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Parent describes decision to remove child from SC Youth ChalleNGe Academy after incident

The Higgins family arrived to the scene right after receiving a call from their son begging them to pick him up.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — More than a dozen cadets at the South Carolina Youth ChalleNGe Academy were hospitalized last night.

Officials say 14 cadets and one staff member were taken to the hospital for treatment after fights broke out at the McCrady Training Center.

We now know that all of the injured were released from the hospital last night.

Dozens of police and emergency vehicles from multiple law enforcement agencies were called to the scene last night.

Officials say it all began Tuesday around 5 p.m. when a personal dispute turned into a large fight began between cadets at the S.C. Job Challenge Program and the Youth ChalleNGe Center at McCrady.

In a statement, officials with the South Carolina Guard say they are unsure about the number of cadets involved as the incident remains under investigation. No arrests have been made.

One family told News19 they will not be returning. 

A video from a parent of a cadet, Joanna Higgins, shows police cars and other law enforcement.

"So, this is the campus of the South Carolina Youth ChalleNGe Academy," Higgins said. The video was filmed around 7 p.m. when they picked up their son who was enrolled in the program. 

"It seemed traumatic to me when we got there last night," Higgins said. 

Higgins said her concern for her son's safety had grown over recent days. It first came to her attention when the group posted a message on Facebook messages informing parents cadets were safe. 

At first, Higgins said she was hesitant to be alarmed as her son had already done the youth challenge program last year, and she never feared for his safety. But then after receiving several phone calls from him, Higgins said it was clear he needed to leave. 

"At about 5:25 last night, I got a call from a number I did not recognize but I answered the phone and it was Patrick on the other end of the phone," Higgins said. "He sounded frantic. He said, 'I am not safe, come get me now.'" 

All individuals hospitalized were released just hours after the event. 

"Right at first, when the fight broke out in our dorm, I didn't think it was going to become that serious because it only started off as a couple of people, and I've seen that before," Patrick Higgins said. "It's happened right in front of me, so it wasn't a big deal. But once, when more people started jumping in and the youth challenge kids came over and jumped in, and now you've got 30-40 people and however many different fights going on for however many different reasons, that's when I for one knew I needed to get out of that dorm and go find a cell phone to call my mom and get off campus." 

Patrick said he's decided not to return, which officials say several other cadets have decided to do as well.

Now, the South Carolina National Guard tells us while they're in stand down, they'll look at how the fight started and what can be done to improve response and prevent incidents like these in the future.

Patrick's family said their biggest concern was not being informed of the incident. They say they're not sure if he can continue being a part of the welding program at Midlands Tech that he was completing through this program. 

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