Feedback
News

Florida Schools Settle With Parents of Teens Who Died After Hypnosis

A Florida school board will pay $200,000 apiece to the families of three students who died after they were hypnotized by former North Port High School Principal George Kenney, according to court documents obtained by NBC News.

The 14-page agreement, approved Tuesday night by the Sarasota County School Board, settles a lawsuit filed by the families of Brittany Palumbo, 17, and Wesley McKinley, 16, who committed suicide in 2011, and Marcus Freeman, 16, who died in a car crash the same year.

IMAGE: George Kenney
George Kenney pleaded no contest in 2012 to practicing therapeutic hypnosis without a license and served a year's probation. Sarasota County, Florida, Public Schools

Kenney was placed on administrative leave after he admitted that he'd hypnotized Wesley on the day he killed himself. Brittany was found hanging in her closet about five months after Kenney had hypnotized her. Marcus crashed his car after he was taught self-hypnosis by Kenney, investigators said.

Kenney pleaded no contest to practicing therapeutic hypnosis without a license and resigned in June 2012. He served a year's probation, and his current whereabouts aren't known.

"The School Board has concluded that a mutually acceptable settlement is in the best interests of all parties involved," Scott Ferguson, a spokesman for Sarasota County Schools, said in a statement to NBC News.

A 134-page independent investigative report released by the school board in 2011 revealed that Kenney had trained at a hypnosis center in Florida and was a member of multiple national hypnotists' group. He told investigators that he'd used hypnotherapy techniques on more than 35 students at the school, primarily to help them overcome test anxiety and improve their athletic performances.

Related: Hypnotist Florida Principal Faces Questions After Suicides

It eventually emerged that Kenney had hypnotized more than 70 students, faculty and staff over five years, all without a state license, and in the 2011 school board report, he admitted having disregarded at least three warnings to stop the sessions.

"I'm not saying I used great judgment all the time here," he said, according to the report. "I think I used poor judgment several times."

In statements Wednesday to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune (PDF), the three students' parents faulted the school board for not having stopped Kenney.

"There's nothing that can bring Marcus back, but the Freemans hope this will give them some closure," said Marcus' mother, Dana Freeman, who called Kenney "a rogue principal."

Michael and Patricia Ann Palumbo, Brittany's parents, said they are "satisfied with the overall outcome, although this is a very hollow victory."

Wesley's parents, Charles McKinley and Margaret Jacobson, had a message specifically for Wesley's friends: that Wesley's death was solely the fault of Kenney and that "they did not let him down in any way."