70°F
weather icon Clear

Mother talks about Nevada school under fire for child abuse allegations

AMARGOSA VALLEY — Nicole Bayer remembers well the Sunday evening in May 2016 when she raced down State Line Road in her pickup truck to the private boarding school for at-risk teens and adolescents.

It had been weeks since anyone at Northwest Academy had given her an update on her 12-year-old son, and she’d had enough, the Pahrump mother recalled Saturday, two days after news broke that the school is now the subject of an ongoing child abuse investigation.

The Nye County Sheriff’s Office opened the investigation on Monday after a former student reported being “assaulted and slammed” on several occasions by teacher Caleb Hill, 29.

Hill was arrested and charged this week with child abuse, officials said. The investigation also revealed arsenic in the school’s water, resulting in skin rashes linked to the water conditions, officials have said.

The news of the investigation didn’t come as much of a shock to Bayer.

On that night in May 2016, when school officials finally released her son, Tristan Groom, his right eye was black and swollen shut, and he had a large rug-burn on the right side of his face, Bayer recounted in an interview Saturday with the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

An employee explained that the boy had gotten into an altercation with a staff member.

“He had an altercation with a staff member and you didn’t call me?” Bayer recalled yelling.

She helped her son into the truck, and the two never looked back — until Thursday evening, when details emerged about the investigation.

“I wasn’t too surprised,” Tristan, now a soft-spoken 15-year-old, said Saturday as he looked down at his hands. “It’s about time.”

Academy responds

On Saturday evening, Patti Chappuis, wife of Northwest Academy owner Marcel Chappuis, defended the academy in a brief phone interview.

“There have been a multitude of inaccuracies and falsities reported,” she said. “There have been no findings of abuse or neglect by Sheriff (Sharon) Wehrly or any of the licensing boards.”

On the school’s website, which had been taken down by Saturday morning, Marcel Chappuis was listed as a professional psychologist. The Nevada State Board of Psychological Examiners lists his license as active with no disciplinary record.

Patti Chappuis did not address the arsenic in the school’s water, but when asked about Hill’s charges, she said, “That doesn’t mean it’s true. He is accused.”

The Sheriff’s Office and Department of Family Services officials served a search warrant at the school Tuesday and interviewed all students and on-site staff members. In addition to reports of abuse by Hill, students also told detectives they had suffered injuries and broken bones at the school and were denied medical care. Most of the broken bones were toes.

“You’re going to speak to more families, students, staff — past and present — who will rally on our behalf,” Patti Chappuis said in response to allegations against the school and its staff.

She referred all other questions to their attorney, Richard Schonfeld, who, she said, would not be taking calls until Monday.

“Northwest Academy is doing business as usual,” she added.

The state Division of Child and Family Services made the call to allow the school to remain open, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

Student’s experience

Tristan, who has blond hair and a soft lisp when he speaks, said Saturday that he couldn’t believe the school was allowed to stay open after all that had surfaced in the past week.

He spent six months at Northwest Academy, and during that time he was allowed to call his mom just three times and saw his family twice, he said.

“I never knew if he was going to call. And they never called me to tell me what’s going on,” Bayer said, raising her voice. “I’m his mother, and they refused to give me any information.”

During her final visit before pulling Tristan out of the school, Bayer recalled, she noticed a bruise on her son’s face. She glanced at the employees present during the visit, but asked anyway: “Where did you get that bruise?”

“I don’t know. Probably during gym,” Tristan said, shrugging it off.

On Saturday, Tristan said he couldn’t remember a time that he ever felt safe enough to tell his mom what was happening at school, because his phone calls and visits were monitored. Two years later, he said he still has vivid memories of being slammed by staff members “for no reason.”

“Sometimes staff would even let other students fight each other,” he said, looking at his mom. “They wouldn’t stop it or anything. It was just fight, fight, fight. It was like their TV show.”

‘A lot of good people who work here’

At the school Saturday morning there were no signs that an investigation was underway.

From the school’s parking lot, students, who could not be seen behind a tall, white fence, could be heard talking and yelling to one another.

They were competing in a volleyball tournament, according to a shift supervisor, who identified himself only as Josh.

“I know what’s in the news is bad, but we do have a lot of good people who work here,” he said, adding that he has been working for the school for about 18 months.

From Highway 373, drivers passing through Amargosa Valley can spot the large, sandy-colored warehouse that sits on the school’s campus. It is not clear what the building is used for, but several people could be seen Saturday walking in and out of the building.

A set of stairs leading to the entrance appears to be the same staircase shown in footage released Friday evening by the Sheriff’s Office. In the video, taken at some point during the early stages of the investigation, two deputies assist an injured student wearing a large boot or cast on his foot down the stairs.

’Night and day’

Tristan’s older brother, 23-year-old Jade Gaastra, attended Northwest Academy from 2012 to 2013. The school was recommended to Bayer by Gaastra’s juvenile probation officer.

Gaastra was 17 when he completed the program, and during his time there had earned his GED. Today he has a full-time job as a supervisor with a cell tower company — a position he said he earned and is proud to hold.

So when Tristan began acting out, Bayer ultimately decided to send him to Northwest Academy, “because I thought the program did wonders for Jade,” she said Saturday.

“If I knew then what I know now …” she said. “Never again.”

Gaastra shook his head in disagreement and glanced at his brother.

He said he couldn’t recall any severe abuse when he was a student, but the school still had its problems. He criticized what he called favoritism by the staff and psychological evaluations that he alleged resulted in everyone being “doped up.”

He was prescribed Adderall for ADHD, although he said he isn’t sure he even suffers from the disorder.

Tristan was prescribed five different medications when he arrived at the school, his mother said. Bayer alleges that Tristan’s on-site doctors failed to disclose why his son needed those medications.

Tristan said his six months at the school were a haze, days blurring together until he finally refused to take the pills. He said he got in trouble, but he didn’t care. The drugs just made him feel worse.

By the time he had been taken out of the school, his mother recalled, he was withdrawn and mostly kept to himself.

“It took over a year for us to wean him off all the medications,” she said, adding that she took her son to another doctor for a second opinion, and that he no longer takes the medications once prescribed by the school.

Bayer could not recall which doctor prescribed Tristan with the medications, “because I never got to talk to him.” But she kept the pill bottles.

Bayer and her sons aren’t sure of what could have been a possible turning point for the school, because the difference between the teens’ experiences are “night and day,” Bayer said.

“I just know it’s about dang time they fall from what they’ve done,” she said.

Contact Rio Lacanlale at rlacanlale@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0381. Follow @riolacanlale on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Crime Videos
Bel Air Drive Officer Involved Shooting Presser - Video
LVMPD Assistant Sheriff Tim Kelly goes over the officer-involved shooting on Bel Air Drive.
Former Las Vegas police officer get 25 life sentences for sexually abusing child
Former Las Vegas Police officer Bret Theil was sentences to 25 consecutive life sentences at the Regional Justice Center Wednesday, May 15, 2019, for sexually abusing a child over a decade. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Man pushed off bus in Las Vegas - VIDEO
Las Vegas police arrested 25-year-old Cadesha Bishop on May 6, after she allegedly pushed Serge Fournier, 74, off of a parked bus near Fremont Street and 13th Street about 4:50 p.m. March 21.(Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
$1 million bail set for mother charged with drowning 2-year-old daughter
The 44-year-old mother who police say drowned her 2-year-old daughter in a bathtub in a northeast Las Vegas apartment on Saturday made her first court appearance on Tuesday, May 14th.
Officer arrested on suspicion of lewdness with a child appears in court
Matthew James Terry, a Las Vegas police officer arrested on suspicion of lewdness with a child, appears in court Monday morning, May 13, 2019. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Police seek hit-and-run driver
A motorcycle officer pulled over a Mercedes SUV, and after the officer came to a stop, it shifted into reverse, intentionally hitting the officer.
Thedrick Andres becomes Henderson Police Department acting chief
Henderson Police Department Acting Chief Thedrick Andres speaks about his goals in his new position at the Henderson Police headquarters, Monday, April 29, 2019. (Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
2 dead, 1 wounded after east valley neighborhood shooting
One man and one woman are dead and another man wounded after a shooting Thursday afternoon in an east valley neighborhood.
Bail denied for former police detective charged with murder
Bail was denied Tuesday for former Metropolitan Police Department detective, Pamela Rene Bordeaux who is accused of fatally shooting her daughter’s ex-husband during supervised visitation with his child.
Third suspect in death of California doctor appears in court
The third and final suspect in the killing of a California doctor, Jon Kennison, 27, appears in court Friday, April 19, 2019. Kennison, Kelsey Nichole Turner, a former model, and Diana Pena, face charges of murder and conspiracy to commit murder. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Richard Cleaves of Pahrump arrested in burglary on former Binion property
Updated press release regarding burglary on a former Binion property: Richard Cleaves, 56 of Pahrump, has been arrested on a warrant for burglary, conspiracy to commit grand larceny, and destruction of property. (Nye County Sheriff's Office)
Judge denies bail for suspect charged in the killing of California doctor
Diana Pena, one of three people charged in the killing of a California doctor, is being held without bail after her fingerprints were found on the car where Dr. Thomas Burchard's body was discovered.
Ex-NFL player and girlfriend held without bail in child’s death
Former professional football player Cierre Wood and his girlfriend, Amy Taylor, face charges of murder and child abuse in the death of Taylor's 5-year-old daughter. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
NHP identifies man who was shot by trooper on Mount Charleston
Nevada Highway Patrol updates the media on the April 2, 2019 officer involved shooting on Mount Charleston. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas court grants '90 Day Fiancé' defendant continuance
"90 Day Fiance" stars Colt Johnson and his mother Debra left the Las Vegas Justice Center Thursday, after the court granted Larissa dos Santos Lima a continuance in her misdemeanor case, in which she is accused of domestic violence against Colt. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Details released on in-custody death
Assistant Sheriff Charles Hank addresses media about details of an in-custody death at Clark County Detention Center on March 31. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Man hurt in shooting with Nevada troopers at Mount Charleston
A man was injured in a shooting involving Nevada Highway Patrol troopers Tuesday afternoon at Mount Charleston on state Route 157 near Echo Trail. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Officer wounds inmate during escape attempt
An officer fired on an inmate who stole a vehicle and tried to flee, ramming several cars and leading officers on a chase until he ran out of gas.
Man fatally shot during a 'beer skip'
A store clerk is being questioned after a man was fatally shot during a robbery at a gas station Friday. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Vegas88s
Las Vegas police give details on fatal shooting
Metro homicide Lt. Ray Spencer gives a briefing on a fatal shooting near downtown Las Vegas that occurred on March 27, 2019. (Katelyn Newberg/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas community pays tribute to boy killed by car
The community joined friends and family at Wilbur & Theresa Faiss Park, Wednesday evening, to remember the boy who was struck and killed by a car crossing South Fort Apache Road from Faiss Park, near West Maule Avenue, on Monday. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Person of Interest Found For Downtown Las Vegas Bar - Video
Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department is seeking help to find a person of interest in a potential homicide case at a bar in downtown Las Vegas.
Metro briefs media on OIS near downtown Las Vegas
Police address media about officer-involved shooting that started on Maryland and Vegas Valley, and concluded downtown, near the Golden Nugget.
Update on OIS at Vegas Valley and Maryland
The incident began at the Steinberg Diagnostic Medical parking lot and ended downtown.
Amy And Spencer Powell Recount Hit And Run
Amy Powell and her son Spencer recount the day Spencer was hit by a truck while riding his bike. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Jeremy Burch of Tonopah arrested in Amarillo, TX
Jeremy Burch of Tonopah was arrested in Amarillo, TX on a Nye County warrant for open murder, burglary, obtaining money under false pretense, use of credit card w/o owner consent, and destruction of evidence. (Nye County Sheriff's Office/Facebook)
Metro Presser For OIS 6 (Full)
Metro police address the officer involved shooting that took place on March 19, 2019.
Metro Presser For OIS 6
Metro police address the officer involved shooting that took place on March 19, 2019.
Domestic disturbance call ends in suicide
A man died by suicide after police tried negotiating with him outside of his ex-girlfriend’s home on March 13. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Vegas88s
20-year-old armed robbery suspect shot by Las Vegas police
A 20-year-old armed robbery suspect shot by a Las Vegas officer on Saturday night is also accused of burglarizing a Boys & Girls Club minutes before the shooting.
Metro briefing on OIS near downtown Las Vegas
Metropolitan Police Department Capt. Kelly McMahill briefs the media on a officer-involved shooting near Ninth Street and Bonanza Road on March 19, 2019. Mike Shoro/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Man robs restaurant with large kitchen knife
On March 16, 2019, at approximately 6:00 PM, an armed robbery occurred at a local restaurant located near East Charleston and Eastern. The suspect entered the business with a large knife, demanding money from the registers. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
Commercial Robbery On 3000 Block Of North Las Vegas Blvd - VIDEO
On February 19th, 2019, at approximately 10:23 am, a robbery occurred to a business located on the 3000 block of North Las Vegas Boulevard. The pictured suspect entered the business, approached the counter and pointed a firearm at the victim demanding money. The victim complied and the suspect fled with an undisclosed amount of money. No injuries were reported.
DEA Launches New Program To Combat Opioid Epidemic
The Drug Enforcement Administration is launching a new effort in Nevada to combat the opioid epidemic.
THE LATEST