He Led Female Students On Trips Abroad. Then, He Introduced Sex 'Ceremonies.'

Alleged abuse and cult-like brainwashing. "Magic" crystals. And a self-proclaimed healer with unfettered access to young women for decades.
09/11/2018 05:04 pm ET Updated Sep 11, 2018

Laura Quinn, a rock climber with sober blue eyes, was writing the hardest letter of her life. It was 2016, and she was parked in her van overlooking Leavenworth, Washington, a tiny town nestled in steep, jutting mountains. She was 29 years old.

Her letter was addressed to Colin Garland, a man she’d met on an adventure trip abroad when she was a senior in high school. He was 25 years her senior, but regardless of their difference in age and life experience, they clicked. Garland headed a travel company in Massachusetts and took students on guided trips abroad, exposing them to nature and teaching them about wildlife conservation. He also fashioned himself as a kind of New Age shaman, and for years, Laura convinced herself he’d been a trusted spiritual mentor.

Though more than a decade had passed since she traveled to Costa Rica with Garland’s company, The Global Classroom, her memories of him were still vivid. Garland, who called himself “Medicine Owl,” was lanky and catlike, with an intense gaze and wavy graying hair. Funny and infectiously enthusiastic, he also had a talent for making ordinary interactions seem almost magical.

On the day he singled her out, she was 18, hammering nails into a new structure they were building as part of a trip project.

“Do you have any idea how strong you are?” he asked, his head surprisingly close to hers. Laura felt like he had recognized a hidden well of potential inside her, something special she hadn’t yet discovered.

Colin Garland.
Provided by Liz
Colin Garland.

Now, as she addressed him as a full-fledged adult, she did indeed feel strong ― but despite him, not because of him. “I was in need of a hug, some advice, maybe a hiking partner who could help me understand that I was a good, lovable and beautiful person,” she wrote. “Instead, you sexually, spiritually and emotionally abused me in ways that are too dark to divulge the details of.”

Laura gathered the courage to post her letter online not long after, linking to it on Garland’s Facebook page, then her own.

Soon after, she received a Facebook message from a stranger, a 27-year-old Massachusetts woman who grew up 60 miles from Laura’s hometown. “I know we don’t know each other, but I stumbled upon your website about Colin,” the woman wrote. “I was also victimized by him. Reading your letter was like reading about my own experience.”

Laura was stunned. Then she got a message from another woman. And another.

As of the publication of this article, Laura has counted more than three dozen women who shared their own stories with her; HuffPost has spoken with 18. Many of the women met Garland as high school or college students and traveled with him to isolated locations with the blessing of their schools. Looking back, many also now see his conduct as unprofessional, harmful and in some cases, abusive, even likening it to cult-like brainwashing.

Multiple women claim he used his power as a trip leader ― and a self-proclaimed mystic — to gain their trust, and later pursued sex once they reached the age of consent under the guise of spiritual mentorship.

In conversations with HuffPost over months, women described how they were initially enchanted by Garland’s energy and flattered by the sustained attention he lavished upon them. He made them feel special. They believed his intentions were pure: He wanted to help, not harm.

Until they got older, and the spell wore off.

Eagle feathers and sharing circles

Laura’s parents, Anita and Kevin, thought sending Laura to Costa Rica in 2005 would be a healthy learning experience. Garland’s company came recommended by people they trusted. They’d met with him, and the youngest of their three daughters, Liz, had already traveled with Garland to Mexico. She came back raving about the trip.

It was hard for HuffPost to verify much about Garland’s background, and he did not respond to multiple interview requests. What we do know is this: He grew up in western Massachusetts, and after graduating high school, he claims to have worked in a local factory ― many people described him as a gifted handyman ― which he eventually decided wasn’t for him. On an archived website, he claimed he attended a one-year outdoor leadership program and traveled extensively, backpacking through 32 countries on a budget of $800. In 1986, he founded Raven Adventures, an ecotourism company he described as “practicing minimum-impact travel while introducing people from all walks of life to the natural world.” A few years later, he started The Global Classroom, a nonprofit organization dedicated to conservation. He raised donations to preserve an initial 100 acres of land in Costa Rica

Over the years, he was welcomed into Mohawk Trail Regional High School, where he gave presentations and recruited students for trips, and he also advertised in colleges around Massachusetts and New York.

That spring, when Laura arrived at the airport of Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose, she was overwhelmed by local taxi drivers calling out to her in Spanish, asking her where she was going. She spotted Garland and instantly felt safe.

Garland was soon guiding his new cohort on a wild adventure through a nature reserve, winning them over with fantastic stories about his far-flung travels. He appeared deeply at ease in the natural world and claimed he knew how to stay so still, wild cats would come right up to him. But despite his worldly experiences, he was endlessly curious about the inner lives of his students – what they thought about, the struggles they were experiencing, what it was really like to be a teen. Although he was so much older, to Laura, he felt more like a peer.

Colin Garland.
Provided by Caitlin
Colin Garland.

After days of exploring the cloud forest and volunteering, the students would gather for evening sharing circles. Garland, who claimed he had Native American grandparents, would wave an eagle feather, burn sage and cleanse the students with the smoke. Then he’d ask them to divulge their deepest, most secret fears.

“Three days into a trip, I have people sharing stuff that you would never believe,” Garland said in a video interview posted on Facebook in 2014. “It creates this environment of compassion and understanding and empathy, and maybe a young person saying, ‘Oh, my God, I’m not the only one that suffers this.’”

The circles felt like a nonjudgmental space, where students could express anything they were going through in their lives. “There was a lot of crying,” one boy on Laura’s trip said. Laura, too, opened up about her insecurities: worries about going to college, how she didn’t feel pretty enough. After one of the circles, Garland silently appeared on the mist-shrouded porch of the cabin and told her that her “share” had been very powerful, she recalled.

After the trip, Laura was surprised when Garland wanted to stay in touch with her over email. She even boasted about it to her younger sister, Liz.

Liz, who went on three trips with Garland, casually mentioned he’d emailed her too.

As Laura left home and began her freshman year at the University of Vermont, her email correspondence with Garland grew more intense, she said. (Laura did not have her emails for HuffPost to review.) He seemed wise, caring, in possession of secret spiritual knowledge. In a dorm, on the laptop her parents bought her for school, she confided in him regularly about low self-esteem and romantic jealousy — how she felt she’d never be with someone who believed she was beautiful. Having such a close confidant willing to talk with her about her most private feelings was addicting. Every time she logged on and had a new message from him, she got an electric charge. 

Her parents didn’t know about the growing friendship. She didn’t tell her friends much either. Some of the content of the emails felt too personal. Garland would steer their conversations to explicitly sexual topics, she said, like whether she’d had an orgasm. But it didn’t feel weird. She thought of him as a healer who was asking personal questions as a kind of spiritual intake form, gathering information to help her. In other cultures, it was normal to talk about sex, he explained. America was uptight. And he said it was OK if she didn’t want to talk about it anymore, she recalled.

A lot of people weren’t ready for what he had to show them — the magic. Garland often promised that people who fully tapped into their power could be free of problems of the ego and do things that sounded incredible, like shapeshift into animals or even cure cancer.

He seemed to have all the answers.

I do want to be ready, Laura thought.

Labyrinth

In 2006, the summer after her freshman year, Laura, then 19, returned to her hometown. She was depressed and exhausted. School was hard. She worried that her college boyfriend found other women more attractive than her. She felt unnoticed, and that her freshman-year friends were cooler than she was, more artistically creative and smart. She was partying too much. In some ways, these were typical freshman concerns, but to Laura, they felt severe at the time. What she really needed, she suspects now, was a therapist.

She planned to spend the summer months lifeguarding at a local swimming pond ― a boring job she’d had for years ― but she also hoped to meet up with Garland.

Garland was staying on and off at The Center at Westwoods, a nonprofit spiritual education center that hosts yoga classes, psychic readings and reiki workshops south of Boston. He was helping to build a labyrinth and trails on the grounds, while also leading a student trip that summer to Siberia.

Laura Quinn in the woods of the Coconino National Forest outside Flagstaff, Arizona.
Caitlin O'Hara for HuffPost
Laura Quinn in the woods of the Coconino National Forest outside Flagstaff, Arizona.

Laura was enthusiastic about the prospect of meeting up with her mentor again. In his emails to Laura, Garland had alluded to mysterious ceremonies, where he could draw up ancient energies to heal her problems, she said. He even had a term for them, she said: quodoushka, or “Q.” She imagined the ceremonies might be something like the sharing circles in Costa Rica, meditating and calling on ancestors.

One May evening, after receiving an invite from Garland, she said, she drove more than an hour from her parents’ home to Westwoods and arrived after dark. Once again, she found herself with Garland in what felt like a secluded and magical place: more than 70 acres of conservation land scattered with beautiful gardens, trails and prayer rooms.

When Garland opened the door, Laura was so relieved, she started crying. Finally, she was in a place where she could heal. “I want you to help me get better,” she recalled telling him.

Garland was crashing in the basement of the main 9,000-square-foot house on the grounds. She took his bed for the night and fell asleep alone, she said, but abruptly woke up later. As she recalls it, Garland was rubbing her body, telling her that “the Aboriginal elders” were communicating with him and they wanted to deliver some ancient power to her. Was this a ceremony like the kind Garland had always talked about?

She froze, her veins icy. Despite all their emailing, she never imagined that meant sexual activity with him, her trip leader, a man decades older, someone she thought wanted to help her. But she didn’t fight or run away.

“You don’t run from someone you trust,” she said.  

He pushed her head down for oral sex, she recalled, and urged her to swallow his semen in order to receive the most energy. In that state of shock, “you [can] be forced to do things that you wouldn’t otherwise be forced into,” she said. It happened so fast, and she didn’t say a word.

The next day, Garland treated what had happened between them like it was a real ceremony that had laid the foundation for powerful healing to begin. Laura had done big work, she recalled him saying, and he assured her that her feelings of discomfort were normal.

But Laura wasn’t sure what to make of the incident. Had she experienced a genuine healing ceremony? Or had she been victimized by her trusted mentor? One of those options was just too painful to comprehend.  

“If I can go back and learn more things from Colin about magic,” she told herself, “I’ll be OK.”

Grooming

Laura now believes her long email correspondence with Garland primed her to trust him. She wasn’t the only one. HuffPost reviewed dozens of emails and messages that Garland sent to seven other women ― the youngest starting when she was 14.

Several women HuffPost spoke with now consider Garland’s intensive emailing a form of grooming, a process used by sexual abusers to gain access to victims. They believe Garland leveraged his position of power as a mentor and confidant to achieve his real goal: sex with young women.

The messages reveal a pattern: Garland would shower women with attention, encouraging them to fully open up, before turning the conversations sexual. “You have an incredible body that can and will feel so, so much,” he wrote one college student, Elizabeth, whom he hadn’t yet met in person. “Sadly, much of it has been hurt and pain. It is time to start replacing those cellular memories with memories of joy, pleasure and light.” (Like most of the women in this story, Elizabeth asked HuffPost to withhold her last name to protect her privacy.)

Once he’d developed trust, he would begin asking sexually explicit questions and introduce the concept of healing ceremonies that involved sexual energy. Although he could be flirtatious, he suggested that his interest in the women’s sexual lives was for spiritual or teaching purposes ― to help them in their quest for self-growth ― rather than physical attraction on his part.

Laura’s younger sister, Liz, engaged in an emotionally charged correspondence with Garland for years. She emailed with Garland when she was 14, after she joined one of his student trips to Mexico. Their early messages were friendly, dealing with travel logistics. But over time, he grew affectionate. By the time Liz was 16 and 17, Garland was sprinkling his emails with pet names, calling her the “shining one,” “gorgeoususususususus,” and “my sweet,” and signing off with declarations of love.

Liz, age 17, on a trip in Siberia.
Provided by Liz
Liz, age 17, on a trip in Siberia.

When Liz, then 17, opened up about her struggles with self-confidence, he hinted at knowing secret ways to heal her, though he said she was too young. “Because it would be a dangerous thing in this society for me to share ways to move that energy around with you in the sexual world, I do not,” he said. “If we lived in other cultures, you would already know all that stuff and it would be no big deal,” he added. “But, we live in messed up America and have to walk softly...Around sexual stuff anyway.”

A few months later, when she was still 17 and he was 45, Garland sent Liz a sexually explicit email brimming with personal questions. “What about orgasms. Can you have them when you are getting oral? If so, was it possible at first.. Or did it take a while? ... What about giving oral? Do you? If so, do you like giving? Is that considered Ok and acceptable by your peers? And orgasm. Can you make him orgasm? ... Do you like it? Do you pull away or let him do it in your mouth? Do you swallow If not, Why?” 

Garland emphasized that he was asking these questions for research purposes. In the fall of 2006, he and Liz talked about meeting up for a walk, where he said he would introduce her to a ceremony to help her with her self-confidence. She had previously told him she wasn’t comfortable with any ceremonies having to do with sex, and he reassured her that wasn’t what they were about.

“Don’t worry.. No blow up dolls and [huge] sex toys,” he wrote.

She can’t remember now if the timing didn’t line up ― or if her gut knew something was wrong. Either way, she decided not to go.

Elizabeth and Caitlin and Lauren and Michaela and, and ...

After Laura posted her letter in 2016, many of the women started looking at their own experiences with Garland in a new light. Now mature adults, they were struggling with how differently they perceived Garland when they were young, and how they now felt he’d taken advantage of them.

Elizabeth (not the same individual as Liz) met Garland in 2010, when she was a junior at Stony Brook University in New York. A friend connected them online when Elizabeth was going through a particularly tough year, she said. She eventually confided in him extensively over email, initially about spiritual matters. Their conversations turned to sexual ceremonies, which he said could help her.  

I hope you continue ... finding the light and power of your body, heart and spirit. And this means sexually too,” he wrote to Elizabeth in April 2010. “Even if we never meet, I would be so happy you are out there,” he added.

They did meet, on her 21st birthday. She knew she didn’t want to get drunk to celebrate the milestone like most people her age. Instead, she traveled to Garland’s home, a ferry and bus ride from her school, with the hopes of finding grounding and peace. In past conversations, he had made his property sound idyllic, almost like a place of rehabilitation. She was eager to check it out.

He did a reiki-like healing without touching her, she said, and they fell asleep in his bed. (He made it clear, she noted, that they could sleep on opposite sides.) She said she woke up to him sitting on top of her, positioning her body so she could perform oral sex on him. “There was no, ‘Yes, I want to do this,’” she said. “There was no sense of me being initiated into any kind of spiritual healing.”

Afterward, she felt ashamed and spun the experience into a positive one. She was fighting with her parents, so when Garland and a friend invited her to stay with them, she said, she accepted. She was searching for a spiritual home, as she felt disconnected from her Catholic roots and her family. The ceremonies Garland offered seemed like they might fill that void. But she described his behavior over the summer as controlling, in terms of what she ate, when she left the house and whether she contacted her parents. Her mother told HuffPost that she was concerned enough to call the police. Garland called the cops too, complaining in June 2010 that Elizabeth’s mother was harassing him, according to a police report.

Elizabeth said she internalized her time with Garland in a way that made her feel good about it. But seeing Laura’s letter prompted her to re-examine what happened through a more critical lens. She now feels that Garland is a “predator of insecure young women” who is sexually, not spiritually, motivated.

“What happened to me was not right,” she said.

Another woman, Caitlin, met Garland when she was a student at Binghamton University. Caitlin joined Garland on an informal trip to Baja, Mexico, through the winter of 2009-10, when she was 21. On that trip, he showed her a crystal skull that he claimed was magical, and encouraged her to imbue it with energy by masturbating with it. She did not. “I’m still not quite sure what to make of the crystal skull ― does it really have powers and energy or no? … I have no idea, but I’ll continue to keep an open mind,” she wrote in her journal at the time.

Later, in online chat messages after the trip, Garland encouraged Caitlin to send him naked photos, telling her it would help her come into her power.

“When you take those pictures, spread yourself open to show your pink,” he wrote, claiming that the practice was part of Aboriginal teachings. “How I would love to see that image to know where you sit on the medicine wheel.” She declined to send him photos. (Another woman, Isidra, who traveled with Garland as a college student at Binghamton, also told HuffPost that Garland had asked her for naked photos.)

When Caitlin learned of the other women’s stories, she reread her lengthy correspondence with Garland and was appalled. “I know logically that I was brainwashed by this man in a very calculated way ― the parallels between my own story and the stories of all the other women who have come forward are impossible to ignore ― but I can’t seem to overcome this feeling that if I had been sensible enough to realize that I was being manipulated, things could have been different,” she told HuffPost.

Yet another woman, Lauren, said that she went on group trips with Garland to South Africa and Namibia starting in 2011, when she was a 21-year-old student at Binghamton. While traveling, she said, she would go on walks with Garland that started out friendly, but eventually, he made sexually explicit comments. She recalled, for example, Garland giving her a Herkimer diamond and telling her to hold the diamond while she masturbated to draw out energies. She did not. She was initially intrigued by their conversations and tried to suppress any reservations, but soon felt uncomfortable, especially considering their respective roles: She was dependent on him in a foreign country. “You have no idea where you even are half the time,” she said. “I felt like I had to play nice.”

A woman named Michaela said she went over to Garland’s house in 2014 to learn more about his international trips, as she was interested in volunteering. After dinner, he offered to give her a massage and she agreed because she understood he was a healer. During the session, she said she was shocked when Garland groped her breasts under her shirt. She’d had many massages in the past, and that had never happened before. Later, she confronted him over email. He apologized, but noted that if it was a “trigger” to have a “full massage,” then it was her “responsibility to mention this right at the get go.” He added, “finding your voice is always a good thing.”

The myth-maker

By all accounts, Garland was a gifted storyteller who spun tales about his exhaustive travels around the world and the ancient teachings he said he encountered abroad.

While some of his stories seemed far-fetched, many of the women he confided in were open to believing them. They were themselves searching for meaning, in that transitional time between late teens and adulthood. When he spoke about how they could become more confident and harness their inner power as women, he seemed to be talking to their deepest desires and fears.

Some stories he told were more outlandish than others and played into harmful and offensive stereotypes about native people. Garland told multiple women that, during a trip to Australia, he was taken in by a clan of Aboriginal people who were isolated from the outside world. They knew he was coming, he said, and welcomed him in. It was Aboriginal people who taught him how to use sexual power for healing ceremonies, he claimed. In messages with women, Garland often used the word “abo,” a highly derogatory term, and said he drummed with Aboriginal people every full moon, in spirit.

There are no Aboriginal sexual healing ceremonies anywhere in Australia, as far as Dr. Richard Davis, the acting manager of anthropology for the Central Land Council, which represents Aboriginal people in Central Australia, was aware. When HuffPost asked Davis about Garland’s claims, he said that Garland sounded like “the latest in a long tradition of Westerners trading in a pretty disgusting idea of primitiveness and ... quite happy to disrespect Aboriginal people in his misrepresentation of them.”

Garland’s terminology for Aboriginal people “is so offensive, I can hardly begin to describe the parameters of this offensiveness,” Davis added, calling his claim of finding a clan with no contact with the outside world a “bizarre fantasy” that conveniently allowed him to claim sole access to the knowledge.

Garland said that his grandparents were Native American. He loved the book The Education of Little Tree, multiple women said, identifying with the protagonist, an orphan boy who is raised by his Cherokee grandparents. The book, which was originally presented as an autobiography, was later exposed to be a literary hoax, and the author was outed as a Klansman and high-profile pro-segregationist.

Similarly, “quodoushka,” the sexual practice Garland advocates in dozens of emails with women, has been falsely connected to the Cherokee Nation, but it’s not a legitimate Native American practice. Rather, it’s credited to a New-Age group called the Deer Tribe Medicine Society. Cherokees do not practice any such ceremonies, a spokesperson for the Cherokee Nation told HuffPost.

“He is misappropriating indigenous cultural traditions in order to lure young women to have sex with him,” said a former girlfriend of Garland’s who asked to remain anonymous. “I’m concerned about the impact of the ‘sexual ceremonies,’ if you want to call them that, on the women, and I feel horrible about not speaking up about it earlier.”

Dissociate and feel nothing at all

Over the course of the summer at Westwoods, Laura participated in many sex ceremonies that Garland claimed would help her heal spiritually, she said. They often happened quickly, she recalled, with a sense of missed opportunity if she didn’t immediately partake. For one ceremony, he asked her to masturbate with a vibrator while he watched, she said. She understood she had to orgasm for it to work ― which left her with a lot of anxiety and dysfunction around sex in subsequent relationships. On another night, she had sex with him in the labyrinth while holding a crystal.

When she expressed any reluctance, she said Garland would frame her apprehension as a spiritual shortcoming. She was too closed off, he told her. But when she participated, she said, she was commended for her personal growth.

A person who knew Garland and Laura at the time and wished to remain anonymous said that Laura seemed “impressionable, spiritually searching, and eager to please.” Garland “groomed Laura to the extent that she was unable to think for herself and unable to see the warning flags for what they were. Instead, Laura did whatever Colin asked of her and was rewarded with further manipulative praise.”

From the outside, it wouldn’t necessarily seem like anything was wrong. They went skydiving together, Laura said, and she did odd jobs around the center like mulching; she even attended a women’s group.

Laura Quinn, 31.
Caitlin O'Hara for HuffPost
Laura Quinn, 31.

But as the summer wore on, she began to disassociate during sexual acts, she said, feeling as though she was detached from her body. Dissociation, often reported by sexual abuse victims, is a defense mechanism to survive a traumatic event. When she told Garland about leaving her body, he praised her for “shapeshifting,” she said. She hoped that the ceremonies were working. She had to be getting better, she told herself. She didn’t have low self-esteem anymore. She couldn’t feel anything at all.

There was a part of her that even wanted to tell her friends what was going on. But Garland warned her that she had to be careful who she confided in, because others might view their time at the healing center skeptically, she said, and doubt would drain the pool of magic.

One close friend of Laura’s, Patrice, was concerned about the changes she saw in Laura that summer, as well as all the time she was spending with Garland. Laura didn’t seem like herself and appeared disconnected from reality. She talked, for example, about Garland having out-of-body experiences. “You know that he wasn’t actually flying, right?” Patrice asked her. Laura clammed up.

Alarmed, Patrice secretly read Laura’s emails and told her own mother she feared Laura was involved in a cult. Patrice tried to gently raise her concerns to Laura, questioning whether she and Garland might be sexually involved. But to Laura, Patrice’s questions only confirmed what Garland had told her: No one would understand.

Laura’s parents believed she had spent her time at Westwoods making extra money and attending women’s groups. But when Laura’s father, Kevin, drove her back to school for her sophomore year in the fall, he sensed something was off. In the car, she asked him if he knew anything about shamans, he recalled. He tried to answer the question — explaining that shamans were a kind of healer — but he was puzzled about why she was asking.

“Laura might have been looking for something, and he tapped into it,” Kevin said. “When I was a kid, I was looking for that. You’re looking for the answers to the world.”

Operating with impunity

Garland did not respond to HuffPost’s repeated requests for comment over the course of six months.

He has claimed in messages to others that his relationships were consensual. In emails with one student, he insisted he would “NEVER” pressure anyone sexually. “The joke was that I missed out on a lot of good sex because I was way TOO considerate,” he wrote, adding he has the largest “self control and consideration of others in that area.”

Still, he seemed aware of how his interactions with young women, even if they were over 18, might be perceived. In 2013, he also told Laura he wasn’t “doing too much kiddy things” anymore, as he was burned out and focusing on research. “Keeps me from getting arrested,” he joked.

Laura and one other woman told HuffPost that they went to the police to discuss their interactions with Garland years after their encounters with him. No charges were filed.

States define sex crimes differently, weighing factors like age, force, consent, physical and mental capacity and impairment due to alcohol and drugs. Some states even look at whether there was “therapeutic” deception — like when a therapist abuses a patient. But even in cases where conduct may not rise to a criminal level, that “doesn’t make it any less traumatizing for the victim,” pointed out Jennifer Long, CEO of AEquitas: The Prosecutors’ Resource on Violence Against Women.

Running his own companies, Garland operated with few checks and balances. He thrived in spiritual communities and among open-minded people who may have been prone to trust his unusual claims with minimal skepticism.

The healing communities where Garland operated are now grappling with the allegations. A spokesperson for The Center At Westwoods, where Laura spent time over the summer, said the community supports “those who have spoken out against Colin Garland,” and “did not know of his alleged misconduct during his brief time at Westwoods.” The spokesperson added, “we were horrified to learn of it. Westwoods will continue its important mission as a place of healing and peace in spite of him.”

In the 90s, Garland also lived and worked out of Earthlands, an environmental community in Petersham, Massachusetts. After a programming partner at Earthlands complained about Garland having an inappropriate relationship with her 18-year-old daughter, he was asked to leave. “For nearly a decade, I have been puzzled by your personal relationship with others, particularly younger women,” the founder of Earthlands, Larry Buell, wrote in a letter to Garland in 2001 that he shared with HuffPost. “I would brush it off as ‘oh, that’s the way Colin is.’”

Now, looking back, Buell said he feels bad about not doing more. “Upon more reflection, I see how I should have been more responsible for the protection of women and the damage of those beyond the borders of Earthlands.”

As far as HuffPost was aware, no one complained to the schools Garland recruited from prior to the publication of Laura’s letter. In 2016, a former Mohawk Trail Regional High School student contacted superintendent Michael Buoniconti to voice her concern about Garland’s close contact with young students in the past. Buoniconti told her he contacted a local district attorney’s office to pass along the information. But it’s unclear whether there was any legal follow-up. “To my knowledge, Mr. Garland has not stepped foot in the Mohawk Trail Regional School for many many years,” Buoniconti told HuffPost in an email.

Some in the community still support Garland.

Jeanne Ciampa, a writer and musician who is a friend of Garland’s, said she thought the claims against him sounded like consensual sexual relationships that women now regretted. She worried about harm to Garland’s reputation and to his admirable conservation efforts. “He is absolutely not capable of hurting a soul,” she said, describing herself as a progressive liberal who supports the Me Too movement. “Imagine building your business and having some pissed-off girls ruin it.”

In more recent correspondence, Garland appears shaken by the accusations. In a 2016 Facebook message obtained by HuffPost, he wrote that Laura was “placing a lot of blame on me in some very dark and inaccurate ways.” But he acknowledged, “I fucked up bad and I know it and knew it for sometime now. I was so sure my teachings could help Laura and I sincerely with all my heart had the best of intentions.”

He added that he had nothing to hide or lie about.

“I was just as swept up in wanting to believe in other ways,” he wrote.

Awakenings

When HuffPost began to report this story in 2017, Garland’s company was still recruiting students online for overseas trips. During the course of reporting, the website was taken down; it’s unclear if he has stopped running trips. A search for Colin Garland or Raven Adventures brings up Laura’s letter and Facebook page in the top results. In October 2017, a user posted on TripAdvisor asking if anyone had heard of Raven Adventures because their daughter had received information about a trip.  

“Google threw up a name [and] shame Facebook page that makes some disturbing allegations against the owner,” a user responded. “And while name [and] shame on social media is an exceptionally bad decision-making tool, if I were a parent, I’d be concerned all the same.”

Laura is now 31 and lives in a vehicle that’s as old as she is, a 1986 Toyota van that she bought with only 57,000 miles on it. She’s been on the road since 2011, spending winters in El Paso, Texas, and summers in Colorado, Washington and California, rock climbing and working in gear shops.

Laura Quinn in her van home in the Coconino National Forest outside Flagstaff, Arizona. 
Caitlin O'Hara for HuffPost
Laura Quinn in her van home in the Coconino National Forest outside Flagstaff, Arizona. 

On a sunny afternoon in May, she was parked in a clearing in Coconino National Forest, near Flagstaff, Arizona. Her rat terrier was curled up in the van. Laura looked like the climber she’s been for many years, fit and lightly sunburned. She was quick to laugh and came across as strikingly self-sufficient, casually rattling off the ways she fixed up the van, with a tongue-and-groove cedar ceiling, a catalytic heater, a sink that drains out the floor, and an early-1900s Griswold cast iron stove.

She finds solace in the outdoors, a coping skill she developed after her time with Garland. Hiking in Arizona, in a quiet canyon called Priest Draw, she nimbly sidestepped poison ivy and pointed out “problems,” or bouldering routes. She also noted stumps not far from the trail — trees intentionally cut down to prevent forest fires from spreading — and the blackened skeletons, where the fires had been.

“The big trees are left by the forest service because they can withstand wildfires,” she said. “They can be burned and still live.”

When she spoke about what happened that summer at Westwoods, she occasionally punctuated the story with knowing asides, like, “If I talked to him now, I’d be like, ‘You’re such a fucking creep.’” But she didn’t always feel so comfortable speaking out. For years, she didn’t process what had happened at Westwoods, she said, but had lingering trust and sexual dysfunction issues. Once she began having panic attacks, she entered therapy. She estimates she’s now spent thousands of dollars on it, which she couldn’t afford without her parents’ help. Not a day goes by where she doesn’t think about what happened with Garland.

Laura still tries to actively warn other women about Garland. She and the other women have already made it difficult for him to operate trips in the future without scrutiny.

There’s real power in knowing that she’s not alone, that what she experienced was also shared by others. But it’s also been a wound: Garland never thought she was special, she realizes now; she was just one of many women taken in by the same well-rehearsed story.

“The spell he casts, it makes you feel so unique,” she said. “It was really hard to let that go.”

A Note On Reporting: HuffPost was alerted to the allegations against Colin Garland because one of its reporters, Melissa Jeltsen, is Facebook friends with Laura Quinn. They attended the same high school until 2001. While Melissa was not friends with Laura, she was, and remains, friends with her older sister. Another HuffPost reporter, Dana Liebelson, conducted all interviews with Laura and her family members.

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