Like Fort Gordon brawl, S.C. youth cadets’ riot alarms parents

"Please come get your child," Mother urges parents to take children out of SC Youth Challenge due to violence
Published: Jan. 19, 2023 at 12:28 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. - Parents of cadets at the Youth ChalleNGe and Job ChalleNGe programs are outraged after a riot broke out at the Robert L. McCrady Training Center – a disturbance that echoed what happened at Fort Gordon in October.

The South Carolina riot on Tuesday evening sent 14 cadets and a staff member to hospital. The programs resumed Wednesday, and those injured were released from the hospital that night.

Of those 14, eight were from the Job ChalleNGe program and six of them were from the Youth ChalleNGe.

It’s a lot like what happened Oct. 13, when a brawl shut down the Georgia National Guard’s Youth ChalleNGe Academy at Fort Gordon.

While organizers initially blamed the youths for the Georgia brawl, they later admitted that in a rush to meet a new enrollment quota, officials didn’t properly screen recruits for behavioral and mental health problems. Then the small staff failed to control uncooperative and violent youths, an investigation found.

In South Carolina, one parent said she took her son out of the program Monday, and she’s urging other parents to do the same.

“If your child has been reaching out to you and asking you to come and get them, please come get your child,” Diane Bender Williams said.

She says, “There are dangerous things happening out here. Please come get your child and make sure they are safe.”

The South Military Department addressed the incident Wednesday afternoon – initially calling it a “riot.” They tell us what started as a verbal altercation between two cadets quickly escalated and became physical. According to them, while staff members were working to break up that fight another one broke out. Both incidents were under control within the hour and say they were both over personal matters. Diane Bender Williams’ son was in the Youth Challenge Program for just one week.

“My son was stating to me that they have locks in socks that there beating each other with and that the kids were making shanks. He was stating to me that it was a very unsafe environment for him to be in,” said Bender Williams.

According to the South Carolina Military Department, staff members checked for weapons in the bunks the weekend before and following the altercations on Tuesday. None were found. Williams says she got a call from her son on Monday begging her to pick him up after a riot broke out that day.

“He was telling me, ‘Hey, mom, come get me, come get me now. There are riots broke out with over a hundred kids.’ There was a recruiter on the phone that said it wasn’t a hundred; it was only 95,” she said.

The South Carolina Military Department addressed that incident, saying a parent picked her child up at his request and when they were leaving the facility another fight broke out inside. That’s three fights in just two days.

“So, when I pulled up to go inside of the gate, I noticed that there’s about seventy kids sitting on the bleachers, and I saw about 15 kids jump on this one boy. They beat this little boy to a bloody pulp,” Bender-Williams recalled.

She says she’s also heard talk of gangs within the program. She showed us this photo posted to the Youth ChalleNGe’s Facebook page. The picture was later taken down, but not before Bender-Williams took a screenshot.

“I did not send my child there for that,” Bender-Williams said. “I sent him there to get his GED, his South Carolina driver’s license or a trade – not this.”