Grandfather charged with forcing Grand Canyon hikes

FLAGSTAFF, AZ - An Indiana man is accused of forcing his three young grandsons on brutal hikes at the Grand Canyon, beating them, making them walk on ulcerated blisters, denying them food and water and pushing them to run up the trail under the intense sun.

Forty-five-year-old Christopher A. Carlson, of Indianapolis, was charged with child abuse. Rangers and passers-by noted the alleged abuse by Carlson against the boys, ages 12, 9 and 8, according to a court documents.

One of the hikes down the most popular trail at the Grand Canyon lasted 18 miles last weekend, when temperatures reached up to 108 degrees at Phantom Ranch along the Colorado River. A ranger spotted the group with binoculars on a trail and saw Carlson shoving the oldest boy and whipping him with a rolled up a T-shirt, authorities said.

The father of the children, Kevin Beatty, of Indianapolis, said he's leaving for Arizona in the next couple days after hearing the news.

"I was shocked, to choke a child and make them walk 20 miles without and food or water, I just can't believe it," said Kevin Beatty. 

The boys' mother, Tara Danaher, also of Indianapolis, sobbed and covered her face during a hearing Thursday to determine whether Carlson should remain in custody.

She said her children went on a series of trips with their grandfather this summer, including to Central America and Jamaica. The highlight of the latest trip that included the Grand Canyon was supposed to be Disneyland, she said.

Danaher, 28, said she talked with her children throughout the summer and that they never expressed any concerns.

"I don't want to say I can't believe it because anything is possible in this world," she said during breaks in the court hearing. "I want to know what the hell happened."

The boys told investigators that they had been hit, pushed, choked, pinched, squeezed and whipped, and had vomited several times when Carlson forced their fingers down their throats.

"I'm the world's proudest dad to have them as my kids, they're loving, kind, so great," said Beatty.

They also said they were not allowed to drink water and had been limited to little food. Rangers fed and hydrated the boys inside an ambulance and they were placed in the care of child protective services.

According to the court papers, the boys were only given hummus and celery during the brutal hikes.

The trail that the group hiked on two separate times last month can be deceiving. The Bright Angel Trail starts around 7,000 feet in elevation and drops to 2,400 feet at the river, and the temperature varies widely. The National Park Service advises hikers not to make the trip to the river and back in one day but people do it sometimes.

Carlson took the children on the latest hike on Aug. 28. Park Service Special Agent Chris Smith testified Thursday that Carlson told authorities that the boys had been overweight and he thought the hike would get them into shape.

"He told me that he loved his grandchildren very much but at the same time there were tough people in the world and his grandchildren needed to be tough as well," Smith said.

Defense attorney Luke Mulligan suggested that rangers could have done more if they believed the children were at risk of serious injury or death.

Carlson has not yet entered a plea in the case.

Beatty said he was more shocked than angry over Carlson's actions.

"As far as I'm concerned, what he did, I forgive him for what he's done, but I believe justice needs to be served," he said.