Campus posters promised "fun, sun, and surf," but 250 students from East Coast and Midwest college's who paid $20 apiece for a week-long seminar in Florida found themselves in an overcrowded, inland campground run by a branch of Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church.
Seven students, who said they did not want to be at the camp, have been removed by sheriff's deputies, and there are rumors that others are leaving on their own, said Sgt. John Nobles of the Alachua County sheriff's office.
The camp has accommodations for 175 people, Nobles said, and the overcrowding prompted health department officials to investigate reports that plumbing has backed up and that the facility was generally "dirty and dilapidated."
The health inspectors found that a sewer overflow had been corrected and five of six other violations were not serious, Nobles said.
The campground is owned by the YMCA and deputies said, YMCA officials are upset they weren't told that the Collegiate Association for the Research of Principles -- CARP, for short -- was a front group for Moon's church.
Officials learned that CARP was part of the Unification Church when the mother of one of the students escorted out of the camp reported to authorites that her daughter needed medical attention for epilepsy and was being brainwashed.
The woman, 19-year-old Debbie Block of Medfield, Mass., was taken from Camp McConnell early Saturday after deputies confronted CARP leaders. "They didn't want to let us in and they said the girl was asleep and that it would violate her rights to wake her," said sheriff's Sgt. John Jones, "but there was no physical confrontation."
CARP Eastern U.S. Director Michael Smith said, "That's nonsense," when told that a camp defector accused CARP of exerting psychological pressure on seminar participants and brainwashing them. The seminar was scheduled to end Wednesday.
"Their schedule is the same as an IBM workshop" Smith said.
There are no walls or fences around the campground.
A CARP spokesman said the piney woods site near the University of Florida was chosen because "we couldn't find a place on the beach."
The participants sleep in large cabins, segregated by sex, the spokesman said. They eat in a communal dining hall.
CARP's goals, the spokesman said, were "to revive patriotism, a belief in God, and promote new ethical standards . . . through critiques of Marxism and Lenism."
There were no indications that students are being held against their will. Nobles said, but one of them, Block, told deputies that she was instructed to hide when authorities entered the camp to find her.
After she was removed from the camp, Block was taken to the Tampa home of a family involved in Save Our Children, a group formed to counsel the parents of young people who have joined cults.
Block, enrolled at Northeastern University in Boston, told an interviewer she decided to come on the Florida trip after meeting and moving in with a group of Moonies -- as Rev. Moon's followers are called -- on Christmas Eve.
"I was told there would be singing and laughter and I would find the meaning of my whole life in Florida." she said.
Did she believe that?
"I wanted to. They said I was like a boat without a rudder. I needed direction."
Her mother, Ann Block, said she saw Debbie Block leave on the CARP bus.
"I thought, If I don't get her back now, I'll never see her again. Boom. Nineteen years for nothing."
Debbie Block said that while she was with the Moonies she was never left alone. A "sister" named JoAnn accompanied her everywhere, even to the bathroom.
"Most of the people (at the camp) . . . you look in their eyes and they're blank. They looked happy, but it looks like a forced happiness."
She said she became dubious of the Moonies' teachings when one of them told her they would make it possible for her to live without her epilepsy medicine.
"Without those pills, I could have a grand mal or have a heart attack and die," she said.
She said she was not physically forced to stay at the camp, but, "There was a lot of psychological stress put on you to stay, a lot of prayer, a lot of togetherness."
While deputies asked her if she wanted to leave, Block said, several Moonies surrounded them, praying so loudly she couldn't think.
"She was a confused girl," Nobles said. "She'd say she wanted to come with us, then she'd chance her mind, then she'd change it again.
"After three days with the Moonies love-bombing you, you feel so damn obligated to them," he said, "She was totally confused."
Nobles said the CARP seminar participants and leaders had not broken any Florida laws so deputies were staying away from the campsite.
"We'll do anything we can to help somebody leave if he wants to leave." Nobles said, "but I'm not sure how we'll ever find out."
He added, "I'm afraid a lot of those kids' parents will never see them again."