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Alleged killer spent time in Paradise Cove

Joshua Lambert, accussed killer, argues his case in court. - Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times
Joshua Lambert, accussed killer, argues his case in court.
— image credit: Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times

As a teenager, accused killer Joshua Lambert was sent to a controversial behavioral modification facility in Samoa that was closed over allegations of abuse.

Lambert, a 31-year-old Oak Harbor resident, is facing first-degree murder charges for allegedly stabbing his two elderly grandfathers to death at their separate homes on North Whidbey last October. He is acting as his own attorney and is asserting an insanity defense.

In an interview at the Island County Jail, Lambert recalled how his troubles with authority began when he was a teenager and only got worse after he was sent to the rehabilitation camp in the South Pacific, where he was punished with solitary confinement.

The conditions were allegedly so bad that one of his fellow detainees hired a hitman to kill his parents because he was angry that they sent him there. Former detainees have also filed lawsuits, alleging abuse and mistreatment.

“It was the worst time of my life,” Lambert said. “It does make it easier to be in jail. I remember being sent to jail when I was 18 and thinking it was so much nicer than Paradise Cove.”

Lambert received permission from Superior Court Judge Vickie Churchill to issue subpoenas to Paradise Cove in Samoa and Spring Creek Lodge Academy in Montana. He requested his files from the time he spent at the facilities, but he hasn’t said how the records may play into his defense.

Lambert said his family sent him to the far-off facility when he was about 15 years old. He said he got suspended from Oak Harbor High School for running away and not attending classes. It was around that time when he fathered a son, according to court documents.

Lambert said brochures about Paradise Cove made it look like a paradise with smiling children going down waterfalls. The facility was marketed as an academy that employs “tough love” to help troubled teenage boys. According to a 2003 Los Angeles Times feature on the founder, the World Wide Association Of Specialty Programs and Schools was the umbrella group for Paradise Cove and many other independent institutions for education and treatment of troubled teenagers; Teen Help was the marketing arm.

Lambert was sent to Paradise Cove in Samoa for a year and a half, then he was transferred to Spring Creek Lodge Academy in Montana as a “transition” to the real world. He describes it as a scam that cost his family $100,000 and didn’t do him any good.

Lambert said it was an unhealthy, unhygienic place.

“When I got off the airplane, the stench hit me,” he said. “Like it really hit me.”

Lambert said the teenagers lived in crowded thatched huts, slept on mats and ate crude food. He said the behavioral modification consisted of a “level” system; new arrivals starting out at “level 1” and were subjected to extreme restrictions.

Lambert said the staff read through the detainee’s mail to make sure they didn’t write anything negative about the camp and they were punished if they did.

Lambert said 48 Hours, the CBS news program, snuck a hidden camera into the camp while he was there. The show documented some of the alleged abuses, including testimony from a boy who said he was hog-tied for two days. The show stated that some of the students suffer from psychiatric problems, but the camp had no licensed therapists. Psychiatrist Gary Glass was quoted saying that the programs can damage certain children, especially those with serious psychological problems.

“It was a horrible, horrible place,” Lambert said. “They were very abusive and mean to people there.”

 

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