The families of three Florida students who died after being hypnotized by their then-principal will each receive $200,000 in a settlement with the school district.
The payout comes four years after former North Port High School Principal George Kenney hypnotized students Wesley McKinley, 16, Marcus Freeman, 16, and Brittany Palumbo, 17.
Though no explicit link tied the students’ deaths to Kenney’s hypnosis, the former principal admitted that he had hypnotized McKinley a day before the teenager killed himself in April 2011, the Herald-Tribune reported. Palumbo also took his life after being hypnotized.
Freeman died in a 2011 car accident after he hypnotized himself, a technique Kenney had taught him in order to help the quarterback concentrate and not worry about pain during games, according to court documents.
The 16-year-old football player was killed when he veered off a highway as he drove home from a painful dentist visit, the Herald-Tribune wrote. His girlfriend, who was also in the car and survived, said that Freeman got a strange look on his face before he went off the road, the paper reported.
An investigation found that Kenney had hypnotized as many as 75 students, staff members and others from 2006 until McKinley’s death. One student athlete recalled being hypnotized as many as 40 times to improve his concentration, the Herald-Tribune wrote.
Kenney was placed on administrative leave from North Port High School in 2011 and he resigned in 2012. He served one year of probation after pleading no contest to unlawful practice and was prohibited from practicing hypnosis without a license at the time.
The Sarasota County School District’s Board unanimously approved the settlement with a 4-0 vote on Tuesday, which will pay out a total of $600,000 to the three students’ families. The settlement was approved a week before the parents’ civil case against the district would have gone to trial.
“It’s something they will never get over,” Damian Mallard, an attorney representing the three students’ families, told the Herald-Tribune. “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. He altered the underdeveloped brains of teenagers, and they all ended up dead because of it.”
Kenney gave up his teaching license in 2013 under pressure from the Florida Department of Education and cannot reapply for another, the Herald-Tribune noted. He now apparently operates a bed-and-breakfast in North Carolina.
“The thing that is the most disappointing to them is that he never apologized, never admitted wrongdoing and is now living comfortably in retirement in North Carolina with his pension,” Mallard reportedly said.