FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — An Indiana man forced his three young
grandsons to hike 18 miles in triple-digit heat at the Grand
Canyon and denied them food and water, authorities said.
Christopher Carlson, of Indianapolis, remained jailed Thursday
on six counts of child abuse. The boys, ages 12, 9 and 8, told
investigators that they had been hit, pushed, choked, pinched
and squeezed during trips on a popular trail at the canyon's
South Rim last month.
On the latest hike over the weekend down the Bright Angel Trail,
temperatures reached 108 degrees at Phantom Ranch along the
Colorado River. A ranger spotted the group with binoculars on
the trail and saw Carlson shoving the oldest boy and whipping
him with a rolled-up T-shirt, authorities said.
National Park Service Special Agent Chris Smith testified that
Carlson told authorities that the boys had been overweight and
that he thought the hike would get them into shape.
"He told me that he loved his grandchildren very much, but at
the same time there were tough people in the world and his
grandchildren needed to be tough as well," Smith said.
Authorities said Carlson tortured and beat the boys, and
instructed them to lie to park rangers about any injuries.
Rangers and passers-by noted the alleged abuse by Carlson,
according to court documents.
The boys said Carlson also forced their fingers down their
throats, making them vomit.
Rangers fed and hydrated the boys inside an ambulance and they
were placed in the care of child protective services. One boy
had symptoms of heat stroke, while the other two exhibited signs
of heat exhaustion and dehydration.
The Bright Angel Trail can be deceiving. It starts at the top of
the canyon at around 7,000 feet in elevation and drops to 2,400
feet by the river, and the temperature varies widely. The Park
Service advises hikers not to make the trip to the river and
back in one day. Warning signs are posted at the trailhead and
along the trail.
Carlson took the children on the latest hike on Aug. 28. A man
died the same day on another trail at the Grand Canyon due to
Defense attorney Luke Mulligan questioned the children's
statements, saying it seemed improbable that they could have
completed the hike without food and water. He also said the
rangers could have removed the children from the canyon had they
believed the children were at risk of serious injury or death.
"If the rangers didn't perceive it, are we going to put an extra
burden on my client to perceive it?" Mulligan said.
But prosecutors said a ranger was successful in preventing
Carlson from reaching the river on an earlier hike on Aug. 15,
cooling down the children and giving a heads-up to other
authorities in the park. Camille Bibles said Carlson was intent
on avoiding rangers during the second trip.
"We're looking at the defendant's actions here, not putting the
rangers on trial," she said.
A federal magistrate found probable cause for allegations of
child abuse and determined that Carlson, 45, was a flight risk
and a danger to children.
The boy's mother, Tara Danaher, of Indianapolis, sobbed at a
court hearing Thursday. She said her children went on trips with
their grandfather this summer, including to Central America and
Jamaica, where they have family friends. The highlight of the
latest trip that included the Grand Canyon was supposed to be
Disneyland, she said.
Danaher, 28, said she talked with her children throughout the
summer and that they never expressed any concerns.
"I don't want to say I can't believe it because anything is
possible in this world," she said during breaks in the hearing.
"I want to know what the hell happened."
August is the busiest month for search and rescue operations,
with heat being the leading contributing factor, according to
the Park Service. Of the 286 rescue operations last year, 75
percent of them occurred on the Bright Angel Trail.