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Lawsuits settled for $600,000 for families of three teens who died after being hypnotized by school principal

Principal George Kenney was not a licensed hypnotherapist.

He had been warned against hypnotizing students.

But he hypnotized dozens of high school students—three of whom died within days of hypnosis.

The strange, sad story of three teens that died after hypnosis

  • Wesley McKinley, 17: He was a talented musician with a dream of attending Julliard. In a deposition, a friend recounted McKinley getting on the school bus after hypnosis sessions: he’d have trouble remembering his own name. He hanged himself after being hypnotized.
  • Marcus Freeman, 16: The quarterback for the football team, Freeman was hypnotized by Principal to help improve his game focus. Kenney also taught the young man self-hypnosis. Freeman died from injuries sustained in a car crash: based on the testimony of his passenger, he had tried to hypnotize himself after a painful dental procedure.
  • Brittany Palumbo, 17: Kenney diagnosed her with test anxiety after a disappointing SAT result, and told her hypnosis could help improve her scores. Her scores remained the same, and weeks later her parents found her hanging in her bedroom closet.

Before Principal Kenney hypnotized any of the deceased students, he had been warned to stop practicing hypnosis at North Port High School.

New York magazine reports that George Kenney studied hypnosis at the Omni Hypnosis Training Center … but he was not licensed or certified.

The school district’s high school director had ordered Principal Kenney at least three times stop practicing hypnosis at school unless it was for psychology class, and he had secured permission from students and parents.

He defied those orders.

He later lied when questioned by a school administrator about his use of hypnosis, according to the lengthy investigation. The full investigation report is available from Herald Tribune.

A school district lawsuit and settlement

After a dangerous table saw in an Oregon high school shop class left Josh with 3 severed fingers, he filed a lawsuit against the school district for negligence.

Schools must provide a safe environment for students.

A school has to take reasonable precautions to prevent harm by other students, teachers, or people on the school grounds.

Negligence: Conduct that falls below the standards of behavior established by law for the protection of others against unreasonable risk of harm. A person has acted negligently if he or she has departed from the conduct expected of a reasonably prudent person acting under similar circumstances.

In short, was the school negligent?

Did the school do something wrong—or didn’t do something that should have been done— that led to a child’s injury or death?

In this case, Principal Kenney was acting as a representative of the school when he performed hypnosis on students.

Florida attorney Damien Mallard represented the plaintiffs—the families of the teenagers—in a wrongful death lawsuit against the school district.

He said the parents did not sue for money but to hold the school district accountable and to ensure something similar does not happen again.

“Kenney altered the underdeveloped brains of teenagers, and they all ended up dead because of it.”

The school board for the district in Sarasota, Florida, agreed to settle the lawsuits instead of proceeding to a civil jury trial.

The lawsuits were settled for $200,000 each. That is the maximum amount any Florida government agency—like a school district—can pay without special approval from the state legislature and governor.

It’s not a lot of money to compensate for the loss of a child.

But from years of experience dealing with parents of children who died become of someone’s negligence, we know that it is never about the money.

“These people don’t give a damn about the money … These people have dead children. There’s no money you can give them for that.”

Attorney Damian Mallard

Kenney was charged with practicing therapeutic hypnosis without a license. He pleaded no contest, and was sentenced to a year of probation.

The families’ attorney noted during a press conference that “The thing that is the most disappointing to them is he never apologized, never admitted wrongdoing and is now living comfortably in retirement in North Carolina with his pension.”

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