Content warning: This article includes mentions of sexual assault and abuse that may be uncomfortable for some readers. Resources are available at the bottom of this post.
Two California men have come forward to say that Bradley Earl Reger — a man the FBI suspects of abusing dozens if not hundreds of boys over a period of decades — abused them on trips to Juneau’s Echo Ranch Bible Camp when they were children.
FBI charging documents refer to Reger taking boys on “camping trips he led in Alaska,” and Reger has a long and well-documented association with the camp. The men’s accounts are the first, though, to allege that abuse happened at the camp.
Earlier this month, former Juneau resident Troy Wilson, who says that Reger abused him on trips to California, told KTOO that Reger used the camp as a “mechanism” — a place where he could gain the trust of families so he could later travel alone with their children. But Wilson said he did not know if Reger had ever abused anyone at the camp.
Zack Winfrey, who spent time at Echo Ranch from 2003 to 2006, says that he did.
“I was definitely abused at Echo Ranch,” he told KTOO in an interview last week.
Winfrey’s account is supported by another California man, Derrick Fox, who spent time at Echo Ranch during the same time period and also said Reger abused him.
Both men described a trusted, prominent church member operating with no real oversight. They say Reger abused them for years, and that his trips to Echo Ranch gave him access to children with little or no supervision from other adults — and it’s not clear if there were any protocols for keeping children safe.
After KTOO contacted the camp director to ask about Winfrey’s and Fox’s accounts, the camp replied with a statement saying it was taking the allegations seriously.
“We recently learned that alleged abuse may have taken place at ERBC,” the statement read. “As a result, Avant Ministries immediately contacted law enforcement agencies in accordance with our organization’s Child Safety Protection Policies and Procedures.”
“He did what he wanted”
Federal investigators arrested Reger on July 6 and charged him with “engaging in illicit sexual activity abroad, transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, and coercion and enticement.” They alleged that Reger abused more than a dozen boys and young men, often under the guise of medical care. But federal investigators believe he could have hundreds of victims, the Sacramento Bee reported in July.
Winfrey is one of the witnesses cooperating with the FBI in its investigation into Reger. He shared some of his correspondence with the FBI with KTOO, along with photographs that place him at the camp. Winfrey remembers Fox from the Alaska trips — and Fox, too, showed KTOO correspondence with investigators about the case.
Winfrey also said that he remembers Mio Rhein, a former Echo Ranch staff member who now lives in Ketchikan. Rhein spoke with KTOO to corroborate some of the details about Reger’s trips to Alaska.
Winfrey said he was 10 years old when Reger first abused him, under the guise of a physical exam. Winfrey’s family attended the Susanville Church of the Nazarene. Reger led the church’s youth programming, including a group called SuzNaz Youth. Winfrey was a member.
Winfrey said that for him, the trips to Alaska started a year later, in 2003.
Winfrey and Fox both told KTOO that Reger would take about a dozen members of SuzNaz Youth to Alaska, and the trips would last for several weeks. In Juneau, the group would spend some time at Echo Ranch Bible Camp and some time staying in a building on the grounds of Auke Bay Bible Church.
They also traveled around Southeast. Winfrey remembers kayaking trips and hiking the Chilkoot Trail. His photos from the trips are typical snapshots — kayaks pulled up on a beach, boys hiking in the forest, and Southeast landmarks like the Mendenhall Glacier and Main Street in Skagway. They also show recognizable scenes from Echo Ranch, like the cross by the beach that is still featured on the camp’s Facebook page.
Both men said Reger would sometimes bring the group to Echo Ranch when other groups weren’t there. During their stays, Winfrey said they would help build cabins and do maintenance around the camp.
Winfrey said Reger abused him several times on that first trip — in the campers’ cabins and at a nurse’s station.
Fox also went to Echo Ranch for the first time in 2003. Like Winfrey, Fox said Reger abused him repeatedly, and always under the guise of medical care.
“The abuse was very short in duration for the most part,” Fox said. “But almost constant — like, multiple times a trip.”
Winfrey and Fox both said other adults would drift in and out of the trips, but none stayed for the whole time. Often, they said, Reger was the only adult around.
And between the work at the camp and activities in the forest, Fox said there were always injuries and illnesses that Reger could use as an excuse to be alone with a child. And there seemed to be no rules at the camp preventing that.
“There was never anyone that would have ever said, ‘Hey, you can’t take that kid over to the clinic,’” Fox said. “He did what he wanted.”
Reger’s relationship with Echo Ranch remains unclear
Avant Ministries, the camp’s parent organization, told KTOO that Reger never worked for the camp — only that he volunteered there “in the 1970’s and sporadically over years that followed.” But a 2014 history of the camp, written for its 50th anniversary, calls Reger a “camp supporter” and describes an involvement that spanned decades.
Reger enters the history as “a former camper” who “volunteered as a boy’s counselor for several years” in the 1970s. And in 1985, the book describes Reger bringing a California youth group to the camp to help “build a bathhouse, septic tank, and leach field.”
Winfrey, Fox and Rhein — the former staff member — all said Reger was traveling to Echo Ranch regularly in the early 2000s.
Winfrey said that Reger often either helped parents pay for the trips or paid for them entirely. He said his parents paid around $150 for the first trip — and nothing for subsequent trips.
“Obviously, a lot of people couldn’t afford to just fly up to Alaska and stay up there for a couple of weeks,” he said. “He had a deal for all the kids in the youth group.”
Rhein said he managed the camp’s horse program from 1996 to 2006. He remembers Reger’s trips with SuzNaz Youth. He also said that he remembers Reger acting as the camp’s nurse for part of one summer — a memory that other sources shared.
Rhein described Reger as a kind of benefactor who donated medical supplies and an ambulance to the camp.
“Brad was a donor and was identified as a significant donor,” he said.
That’s consistent with how the camp history describes Reger. The book mentions a “donation of a large truck by camp supporter Brad Reger” in the 1990s, and it says that “Brad donated, from his Emergency Medical Services Company, a used 4-wheel-drive ambulance.”
Rhein said he wanted to share what he knew about Reger because he believes Christian organizations have a history of denying past harm in Alaska.
“Accountability is important,” he said. “We have not done a good job being honest about the bad things that happened in the church.”
Camp Director Randy Alderfer, who has been with the camp since 2009, said Friday that he couldnʼt confirm any details about Regerʼs time at Echo Ranch, or whether he made any donations. And Brynden Wiens, Echo Ranch’s camp administrator, told KTOO in an email that the organization would not comment on Reger as a donor.
“As a matter of policy, we are unable to share any details regarding individual (private) donations made to our organization,” Wiens wrote.
Alderfer did say that adults were never permitted to be alone with children at the camp, but he couldn’t say when that policy went into effect. Wiens’s email described child safety policies that are in place now, but he did not answer questions about what policies were in place when Winfrey and Fox visited the camp.
Echo Ranch has now updated its website to include a statement on Reger, along with a link to the FBI’s website for reporting possible abuse by Reger.
“The same stuff from the very beginning”
Winfrey said that Reger continued to abuse him for nearly a decade, until he was 20. Fox said he was 17 when he had an exam from Reger that pushed him to start questioning what was happening. He called it “the first time I realized something was like — incredibly, incredibly wrong.”
Fox said he told his parents, but they continued to hope that what he described was legitimate medical care.
Both men described Reger as a respected and prominent member of the church. But both men also remember Reger behaving inappropriately in public during the trips — walking around in just his briefs, or walking into children’s hotel rooms unannounced.
“There have always been jokes,” Fox said. “Maybe everybody was uncomfortable with Brad.”
And there were reports of abuse over the years. Reger was first investigated in California in 1986 for child sex abuse, then again in 2003, 2006 and 2007. None of those investigations led to an arrest.
The Susanville Church of the Nazarene did not respond to KTOO’s questions about Reger’s role in the church or any donations he might have made.
After federal authorities arrested Reger in July, Winfrey was one of the witnesses who testified that Reger should remain in custody until his trial.
“I’ve slept very uneasily for over a decade knowing that Brad was out there free and able to do whatever he wanted to do, whenever he wanted to do it,” Winfrey wrote in a statement to the FBI. “I’d like to know, for the first time in my entire existence, that the man who ruined my life is finally in a place where he can’t hurt anybody else.”
Winfrey said he’s been in touch with other people who say Reger abused them — at least one person from every decade dating back to the 1970s. He says their stories, beginning with Troy Wilson’s, are all eerily similar — befriending boys around the age of 10 or 11, traveling with them unsupervised, and finding ways to enmesh them in his life until they reached young adulthood.
“It seems like we could put together a pattern of like — Brad basically did the same stuff from the very beginning,” Winfrey said. “He just got way more sophisticated about it.”
The FBI has an online form for anyone who wants to report that they — or their minor dependent — may have been victimized by Bradley Reger.
In Juneau, survivors of sexual abuse can call AWARE at 907-586-1090 to find resources for support. There is also a national 24-hour phone and online chat hotline that offers counseling and support.