In 2011, Wesley McKinley, 16, was diligently practicing his piano and guitar skills before his audition at The Juilliard School. Marcus Freeman, 16, excelled at quarterback and dreamed of playing for Florida University while studying to be a sports physician. And classmate Brittany Palumbo, 17, was sending out college applications and maintaining her above-4.0 grade point average.
But all three North Point High School students died, shortly after each being hypnotized by their principal, George Kenney. And after years of fighting for justice, their families finally got bittersweet closure October 6 when the Sarasota County school district awarded them each $200,000.
This bizarre and tragic legal battle began when Kenney admitted he hypnotized McKinley the day before the teen committed suicide in April 2011. A follow-up investigation found that he had also hypnotized 75 other students and faculty — including Palumbo, who hung herself in a closet in early 2011, and Freeman, who was in a fatal car accident after self-hypnotizing (a technique Kenney taught him).
Their families sued to hold the school district accountable and ensure similar tragedies never occur again in the future, their attorney Damian Mallard told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
"It's something they will never get over. It's probably the worst loss that can happen to a parent is to lose a child, especially needlessly because you had someone who decided to perform medical services on kids without a license," Mallard told the paper. "He altered the underdeveloped brains of teenagers, and they all ended up dead because of it."
Before these teens took their lives, Kenney had been warned by his supervisors not to practice hypnosis because he didn't have a license — or written permission from parents. He resigned in June 2012 and was charged with two misdemeanors, including practicing therapeutic hypnosis without a license. The Florida Department of Education pushed him to give up his teaching license in 2013 and he cannot apply for another. Now, he operates a lakeside bed-and-breakfast in Waynesville, North Carolina.
The families cannot sue Kinney himself because school employees are legally considered an extension of the school board and only the district is considered liable. Mallard said the students' families are saddened by his lack of punishment: "The thing that is the most disappointing to them is he never apologized, never admitted wrongdoing and is now living comfortably in retirement in North Carolina with his pension."
"We are satisfied with the overall outcome," Michael and Patricia Palumbo said in a statement, "although this is a very hollow victory."
[via Sarasota Herald-Tribune