported the Yuens’ assertion. Now the captain of SBSD’s Morongo Basin Patrol Station, Warrick has repeatedly declined to speak publicly about Yuen’s case.

The problem here is that Twin Peaks Station officials repeatedly hindered their own investigations into CEDU. 

Reports connected to John, Blake, and Daniel’s disappearances—some of which I have obtained, others I’m familiar with—reveal a clear abdication of authority and leadership in the search for the missing boys. For example, it appears that CEDU officials actively fed information to responding officers without follow-up scrutiny. Also, in the time when all three were critically missing adolescents in 1993, 1994, and 2004, Blake Pursley was the only one to receive any sort of search and rescue operation. 

According to a legal document the Yuens shared with me, SBSD “refused” to search for their missing son in 2004. It took threats of submitting a misconduct complaint for law enforcement to finally check the area “weeks later.” 

Considering Daniel disappeared nearly 3,000 miles away from his parents, I asked Wayne Yuen whether he has proof his pressure campaign resulted in officers actually conducting an area check. “No proof at all,” he replied. 

Every minute matters in missing person cases. Nevertheless, after John and Daniel vanished from CEDU, the Twin Peaks Station didn’t compel the program to produce illegitimate but possibly relevant in-house documents about the boys that may have aided an investigation. According to Officer Warrick’s testimony, he was “very surprised” that CEDU refused to hand over its internal Daniel Yuen runaway report to the police. 

From my understanding, after his “surprise,” Officer Warrick didn’t issue a subpoena seeking this document. To explain his decision—and others—LAMag attempted to reach this senior SBSD official. A phone call was not returned.

In legal documents shared by the Yuens, Officer Warrick shoves the blame onto a twitchy program more concerned with self-preservation than a missing child. “CEDU failed to give the police important information concerning Daniel’s disappearance that would have changed the course of the investigation,” goes one bit. But this is just a convenient mix of misdirection and denialism. 

“We’re only as good as the info we’re provided” is a common police dodge. Yet Officer Warrick pointing the finger at a backwoods behavior modification facility falls apart for one simple reason: SBSD knew all about the hell that was going on inside CEDU. According to historical call logs, from the late 1990s until the mid-2000s, its dispatch center received nearly 1,000 calls for service—all involving dark doings at the program.  

In John, Blake, and Daniel’s cases, and countless other incidents beyond just fleeing, law enforcement officers were gazing straight at—and at times explicitly noting—suspicious circumstances and wrongdoing. So where was the grilling of CEDU staff? Why did the Sheriff’s Department allow CEDU to keep exerting control? 

“I found out CEDU loves to file complaints against the police who try to visit and investigate them,” Wayne Yuen told me, offering one possibility. “It became a deterrent to the police to spend much effort on any case related to CEDU.”

The program’s intimidation tactics with local law enforcement could go beyond just filing complaints. For example, a Sheriff’s Sergeant named Charles Wyatt, the rare mountain cop bold enough to seriously investigate sensitive crimes at CEDU, claimed that evidence of its wrongdoings “was constantly disappearing” from the program. CEDU ultimately sued Wyatt, arguing the nosy sergeant “was causing [residents] to be pulled or causing parents not to enroll their kids there.”

The Twin Peaks Station covers over 135 square miles, the majority of it within the San Bernardino National Forest.

Did Twin Peaks officers shirk their sworn duties in the first few days, and the subsequent months and years, of John, Blake, and Daniel’s disappearances simply because of legal threats from a Roy Cohn-esque group home?

This question may forever remain unanswered, but it’s clear that state agencies beyond SBSD tolerated and coddled CEDU’s self-policing. For example, California’s Department of Social Services (CDSS) noted recurring deficiencies and substantiated nonstop allegations at CEDU, issuing citations for the most serious types of violations a residential treatment facility could commit. For example: sexual, verbal, and physical abuse, rampant violations of children’s personal rights, inadequate staff background checks, and refusal to properly feed residents as punishment—”a usual practice for any children who do not comply with the facility program,” according to a CDSS evaluation report. Yet the agency never suspended or revoked CEDU’s license. Instead, CDSS’s Community Care Licensing Division allowed an unsinkable program to record a throwaway plan of correction and then recklessly continue on with the same violations. 

This wasn’t a “catch me if you can” taunt. Year after year, CEDU was caught but instructed to cuff itself. 

For decades, the Twin Peaks Station had a tangled relationship with CEDU, brushing off child abuse allegations inside the program at an alarming rate. It was widely understood that local law enforcement’s primary task was to haul occasional runaways back to the tripped-out treatment center they were struggling to escape from. Those who resisted were taken into custody and then transported to a juvenile detention center. Sheriff’s deputies were also called in to handle suicidal residents, driving these children down the mountain for a 72-hour psychiatric hold in county facilities. In other words, the Twin Peaks Station arguably functioned as an extension of CEDU’s escort services. 

An SBSD detective with a fresh perspective was determined to correct the Twin Peaks Station’s dark and strikingly un-investigative history with CEDU, starting with self-assigning the program’s missing persons cases.

Early into my time assisting a trusting, faraway criminal investigator—now a constant and surprisingly transparent presence in texts, calls, and emails—Rosa joked about deputizing me. The unglamorous truth, though, is that my consultation was unpaid and informal. Rosa and I routinely shared and discussed sensitive materials yet I was never asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement or complete any paperwork. 

Reopening these botched cases meant that Detective Rosa essentially had to start three investigations over. This entailed stitching together likely scenarios amid various discrepancies, negotiating access to the old CEDU property (current owners tend to refuse this), tracking down individuals named in original reports, potentially setting up polygraphs, and much more. To the uninitiated, investigating CEDU might appear daunting. But a small, closed-off community whose adults are largely hostile to outsiders means that these are fairly self-contained cases—grisly chamber pieces set against a San Bernardino National Forest backdrop.

Still, Rosa needed more on-the-ground support. In January, she received approval for assistance from Team Adam, a “free resource provided by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children to law enforcement,” as its literature explains. In the recent past, NCMEC’s misleading and rather tacky media coverage of Daniel Yuen’s disappearance caused more than a few facepalms. But Rosa was elated to have Team Adam’s help. These consultants would be providing, to quote an NCMEC brochure again, “investigative advice, search, analysis, technical support, equipment, and other resources.” 

At the beginning of this year, one motivated SoCal detective single-handedly assembled the most wide-ranging and unmanipulable crew to investigate CEDU since the 1960s. But before Team Adam could even find lodging, Rosa was summoned to a meeting with her superiors where, for unclear reasons, she was told SBSD’s Homicide Detail will be taking over John, Blake, and Daniel’s cases. I’d likely stay on assisting, I was assured, but Rosa was now pushed out of leading her own investigation into the missing boys. 

As Rosa’s loyal CEDU informant, her mysterious demotion from these cases was crushing. 

A few weeks after Homicide’s cold case team scooped up three cases that lack any evidence of a homicide, I had a brief introductory call with the new lead detective, Eric Ogaz. He appeared unfamiliar with me and unaware of the blizzards of CEDU documents forwarded on to him by Rosa. All I noted from a jarring call was his commenting on CEDU’s preposterously high tuition and a question about whether Paris Hilton once attended the program. 

Unhelpful and irrelevant aspects of CEDU were now cloyingly brought up by a San Bernardino cop. We had officially returned to the Sheriff’s Department of my youth. 

Throughout the winter, Rosa continued sniffing around the CEDU cases but was reduced to a shackled sleuth. Some of the investigation’s most promising developments, including rare interviews and alarming revelations, occurred during this sidelined period. But stuck in a support role, any leads had to be funneled to the cold case team for its big boy follow-up. By all accounts, this elite unit remained too busy to work the splashy cases they had just commandeered. 

Why did an outside team take Rosa’s CEDU cases only to sit on them? I put that question to multiple SBSD officers including the new lead detective. No one could provide an answer. What was unmistakable, however, was that I had just witnessed a clean dismantling of Rosa’s investigation—right down to inexplicably halting cooperation with Team Adam. 

Rosa wasn’t the only one frozen out. All her consultants had been, too. 

Aerial Image of the CEDU facility in Running Springs, California

In the 1990s and mid-2000s, SBSD was in no great hurry to search for three endangered missing teens. That same lack of urgency was happening again.  

Then, in the spring, some positive chatter arrived: an overworked Homicide team might return the CEDU cases back to Rosa. As I understand it, an official request was made but met with silence. So, I set out to help move this transfer along by revisiting an earlier idea: an exclusive interview. 

Back in January, scrambling to save Rosa from losing her investigation entirely, I proposed an article detailing our unlikely alliance and, more important, offering clearer details involving all three disappearances. Really, it was time for law enforcement to challenge the tabloidy bits swirling around these cases: that John Inman and Blake Pursley were victims of a serial killer and intermittent Daniel Yuen “sightings” reported in a San Diego Park.

Rosa fully supported an interview in January. But a public information officer named Mara Rodriguez speaking as the messenger for an unnamed station commander declined it. 

Months later, with the cold case team now acknowledging an unworked investigation, perhaps Rosa would be free to offer less sensationalized insight into the decades-old disappearance of the three boys. For this to occur, we needed approval from the unit that had absorbed and unprioritized these cases. I emailed Eric Ogaz, the new lead detective, assuming he would quash thunder-stealing media attention. Instead, shockingly, he supported Rosa speaking publicly. More than that, he appeared hopeful that an interview might produce leads. (I held back from mentioning that leads were produced decades ago.)  

One day after Detective Ogaz jolted everything back to life with his endorsement, the Twin Peaks Station captain, Don Lupear, fiercely intervened to block Rosa from speaking. As a bonus, Lupear admonished Rosa for requesting her CEDU cases back. 

Disturbed by Lupear’s decision, I tried speaking with him myself. To fully grasp our one discussion, below are several texts [lightly edited] sent to Rosa immediately after calling Lupear. 

“Just had a massively unpleasant brief call with your captain. You cannot say a word about CEDU to media ever. He also seemed upset that we even communicate.”

“I was desperately trying to articulate that even a small interview about basic CEDU stuff could help this piece add balance. But he refused to listen. He just cut me off with an adamant ‘no.’”

“Your captain was absurdly loud about you never getting these CEDU cases back ever. And that’s what I find most bizarre of all. I asked him outright but he wouldn’t give any justification other than it’s now at Homicide. But that’s not an answer, that’s an excuse to not answer. And then he got close to yelly. Which is also an excuse to not answer.”

“His ragin’ captain tactic doesn’t even work in TV showsit only backfires. It also looks like something is being concealed.”

At this point, I was aware Lupear was once part of SBSD’s Homicide Detail. Beyond that, though, I knew blessedly little about Rosa’s captain prior to our call. But Lupear’s unbudgeable stance, eerily reminiscent of staunch CEDU hardliners, made me look into the newish captain of the Twin Peaks Station.

What I found was wild, wild CEDU country. 

Capt. Don Lupear, Twin Peaks Station

It seems Captain Lupear is a San Bernardino Mountains native and graduate of Rim of the World High—the region’s lone public high school deeply entwined with CEDU. It’s also suspected, according to old news articles, that Lupear’s father was once “the resident deputy at Running Springs” and, later, a sheriff’s deputy. However, as of this writing, LAMag is unable to independently verify this as fact. 

Despite our different decades and perspectives, CEDU-world is as much Captain Lupear’s adolescence as it is mine. 

While I wasn’t able to unearth a direct link between Lupear and his CEDU neighbors, worrying small-world-isms abound. Concerned about a possible conflict of interest, I asked two public information officers to help clarify Lupear’s CEDU-adjacent upbringing: As a townie, did he have any contact with the Sons of Therapy Anarchy? Was Lupear’s father a local law enforcer? And, if so, did he respond to CEDU calls?

After consulting with San Bernardino County counsel, the Sheriff’s Department declined to respond to LAMag. 

It’s bleakly amusing that what pushed CEDU into Running Springs and the gentler arms of the Twin Peaks Station’s jurisdiction was law enforcement itself.

In 1968, according to the San Bernardino Sun, “[u]niformed Riverside County sheriff’s deputies” and “a deputy district attorney” raided CEDU’s ranch compound in Reche Canyon. Law enforcement officials were equipped with the “department’s portable crime laboratory.” It remains unclear what was retrieved but, shortly after, CEDU was forced out of Riverside County.

In theory, the raid should have brought CEDU down. Had that occurred, CEDU would have been just  another short-lived California cult lost amid the swingin’, screamin’ Human Potential Movement. Instead, this flailing “artificial society” relocated to a dilapidated Running Springs mansion lodge once owned by Walter Huston. 

Quite literally, CEDU fled to the mountains.

Raw footage shot while driving in and out of CEDU’s Running Springs facility; filmed two weeks prior to Blake Pursely’s disappearance. (Courtesy: D. Safran)

Early reports indicate that the majority of Running Springs mountain people resisted a controversial rehab commune embroiled in allegations of brainwashing and orgies infiltrating the San Bernardino National Forest. Speaking to the local paper, one resident “compar[ed] the relocation to putting a prison in a resort area.” CEDU responded by spinning its prison-like facility into a resort.

Perhaps understandably, the tameable mountain communities’ coexistence with CEDU smoothed once the program became a major economic hub. Expanding outside of California in the 1980s and 1990s, CEDU’s Idaho programs were a leading source of income for that rural economy, too. According to the Bonners Ferry Herald, “CEDU was the largest private employer in Boundary County.” 

CEDU flourishing in the San Bernardino Mountains meant that Don Lupear had essentially been raised in a company town. And now he was commanding his detective not to investigate the company or to speak about it publicly

An outraged Lupear insisted that these CEDU cases were no longer affiliated with his station. As such, he was powerless to ungag Rosa. PIO Mara Rodriguez had a different take: “[Lupear] has the final decision on whether or not we participate.” 

Confused about SBSD’s rickety chain of command, I requested a dialogue with whoever runs Homicide’s cold case team. Rodriguez instead liaisoned on my behalf, informing me that the “Cold Case Team Sergeant” declined cooperation.

Two SBSD detectives supported a public interview about these CEDU cases. Why would a captain and a sergeant be in such a vehement disagreement with their subordinates? 

Rodriguez didn’t respond. She also refused to answer when LAMag asked to speak directly with the sergeant leading the cold case team. 

Why was Detective Rosa blocked from investigating cases she revived? Why was Homicide ignoring them? Why was Team Adam nixed? Who made that decision? 

Rodriguez failed to provide meaningful, logical answers to every single query. Eventually, she moved this over to Jeff Allison, a lieutenant overseeing the Public Affairs Division. His immutability was similarly apparent.

“I have spent weeks trying to find workarounds and compromises,” I wrote to this high-ranking officer tasked with sharing information. “Instead of a dialogue, though, I’ve been met with stonewalling, stubborn resistance, and increasing aggressiveness…[t]his can easily be avoided with some form of cooperation. Can we find a solution that works for everyone?” 

SBSD instead ramped up its resistance. In early June, Lieutenant Allison unexpectedly called me with Mara Rodriguez (and perhaps others) on the line but silent throughout a tense, unbalanced exchange. Like everyone else, Allison—who runs a division boasting close ties to “media sources… to facilitate the flow of information”—wouldn’t provide basic answers to any question. But he did add a noticeable twist. Again, this is best told via texts I sent to Detective Rosa. 

“Allison really appeared to mischaracterize your role. He essentially suggested you were a regional detective with no time to work these cases and therefore gave them to Homicide after doing some preliminary work. That was the spin.” 

“They really tossed you to the dogs in this call. I pushed back, of course. But it was pointless. It was a speaker call to show their muscle and not much more.” 

“Your department is really putting you in a shitty position. I could see them testing their defensive PR narrative with me today about your ‘reduced involvement’ in all this.” 

A division head portraying Detective Rosa as an ineffectual yokel in front of someone brought in to assist her investigation was an especially audacious and disturbing move.

After my call with Allison, I sent him quotes from a Department of Justice manual recommending law enforcement agencies and members of the media work together on difficult cold case investigations. If SBSD’s CEDU cases warrant cooperation with news media, I asked him, ‘why is the department blocking detectives from speaking publicly?’

“[O]ur response has not changed,” the lieutenant replied.

Allison and Rodriguez were then pressed to clarify publicly available information or confirm key details obtained from my own scrappy DIY investigation or helping that of Detective Rosa. For example, I repeatedly asked about the date and time Twin Peaks officials received a call about Blake Pursley fleeing CEDU and the date and time responding officers arrived on campus. 

Multiple reports suggest that Blake was last seen on the night of June 26, 1994. Sabro Foster, a former counselor working at CEDU’s “middle school” during Blake’s disappearance, appeared to confirm this. As told to me, Blake split before bedtime while on a short trudge from the main building to the boys’ dorms. 

“Blake didn’t make it to the dorms and another kid told us that he was running away,” Foster recalled. “For the middle schoolers, someone was always there—so we couldn’t leave them totally unattended for any amount of time. And the sheriff was called and that was pretty much it. There were procedures that we followed when kids ran, and we followed them. Blake never turned up again.” 

An easily retrievable teenager with a leg length discrepancy and other physical disabilities limping through CEDU’s dark, hilly ground—alongside other kids and presumably monitored by an adult or two—somehow “vanished into the night,” to quote a San Bernardino Sun story about Blake’s disappearance.  

Foster suggested another counselor in a more supervisory role called the Sheriff’s Department not long after Blake allegedly fled campus on June 26th. However, according to SBSD call logs, the station was alerted to Blake’s disappearance on June 27th at 11:28 a.m. Deputies took a report at 12:08 p.m. 

SBSD officially puts Blake’s search and rescue mission at “12:08”—the exact moment deputies were jotting down the incident report. A 1994 Daily Press piece offers a similarly dubious line: “a county Search and Rescue team was called out immediately after [Blake’s] disappearance.” 

Contradicting all this, a source familiar with Blake’s file told me that his search and rescue was actually conducted around 3 pm—several hours after the Twin Peaks Station responded to a call about a “runaway juvenile” and almost an entire day after Blake allegedly disappeared. 

So which version is accurate? Were law enforcement officers notified not long after Blake supposedly fled the night of June 26? Or was it close to noon the following day? And did a well-resourced agency serving “America’s largest county” delay pulling together a search party for a missing CEDU resident with developmental disabilities? 

SBSD’s Public Affairs Division did not return calls placed by LAMag and Lieutenant Allison and PIO Rodriguez flatly dismissed answering questions about Blake. “These are active investigations,” Rodriguez wrote, “and we will not be commenting on any aspect of these cases.” 

These two officers also refused to confirm another deeply worrying detail: that a search and rescue operation didn’t occur for John Inman, despite reportedly running from CEDU without his seizure medication. Again the same response was sent: “This is an active investigation and we will not be commenting on any aspect of the case.”  

“[T]here is absolutely nothing to indicate the CEDU investigation is active anymore,” I responded. I then reminded Allison and Rodriguez that SBSD had previously released CEDU search and rescue numbers. “Considering your own department has determined S&R information is publicly disclosable in these cases,” I explained, “you shouldn’t deny a response regarding John Inman.” 

Allison and Rodriguez remained defiant: “Your continued, duplicate requests for this information has been responded to in previous emails and remains unchanged.” 

SBSD refusing to answer any CEDU question because of an open case status is an immensely troubling excuse. It’s also not a smart one: In 2019, a public information officer was free to speak to ABC News about Daniel Yuen, twice mentioning his “open case.”

I asked Jeff Allison and Mara Rodriguez why Sheriff’s Department representatives declined or ignored months of requests to answer CEDU questions posed by LAMag but were free to comment with ABC News. Allison and Rodriguez did not respond. 

Refusing to be stymied, I requested information via the glitchy, vulnerable San Bernardino County Public Records Portal. The Sheriff’s Department then brazenly delayed a response. Indefinite extensions—and failing to acknowledge a reason for them—is in violation of the San Bernardino County Sunshine Ordinance and California Public Records Act. So, calls were made to the City Attorney’s Office, the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office, the Attorney General’s Office, and the San Bernardino Justice Center while simultaneously firing off daily messages on NextRequest reminding SBSD of its non-compliance.

Around the time these flagrant FOIA violations looked to be headed toward legal action, SBSD released basic information culled from John, Blake, and Daniel’s reports. Toward the end of these long-awaited fragments, SBSD noted what I already understood about John’s disappearance: “No search and rescue conducted.” 

SBSD released three sentences from John’s file. According to them, John was “[r]eported missing 01/16/1993 at 10:43.” An explanation of why law enforcement decided against combing the wintry area for a missing teenager with a life-threatening medical condition wasn’t provided. And any consequential details from officers’ error-filled reports were denied. 

Law enforcement’s message was clear: outside scrutiny of its work will not be tolerated. Incidentally, that was CEDU’s stance, too.

John-Christopher Inman, age progression to 33. (Courtesy: Charley Project)

The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department continues to drag barricade tape around my old group home. But beyond snippets of reports, I was allowed another brief glimpse into a crime scene.

In July, SBSD first denied, then begrudgingly released, a partial call history for CEDU covering 1997-2005. In that eight-year window, the Twin Peaks Station recorded 926 calls for service. With CEDU barring kids from phones, these callers were likely all specific staff.

CEDU’s sprawling grotesquery is abundantly clear in the cop-jargoned data. For example, 15 reports scattered about the years are for sex crimes against children. Unsurprisingly, though, splitting from CEDU was the most commonly reported incident. In eight years’ time, the department logged 341 reports of runaways, 67 AWOLs, four missing juveniles, and three missing persons. These are all reports about the same incident—splitting—and should be counted together. 

A total of 415 juvenile runaway reports—the overwhelming majority regarding out-of-state kids—is a shocking number on its own. But it’s even more distressing for two reasons: First, CEDU always remained a thinly-populated program; it’s not a stretch to suggest that the number of residents between 1997 and 2005 was only slightly larger than the number of runaway reports filed. Second, CEDU habitually avoided alerting missing kids to local law enforcement. Instead, the program had its own dangerous yet largely successful policy for retrieving runaways.

A 2003 facility report written by a state licensing evaluator mentions the program’s two main retrieval methods as described by CEDU’s Clinical Director. One is basic: “Staff drives around the community for the runaways.” The second option is more convoluted. After notifying parents about “client AWOLs,” senior CEDU staff “ask if they want to hire a private detective.” 

Overlooking a massive conflict of interest, frantic parents often hired private detectives recommended by a program their children just vanished from—an additional fee on top of tuition costs.  Though these local private investigators billed parents directly, they weren’t exactly independent professionals getting tossed gig work. They were part of the CEDU machine, even appearing in personnel records

Simply put, CEDU’s endless runaway issue was another source of revenue for the mountain community.

The harrowing six-page document released by the Sheriff’s Department doesn’t include anything about CEDU’s private detectives or reveal whether SBSD call-takers listed ample incidents as a priority. But clearly, they didn’t. Out of the 415 reports of runaway juveniles between 1997 and 2005, there were only 10 “attempts to locate” conducted and four search and rescue missions.

(In 2004, the year Daniel Yuen went missing, the Twin Peaks Station reported 33 CEDU runaways and AWOLs but not a single search and rescue or area check.) 

The call history released to me only spans a quarter of CEDU’s existence. Where’s the rest of the grotesquery? Officers Allison and Rodriguez repeatedly ignored numerous messages regarding this information. A separate request via the San Bernardino County Public Records Portal also went unanswered. Had anyone replied, they likely would have repeated what another public information officer told my colleague on a podcast series: The Sheriff’s Department lacks CEDU records earlier than 1997 due to a systems switch. 

In other words, CEDU’s missing persons reports are missing. 

Does the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department store its records on an old iPhone? How do three decades’ worth of program documents vanish in a software upgrade?

The answer is they probably don’t. Contrary to a PIO’s admission, I became familiar with some galling CEDU records that date prior to 1997 while assisting Detective Rosa. And the department inadvertently acknowledged this when it offered morsels from John and Blake’s 1993 and 1994 files.

A discovery that older CEDU records not only exist but are locatable raises questions as to why SBSD won’t root around its vaults for a more accurate count of them. 

During John Inman, Blake Pursley, and Daniel Yuen’s brief time in San Bernardino County, and well before it, the Sheriff’s Department knew that CEDU wasn’t just some pricey “boarding school” full of adolescent outbursts. “We did tie up a lot of man hours out there,” a Twin Peaks corporal partially conceded in a 2005 Mountain News piece. Less ambiguously, in 2009, the San Bernardino Sun noted that “Sheriff’s officials say they were called to [CEDU] about six times a week for runaways and accusations of criminal conduct.”

These public comments from SBSD officers are safe to reveal with the program closed. But what actually occurred—or didn’t—after sheriff’s officials responded to CEDU calls is the question SBSD now refuses to answer. 

The cold reality is that, had the Twin Peaks Station not treated CEDU like, say, the potentate of the San Bernardino Mountains, John, Blake, and Daniel likely would have been found in 1993, 1994, and 2004. (They may not have been found alive, mind you.) Furthermore, had Detective Rosa not been blocked from working her CEDU investigation, at least one of those cases might have been solved by now. And had Captain Lupear not placed Rosa under an unwarranted gag order, her honest observations may have provided a bit of solace for the large community of adult survivors who feel they were mistreated by both CEDU and SBSD’s Twin Peaks Station. 

Moving the investigation out of Detective Rosa’s hands and into Homicide’s filing cabinets now allows SBSD to assert sweeping exemptions over anything related to CEDU. This only helps to erase the program’s crimes. 

I will, of course, keep loudly confronting a self-satisfied law enforcement agency I just watched impede an investigation into three missing teenagers, blatantly conceal disclosable records, and unjustifiably stifle and undercut a detective.

But this can no longer be an outpouring of one.


David Safran (Photo: Robin Subar)

David Safran is a Chicago-based singer, songwriter, musician, producer, and freelance writer. Safran’s breakthrough CEDU investigations, written under the pseudonym “Medium Anonymous,” have been hailed by journalists, youth rights advocates, and survivors of institutional child abuse. In 2020, Safran pseudonymously produced NBCUniversal’s award-winning CEDU podcast series, “The Lost Kids.” A recent video revealing his identity received over half a million views. 

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