Hypnosis Scandal: Florida Principal Hypnotized Three Students Who Died Soon After, School Pays $600,000 Settlement

A hypnosis scandal in Florida has resulted in the Sarasota County School District paying out $600,000 to three sets of grieving parents. North Port High School principal George Kenney hypnotized three students who all died not long after the sessions, which the school banned. The parents of deceased students filed a lawsuit against the district after the tragic deaths in 2011. Each family will garner $200,000 from the lawsuit settlement.

Florida Principal George Kenney hypnotized about 75 staff members and students from 2006 to 2011, the Blaze reports. Kenney was reassigned to an administrative position at the Sarasota school district after the deaths of the students. He was not licensed to perform hypnosis and was told three times to stop conducting such sessions without written permission from parents.

The North Port High School students who died in back-to-back deaths in 2011 include Wesley McKinley, 16, Brittany Palumbo, 17, and Marcus Freeman, 16. After two of the students committed suicide and one died in a car accident, the North Port High School principal admitted to hypnotizing all three of the teenagers. He performed hypnosis on Wesley McKinley on the same day he killed himself.

Florida school board attorney Art Hardy said the district is “just happy to put this behind them” when referencing the lawsuit settlement during an interview with the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Marcus Freeman, the North Port High School starting quarterback, was the first of the students hypnotized by the principal to die. He reportedly asked Kenney to perform hypnosis in an attempt to help him garner increased focus and concentration on the football field. In addition to undergoing hypnosis by the principal, Freeman was eventually taught how to perform self-hypnosis.

While driving back from a painful dentist appointment with his girlfriend on March 15, 2011, Freeman suddenly drove off the interstate and crashed his car. He appeared to be in a “state of hypnosis” when a “strange look” came over his face, according to the girlfriend, who survived the wreck.

In April, Wesley McKinley committed suicide by hanging himself. McKinley’s friend, Thomas Lyle, stated during a deposition that before killing himself, McKinley was hypnotized at least three times. The sessions with the principal began in an effort to help the teenager practice for his guitar audition for Julliard. After being hypnotized by George Kenney, McKinley did not recognize his friends or even know his own name, Lyle said. On the day he killed himself, McKinley allegedly asked Lyle to punch him in the face.

Brittany Palumbo underwent hypnosis so she could focus better and improve her SAT scores. When her test scores did not increase, Palumbo became depressed and killed herself in May 2011.

George Kenney was ultimately charged with two misdemeanor counts of practicing hypnosis without a license in 2012. He pleaded no contest to the charges and was sentenced to one year of probation and restricted from performing hypnosis during that time. Kenney gave up his teaching license in 2013 and has been banned from ever applying for another. The former North Port High School principal is now reportedly operating a bed and breakfast in North Carolina, where he also makes stained glass. The parents who filed the lawsuit were unhappy that Kenney never admitted any wrongdoing or apologized and is now enjoying a comfortable retirement.

The hypnosis scandal lawsuit settlement was reached on October 1, just a several days before civil court proceedings were scheduled to begin. The $600,000 payout to the parents of the hypnotized students was the largest amount allowed without garnering specific approval from both the governor and the state legislature.

The parents of the deceased students said they did not file the lawsuit against the school for money, but to make sure the principal would never again perform hypnosis on students.

“We are satisfied with the overall outcome, although this is a very hollow victory,” said Brittany Palumbo’s parents, Michael and Patricia Palumbo.

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