What Happened to Daniel Yuen? 'The Lost Kids' Podcast Explores Missing Teen and 'Tough Love' Boarding Schools

Daniel Yeun disappeared in 2004.
Daniel Yeun disappeared in 2004.The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

Daniel Yeun ran away from the CEDU DHigh School in California. He hasn't been seen since.

Daniel Yeun was 16 when he was reported missing from the CEDU High School, a behavioral modification institution for troubled teens perched in the San Bernardino Mountains in California. His parents, who had received a whispered phone call from their son saying "This is a bad school," say officials told them Daniel was a runaway and his disappearance had been reported to local authorities. 

That was in 2004, and Daniel's family hasn't seen him since.

In a new podcast titled "The Lost Kids," Daniel's case is re-examined by journalist Josh Bloch, who also takes a deep dive into the "troubled teen" industry that uses boot camp methods to change behavior.

"One of the shocking things we discovered was that hundreds of kids had run away from the place," Bloch told Inside Edition Digital. "We talked to one woman who ran away eight times. She's still very much struggling."

The CEDU High School closed in 2005, plagued by financial difficulties.

It was founded in 1967 by adherents of the Synanon cult and its approach to drug rehabilitation that used non-medical and self-help methods. 

CEDU eventually operated several facilities in California and Idaho, fueled by celebrities who sent their kids there, and was featured in tabloid-style confrontational afternoon talk shows popular in the 1990s.

The acronym stood for the school's motto: "See Yourself As You Are and Do Something About It."

Seeing yourself included three-hour sessions held three times a week, in which students were encouraged to scream and yell a litany of perceived and petty infractions at their fellow students, Bloch said.

Teens were "attacked about what's wrong with them, and why they're fundamentally a bad person," he said. The youths accused each other in turn, so "you are constantly looking for fodder to attack them."

The result, was some "weird science fiction universe," Bloch said he was told by several former students he interviewed for the six-part podcast.

Students were given only limited schooling, with the majority of their time spent in the sessions and performing chores and manual labor such as digging out tree stumps.

The CEDU schools eventually faced several lawsuits and allegations of abuse, Bloch said, and have either closed or been sold to other entities. Its curriculum lives on in various incarnations, with the business of "tough love" rehabilitation for teens with behavioral or emotional issues taking the form of weeks-long nature retreats.

CEDU allowed parents to enroll their children without their consent, and their average stay was estimated at about two and a half years. Bloch said some former staff and students praised the program, while others said their time there had inflicted emotional scars they still carried.

Attendance was not cheap at the unaccredited and largely unregulated campuses.

"They're incredibly expensive, like Ivy League college tuition," Bloch said.

Wayne and Lisa Yeun were at their wits' end when they reluctantly decided to send Daniel away. He had been a loving and sweet child until high school. His grades started dropping, he fell into a deep depression and he started staying out until all hours, his parents told Bloch.

Nothing seemed to work, including psychiatrists and medical doctors. Daniel shut himself off in his basement bedroom and seemed to lose interest in everything except going out at night with his friends. He ditched class, then spiraled downward into not going to school at all.

His father tried to talk to him. The New Jersey family grew desperate, especially after Daniel told his father, "I feel so sad. I don't want to live anymore."

Daniel agreed to go to CEDU after he and his parents visited the isolated facility high in the mountains of Southern California. 

But he hadn't been there very long before he called home, whispering, "This is a bad school." He was upset, his parents said. He threatened to run away if they didn't come get him. Then the phone went dead.

The Yeuns said they later talked to school administrators who said Daniel was doing fine. The strict curriculum often didn't sit well at first, they said they were told. Give it time. He'll come around.

Ten days later, Daniel was gone. Distraught, they hired a private investigator. They talked to local law enforcement. They never saw Daniel again.

The Yeuns think Daniel is hiding somewhere, living in anonymity. Another private investigator they hired said Daniel may have been seen in a San Diego park last year.

"His parents very much still believe he's still alive and angry with them still," Bloch said. 

"All the forces that were at play, that made his parents decide to send him to this program, they felt so desperate," said Bloch. "This was a place of last resort."