An Indiana man accused of forcing his grandsons to hike for miles in the Grand Canyon without food or water in brutal August heat went on trial Wednesday, with his 9-year-old grandson testifying that he experienced cramping, nausea, and hunger during the miles-long treks.
Prosecutors have alleged that 45-year-old Christopher Alan Carlson of Indianapolis pushed, choked and repeatedly kicked his three grandsons and deprived them of food and water during the hikes, when the temperature soared to 108 degrees.
“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,” National Park Service Special Agent Chris Smith said at the time.
According to court documents, the criminal complaint against Carlson said the boys told investigators that Carlson hit, pushed and choked them repeatedly and kicked them with his steel-toed boots, and also forced their fingers down their throats to make them vomit during trips into the Grand Canyon.
The boys told investigators that they were not allowed to eat breakfast the morning of Aug. 28 and were given only celery on the hike from the South Rim down to the Colorado River. They said Carlson denied them water as he drank it in front of them, and that they surreptitiously took drinks from the river once they reached it.
One brother described how he feared his older brother would fall to his death in the canyon because Carlson forced him to walk on the edge of the trail even though he was cramping and falling down.
Another brother said that when he fell, Carlson picked him up by the throat and threw him to the ground, and another said Carlson had slammed his face into a rock. Investigators said the boys were covered in cuts, bruises, and scars that backed up their stories.
The Daily Mail reports that a ranger with binoculars spotted the group on the Aug. 28 hike, when the temperature soared to 108 degrees and a man died on another trail from heat exposure. The ranger reported seeing Carlson shoving the oldest boy and whipping him with a rolled-up T-shirt.
Rangers fed the boys and gave them water after one showed symptoms of heat stroke and the other two had signs of heat exhaustion and dehydration.
They were placed in the care of state Child Protective Services just after the incident. Court records show they have recently been living with their grandmother in Indiana.
“Mr. Carlson can be described as a health nut and only allows the kids to eat health food,” he wrote, adding that Carlson gave the boys high-carb food and plenty of water the night before the Aug. 28 hike and provided them with food and water during the trek.
The boy’s mother, Tara Danaher, of Indianapolis, sobbed at a court hearing on Sept. 1 and said her children went on trips with Carlson over the summer, including to Central America and Jamaica. She said she talked with her children throughout the summer and that they never expressed any concerns.
Carlson has pleaded not guilty to six counts of felony child abuse and could face life in prison.