Three families in North Port are tied together by grief. Their children were all students at North Port High School. And in 2011, within months of each other, each of them died.
Wesley McKinley and Brittany Palumbo died after committing suicide. A month earlier, Marcus Freeman died in a car accident.
Their parents believe hypnosis is to blame for each of their deaths. They point the finger at Dr. George Kenney, the former principal. He admitted to hypnotizing about 75 students at the school, claiming he did it to help with their studies or in sports.
But the school district told him on several occasions to stop.
"None of us would be standing here if they had followed through on that and made him stop in 2009," Peggy McKinley said Wednesday.
The families are now suing the Sarasota County School Board. In their lawsuit, they say the district failed to adequately supervise the actions of Dr. Kenney. The court papers also say the district failed to monitor or ensure that Dr. Kenney listened to their direct order.
The families all believe their children died due to the hypnosis because they say their children had plans.
Wes was just 16.
"He was a self-taught musician. He taught himself to play the piano and the guitar. And was in line to have an audition at Julliard the next month," Peggy McKinley told FOX 13.
Brittany was two months shy of her 18th birthday.
"The night before she passed away, she had actually sent in her application for college," said Patricia Palumbo.
Brittany's family says her boyfriend had recently broken up with her. But they say Brittany was handling it.
"She was moving forward; she was looking forward to going on to college. She stayed friends with this boy. She was not depressed. She was sad at times, but not depressed."
And Marcus Freeman had always planned to pay quarterback for the Gators.
"He had his whole life ahead of him." his mother Dana said through tears.
His father, Paul added, "He wanted to go be a Gator; that was his whole goal in life, to be a Florida Gator."
The families say Dr. Kenney sought their kids out, not to help them, but for his own gain.
"We believe now, in hindsight, that Dr. Kenney did this for one reason and one reason only -- and that was to benefit his self, his sales of books and CD's regarding hypnosis," Patricia Palumbo stated.
The families say Dr. Kenney was never disciplined by the school district, and they are angry about that.
"He got to keep his pension and fled the area and left the school to answer for his mistakes," said Paul Freeman.
Dr. Kenney did go to court and pled no contest to practicing therapeutic hypnosis without a license.
He was given a year of probation but was allowed to terminate that early because he completed all the terms.
His attorney says Dr. Kenney moved out of Florida, although he wouldn't say to where. The attorney also said the lawsuits are frivolous and there is no link between the deaths and the hypnosis.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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