A Private School Promised to Help Troubled Kids. Instead, Some Say, It Was a Nightmare

In 2004, Bonnie Allen was a 12-year-old girl in Wilmington, Delaware, who loved Spongebob Squarepants, Lizzie McGuire and the Grease soundtrack. She had fine, corn-colored hair she regularly chopped up and dyed jet black or Elmo red, and a grin that stretched across the entire bottom half of her face, showing off her braces. She was an early-Aughts “scene kid” before anyone else in her town knew that was a thing, showing up to church choir practice in fishnets and miniskirts and combat boots. “All of us were wearing Abercrombie and Fitch and Aeropostale,” says her friend Andrea Higgins. “She didn’t feel like she had to dress that way. She wanted to be herself. ” 

From early on in her adolescence, Bonnie struggled with mental health issues. Psychiatrists were hesitant to officially diagnose her due to how young she was, but bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder were floated around at various points. “We were very frustrated with different therapists, psychologists. Nothing seemed to work with her or reach her,” recalls Tony Allen, her father.

Bonnie loved to sing, and was briefly enrolled at a performing arts school, where she’d “moved people to tears” with her audition song of the national anthem, says Evie Conner, her friend and former classmate. But she was bullied at the school, and after getting into a physical altercation with an older female student, Bonnie’s parents decided to pull her out and look for alternative options. Tony doesn’t remember how, but somehow, he stumbled on the New School. 

A sprawling, ramshackle white clapboard Victorian in Newark, Delaware, with Kinex and Nerf guns piling up in the halls and an overgrown yard out front, the New School (which has no connection to the progressive university of the same name based in New York City) was a private institution with an extremely small student body — under 50 kids were enrolled at any given time, from five to 19, according to former students. It advocated for a totally revolutionary approach to education: no grades, no classes, and even no teachers, instead calling supervising adults simply “staff members.” Kids filtered in and out of classrooms, with eight-year-olds sitting in the same room and discussing Socratic theory alongside 15-year-olds. There was even at one point a smoker’s court for the older kids, a patio outside by the garage. The place was unorganized and unorthodox, and Bonnie fell in love with it instantly. 

The Allens signed Bonnie up in the fall of 2004, hopeful it could provide the kind of environment where their only daughter could finally thrive. There was at least one red flag, Tony remembers: at one point, during an early conversation with founder Melanie Hiner, Allen mentioned his daughter’s potential bipolar diagnosis, and he found Hiner’s reaction dismissive at best. “She said, ‘Oh, you could probably call any kid bipolar at that age.’ She kind of brushed it off,” he says. “She didn’t take it seriously.” 

Still, the Allens were desperate, and so was Bonnie. “She was ready to have a fresh start and be somewhere she was accepted for who she was, and not have her experience be ruined by stories, or people slut-shaming her,” Higgins remembers. “The New School appealed to her because it was a place where she could essentially be herself.” 

Bonnie Allen

Courtesy of Tony Allen

When Melanie Hiner, a former private school teacher with a broad smile and waist-length strawberry-blond hair, initially founded the New School in the mid-1990s, she advertised it as a haven for free thinkers and independent minds, kids who didn’t necessarily fit into the circumscribed boxes to which traditional educators adhered. “We are different in that we are not bureaucratic, prescriptive, or therapeutic,” a representative for the New School said in a statement to Rolling Stone, signed “the students and staff of the New School.”

In the statement, the representative referred to the New School as a “small day school” that has “served many families with good results.” “We are different in that we are not bureaucratic, prescriptive, or therapeutic,” the statement says. “Children here learn, assisted by adult staff members” who are reappointed annually by vote among current students’ families every year. “Formal and informal contacts between staff and parents are plentiful.”

According to the most recent version of the New School website, tuition costs about $7,500 a year for the first child enrolled — less than the average Delaware private school, and with the benefit of individual attention for students. It didn’t have grade levels in the traditional sense, grouping kids of all ages in the same classrooms based on shared interests; an eight-year-old with a head for robotics, for instance, could study the subject with a 15-year-old. To graduate, students had to submit a thesis for approval by a small committee of staff members, leading to only a handful of graduates per year. 

Parents and kids alike say the school was marketed as something of a bastion of progressive education for those who couldn’t hack it in a more traditional environment. They say they were charmed by the vision of self-sufficiency and independence, says one parent who requested not to be named. “It was fabulous, even better than a Montessori school,” she says. “Some kids slip between the cracks. And they thrived at this place.” 

Between the late 1990s and 2012, however, according to more than a dozen former students and parents associated with the school, the New School went from being a progressive, albeit unorthodox, small private school to something completely different. With Hiner’s husband, a charismatic former lawyer named “Big John” Hiner, at its helm, the New School allegedly devolved into a dilapidated, rat feces-infested institution devoid of adult supervision, where troubled and impressionable young students were inculcated with misogynistic and homophobic ideology. 

By 2020, with enrollment declining and the New School community becoming increasingly insular, this ideology would allegedly lead one student to violence, according to court documents, allegedly resulting in an FBI investigation. Alumni also came together on social media to commune about their shared experiences, trying to process how the crunchy, quirky utopia they had been sold had metamorphosed into what some described as a “cult.” Many of them had never spoken about their experiences before with other family members, citing the school’s policy of confidentiality. 

In a letter sent to Rolling Stone, the Hiners and the New School community declined to answer questions. “Though we do not know all of your motivations, we are confident that prime among them is amusing your readers with an emotive story,” the letter read. “In contrast, high among our interests is the protection of the privacy and autonomy of our students and their families, past and present.” The letter also states that while the New School is “not for everyone,” “we think that everyone who has joined us has gained some good from their time here, however long or short.”

The former students and parents who spoke with Rolling Stone, however, disagree. “It was advertised as a democratic free school for free thinkers and independent minds,” recalls one former student, Elena, who requested to be identified by a pseudonym and who attended between 2008 and 2011. “You’d probably think it was a hippie, live laugh love, flower child school. In reality, it was anything but.” 

ACCORDING TO THE NEW SCHOOL WEBSITE, Hiner came up with the idea for the New School, which she co-founded with a fellow educator, when she was just nine, after reading Louisa May Alcott’s book Little Men, which follows heroine Jo March founding a school for boys. The book, Hiner wrote, “led me to say, ‘I’m going to start a school where people can learn what they want to learn.’” 

“She really had this way of selling the school and talking about how good it was going to be, and she’s good at speaking with kids in a way where they hear the message she wants them to hear,” recalls former student Wayne Flenniken, whose mom Trebs Thompson and he were heavily involved in the New School in the early 2000s. “You feel listened to when she talks to you.”

Due to its progressive educational values, the school, which moved from its location in the picturesque Victorian to a sprawling 25-acre farm in 2018, tended to attract a mixture of kids with parents seeking out a more individualized, free-wheeling learning environment, as well as children with learning disabilities or behavioral and emotional issues who had difficulties adapting to mainstream schools. “A lot of us were troubled kids,” says Carly Munroe, 35, who attended between 2003 and 2007. 

The New School was primarily defined by its lack of conventional structure. There were rules governing the school, but they were authored in collaboration with students and outlined in a New School “lawbook.” Any disciplinary measures were decided communally via a tribunal process called the Judicial Committee, or JC, in which students of all ages worked together to determine punishments for various infractions. 

The lack of structure offered by the New School could be beneficial to some kids who had the necessary resources and familial support to be more self-directed, former students and parents say. But from the school’s early years, many students just used the absence of a strict curriculum as an opportunity to goof off. Some older students would hang out by the Smokers’ Court all day, while other kids would play video games.

The lack of adult supervision also fostered an environment of drug use, sexual activity, and even violence, multiple former students claim. Teenage students would go off into the woods to get high, then grab a bagel at the shopping complex down the road before coming back into the building, clearly under the influence. Other students remember there briefly being a “Thunderdome” fight club in a geodesic dome in the school’s back yard, where students would occasionally get into physical altercations. “The recurring theme was, you don’t stop people from doing stuff at school,” recalls Jared, 36, whose name has been changed for his privacy, and who attended in 2005.

Very quickly, students who came to the New School realized it was governed by a culture of secrecy and insularity. Two former students tell Rolling Stone that one of the primary rules in the “lawbook” was confidentiality. “The example they would use is, ‘Zach plays video games all day. And that’s how Zack learns. And if you tell his mom that he’s playing video games all day, she’s gonna think he’s just wasting her time and pull him out,’” Munroe explains. “‘So in order to learn the way you want to learn, confidentiality is necessary.’ It was painted as protecting us.”  

Sometimes, however, this code of silence apparently manifested itself in children withholding information about their own safety or the safety of others from their parents — and being reprimanded if they failed to do so. One student who asked to remain anonymous claims they were physically attacked by an older male student when they were 11 years old, who they allege hit them with a metal pipe. When they told their parents about the incident, they say, Hiner yelled at them, telling them that disputes were supposed to be handled internally, they say. (They say the boy was not disciplined. Another student who attended the New School at the same time was able to confirm this student’s account.)

The lack of adult supervision also meant that drug use was not uncommon at the school, says Jason, who we are referring to by another name due to his concerns about professional reprisal : “The neglect of the staff members when it came to us using drugs was pretty phenomenal.” In response to questions about drug use and lax supervision at school, the New School said, in a letter signed by the students and the staff, “for the record, we deny any and all nefarious innuendos which your bulleted queries may seem to suggest.” 

It was around the early 2000s, Jason and other students say, that a more authoritative presence started spending more time at the school: Melanie’s husband John, a.k.a. “Big John” Hiner. A large, hulking man in his forties with a bushy gray beard, he was an intimidating presence, perfectly suited to perform the role of the imperious Oberon in the school’s annual Midsummer Night’s Dream festival. A former lawyer, Hiner was suspended from practicing law in Delaware in 2002 for, among other reasons, “failing to file tax returns and pay taxes; failing to maintain proper books and records,” “failing in his representation of a client by failing to represent the client diligently,” and “failing to deliver the client funds,” according to court documents. (A representative for the Supreme Court of Delaware says he never filed for reinstatement and his license is still considered suspended; Hiner did not respond to questions about his law license.) 

Prior to his suspension, Hiner was known for being an occasional presence at school spaghetti dinners, where he spouted libertarian, anti-establishment theories, such as that the government was morally responsible for 9/11, remembers Peter Douthwaite, a student in the early 2000s who briefly lived with the Hiners. “He liked to sit in a room and be the commander of attention and spread his views,” he says. (The New School declined to comment.) 

After he stopped practicing law, however, John started spending much more time at the New School. He was an imposing presence, students remember, and was a frequent staple at the various tribunals, which were intended to discipline students with behavioral infractions. Maura MacNamara, a student who attended the New School around 2005, recalls playing with a toy gun during one tribunal and Big John demanding that she stop. (MacNamara is trans and was presenting as male at the time.) When she refused, she alleges, Big John “got pissed and chokeslammed me up against the wall and took it from my hand.”

“He’s a big guy,” recalls MacNamara. “He was, I don’t know, 400 pounds. So once he has you pinned against the wall, there’s not anything a 15-year-old kid who is only probably 120 pounds can do.” (Two former students, including Munroe and Jared, recall witnessing this specific incident.) MacNamara told her father, who called the police. “The police told us that [John] said that he runs the school and he had the right to do the things he did and restrain her,” he recalled. MacNamara was pulled out of the school shortly thereafter. (The Hiners declined to answer questions about this alleged incident; a public information officer for the Newark Police Department declined to provide a police report or any additional information regarding the alleged complaint.)

One of Hiner’s initial roles was teaching Overcoming Sex, which was similar to a sex ed class, former students say, but evolved into a platform for Big John to pontificate on his views, which were becoming increasingly conservative. Big John would rant about subjects like the dangers of homosexuality, or make students watch Kesha music videos and criticize her makeup or the way she dressed. “He was against things seen as promiscuous, or hedonistic,” says Elena. 

Despite his conservative views on sex, Big John was known for being hands-on with female students, having them sit in his lap at meetings or offering parents and students massages on his massage table in the music room, telling them he was officially licensed. (Records show that Big John did indeed receive a massage therapy license in Delaware in 1997, which has since expired.) He was also notorious for spending time with particular female students, including, according to multiple students, one then-underage girl who regularly brought him meals, brushed his hair, and sat in his lap at meetings. (The student did not respond to multiple requests for comment.) 

Trebs Thompson, the mother of former student Wayne Flemmiken, was once horrified to walk in on this student “straddling” him, though she did not bring it up to Melanie Hiner at the time. “It was so weird that I wanted to believe there was something innocent, like I was wrong, somehow,” she says. “Like it wasn’t really bad. I tried to justify it to myself.” 

Most of this behavior was written off as Big John being affectionate with the kids. In fact, at least one parent who spoke to Rolling Stone said they saw it as an asset: “I liked that he gave the little ones hugs,” she says. “[I] just thought the New School was a friendly place to be.” 

But there were other instances of inappropriate comments made by Big John that were harder to dismiss, sources tell Rolling Stone. Both Douthwaite and Thompson say they heard Big John making comments about sex with children on at least one occasion. “He was very loudly giving his opinion that he found it very outrageous that the default attitude toward having sex with children is to be against it,” Douthwaite says. “He thought there was no firm evidence it actually harmed them.” (The New School declined to comment about any specific allegations, stating, “we deny any and all nefarious innuendos which your bulleted queries may seem to suggest.”)

Douthwaite lived with the Hiners from September 2002 through the spring of 2003 after his parents moved to Florida, so he could finish the school year. During that time, he says, he was walking behind Hiner’s laptop when he saw a nude image of a young girl, who he estimated to be about five years old, on the monitor. After telling his parents, they pulled him out of school and told him to report the incident to the police, which he did. 

A family member of Douthwaite’s and a friend confirm he told them about seeing the image at the time. The family member confirms they placed a call to Newark police, who then connected them to the FBI. Newark Police declined to provide a copy of Douthwaite’s statement. A FOIA request for Hiner’s records was also rejected, on the grounds that they were “part of investigatory files compiled for civil or criminal law-enforcement purposes including pending investigative files,” according to the Newark PD. 

Douthwaite says he regrets that nothing ever came of the call to the police, adding that he was highly intimidated by Big John at the time. “Almost no one who was a student at the time would have had the bravery” to go against him, he says. “Even if you did, he was such a sophisticated speaker that you knew what he would do. He would engage in sophistry and justify it and outsmart you. He is really good at that.” 

There was also a larger cultural shift going on at the New School, which multiple students say was primarily spearheaded by Big John. The school had never advertised itself as politically or religiously affiliated, but around the time that Big John became more of a presence at the school, the Hiners, who are Catholic, started encouraging some students to come to church with them every Sunday, Elena and Munroe said. While church was not mandatory, it was viewed by some students as a way to gain purchase inside the Hiners’ inner circle and to improve their chances of having them approve their final thesis, which was a requirement for graduation. And former parents and students say it didn’t take long for the Hiners’ “weird interpretation of the Catholic faith,” as Munroe puts it, to start seeping into the ideology of the entire school. 

“It wasn’t any version of Catholicism I recognized, that’s for sure,” says one former student. “I’m talking Trad Catholic. Lace veils for women when they pray, Bible and mass in Latin, trying to bring back pre-Vatican II type stuff.” 

When homosexuality was discussed on school grounds, it was in the context of Big John saying gay sex was “barbarous” and that AIDS was “a punishment sent from God,” says one student who asked not to be named, who was closeted at the time. “Those things made me feel like I had to be on guard and made me feel absolutely not comfortable to discuss my sexuality or explore it or tell anybody about it,” he says. (Two other students who spoke to Rolling Stone confirmed Hiner had a history of making homophobic comments.)

The evils of abortion were also topics of conversation, multiple students tell Rolling Stone. Elena says that during her time at the school, the Hiners would occasionally cheer on students who picketed outside Planned Parenthood, and shared a list of brands to boycott based on their support for stem cell research. In her sex ed classes, “we talked a lot about birth control and condoms and how that was one step away from abortion, which was murder,” she says.

Munroe, who had an abortion at the age of 18 while she was a student at the New School, says she sought guidance from Big John afterwards; when she mentioned she wanted to have children one day, “he equated me having children and loving them and holding them when they were sad and tucking them in at night, all while I knew I had killed their brother, to being on par with a Nazi guard, spending his days at a concentration camp, killing Jews, and then coming in and tucking his son into bed,” she recalls.

The comparison turned her stomach and led her to hit a “breaking point”: “I left and I didn’t come back,” she says. 

Bonnie Allen

Courtesy of Tony Allen

WITH SO MANY TEENAGERS RUNNING around in an unsupervised environment, sex would often come up at the New School, though former students say the Hiners’ teachings around sexuality were confusing and often contradictory. The greatest targets of Big John’s ire, former students say, were young female students who were perceived as having been promiscuous. One of these young women was Bonnie Allen, the 12-year-old girl who had struggled with severe mental health issues before attending the New School. 

Despite her initial excitement at getting a fresh start, almost immediately, Bonnie had problems, says her friend Evie Conner. Conner told Rolling Stone that Bonnie told her that she was “bullied” by students and staff, and when she complained to a staff member about a male student making her uncomfortable, she was told by the staff member to essentially “suck it up,” Conner says. (The staff member did not respond to a request for comment.) 

When Bonnie started hanging around with some older boys at the Smokers’ Court, the Hiners took notice, particularly Big John, who sources say would frequently berate Bonnie and another female student. “He would call them sluts, whores, tell them they were too sexual, all kinds of awful things,” says Renata, a friend of Bonnie’s who attended the school from 2004 to 2006. (Several students confirmed that Big John used slut-shaming language targeted at a select group of female students.) 

When, for a school project, Renata and Bonnie choreographed a routine to Jet’s “Are You Gonna Be My Girl,” Bonnie put on lipstick for the performance. Afterwards, Renata says, Big John walked up to Bonnie and said, “Why are you walking around like a little slut?” 

“She was a mess. She was crying. It was awful,” she recalls. “She looked so, so, so, sad.”

A few months into Bonnie’s time at the New School, says Tony Allen, her father, she was caught giving oral sex to an older boy on school property. She was just 12. (He could not remember who the boy was, or exactly how old he was.) Tony says that he and his now-ex-wife, who did not respond to requests for comment, were not informed of this by the Hiners or anyone at the New School, instead finding out through one of Bonnie’s friends. Shortly after they learned what allegedly happened, in spring 2005, they pulled Bonnie out of the school without speaking with the Hiners, though he says they hounded him for tuition payments for a few months afterwards. 

“They were not providing a safe environment. That to me is a breach of contract,” he says. “So I didn’t feel like we owed them anything.” 

Bonnie did not tell her friends outside the New School what had happened, or why she had left. When her choir friends, who would regularly come over for sleepovers at the Allens’ house, asked her what had happened, “you could tell from her tone she didn’t want to talk about it very much,” remembers her friend Andrea Higgins. “I just knew it wasn’t what she thought it was supposed to be.” 

When Higgins later learned about what had happened with the older boy, she says, her peers framed it as if it had been Bonnie’s fault, “like she was the problem, when the reality is she was a victim,” HIggins says. 

BECAUSE OF THE CODE OF SILENCE allegedly governing the New School, the parents who spoke with Rolling Stone say they were not aware of everything that was happening at the school. When they did find out, according to these parents, it was not uncommon for them to pull their kids out midway through the school year, as the Allens had with Bonnie. 

Some parents say they encountered difficulty, however, when their kids didn’t want to leave. When Elena’s father, for instance, pulled his daughter out of the New School after allegedly witnessing Big John give her a massage in his condo’s swimming pool, she initially refused. Even after she agreed to go to public school, she continued to attend church with the Hiners. Eventually, she says, she got the sense that they were trying to create dissonance between her and her parents. When the movie Tangled came out, Elena recalls, she watched it with the Hiners, who mockingly compared her mother to the overbearing, manipulative villain Mother Gothel. “The closer I was to the Hiners and the staff, the further I was from my family,” she says. 

Trebs Thompson, the mother of former student Wayne Flemmiken, also noticed that the Hiners had a tendency to encourage kids to stay even after their parents tried to get them out. “At some point it devolved to the point where if you tried to remove your kid from the school, [and] the Hiners would step in and say, ‘Well, that’s OK, you can just stay here with us and keep going to school,’” Thompson says. When she floated the idea of pulling her son Wayne out, he insisted he didn’t want to leave. “I was terrified,” she says. “[I was thinking]: did I want to lose my kid to these people?” (He eventually left of his own volition in 2004.)

Thompson says she considered calling the authorities on the school to try to get it shut down. (The school is not formally accredited, but this is not unusual, as private schools are not required to be licensed under the Delaware DOE.) But she decided against it, focusing instead on calling the parents she knew to try to get them to leave. “We knew we’d be destabilizing the safe haven some kids had,” she says. 

Most former New School students who Rolling Stone spoke to did not continue to be involved with the community, largely filing away their experiences with the school as an unpleasant memory. Former students would occasionally hear tidbits of information from the alumni community — that the school had moved to another location, for instance, and started running a co-op on a farm, headed by a former teacher. But few of the alumni thought much about the New School, until they heard about what happened with Samuel Gulick.

At approximately 2:16 a.m. on Jan. 3, 2020, Gulick, a slight 18-year-old with a wispy beard and straw-colored hair, drove to the Planned Parenthood facility in Newark, Delaware, spray-painting the words “Deus Vult” — Latin for “God wills” — on the front. According to court documents, Gulick threw a lit Molotov cocktail into the front window, which exploded upon impact, causing damage to the window and the front porch. He was arrested the next day and charged with malicious damage of a building and intentional damage to a facility that provides reproductive health services.

According to court documents reviewed by Rolling Stone, Gulick was a longtime member of the New School community, enrolling at the age of 13 after being home-schooled for most of his life, according to a sentencing memorandum submitted by his attorney, Conor Wilson. He was exactly the type of vulnerable kid that the school had traditionally courted: he had been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), as well as a debilitating speech impediment. He quickly became deeply enmeshed in the New School’s inner circle, getting baptized and developing a “hyper-focused and radicalized fascination with Roman Catholicism,” according to the memorandum. (Wilson declined to comment for this story; phone calls and messages to the Gulick residence went unreturned.)

To outside observers, Gulick seemed diligent and hard-working, volunteering at the co-op on the farm frequently. Yet in reality, “he was going farther inward and was increasingly socially isolated,” according to the memorandum. That’s clear from Gulick’s texts and social media posts cited in the memorandum. A search of his Instagram by the FBI found a history of anti-abortion posts using violent rhetoric, including an infographic with the caption, “The Nazis said killing millions of Jews was a national health issue. Democrats are using the same excuse to kill American children.” In another text, he referred to Planned Parenthood employees as “murderous bastards who in my opinion should be shot.”

In court documents, Wilson argued that while Gulick’s actions were not directed by the New School, they were intended to impress New School leadership. In 2022, after spending 26 months in prison, Gulick was sentenced to time served followed by three years of court-supervised probation and therapy. This sentence was in part due to his young age and his developmental issues, according to court documents. Though the conditions of Gulick’s sentence prohibited him from contacting the Hiners, the judge did receive a letter submitted by Melanie Hiner attesting to Gulick’s character: “Please release Sam to the custody of his loving family, the school that cares so much for him, to his church, and to the volunteer work he does for us all,” she wrote in the letter. “We will do everything we can to keep him secure and support him through this.” 

Prompted by Gulick’s arrest, many New School alumni connected on Facebook to start a private group, aptly dubbed “the Smokers’ Court.” For parents like Thompson, the Facebook group has brought about something of a moment of personal reckoning, particularly after speaking with female alumni from the group who had been made uncomfortable by Big John or the general environment of shame and bullying at the school. She wonders what could have been prevented had she spoken up earlier. “I look back on it and I’m like, why did I not have better judgment?,” she says. 

The New School appears to still be operational, though the Facebook page for the school was last updated in December 2017, and less than 30 students currently attend the school, according to Gulick’s 2022 sentencing memorandum and US News and World Report.

Many of the alumni Rolling Stone spoke with said that shortly after joining the group, they were contacted by the FBI, who reached out in the summer of 2022. When reached for comment, a representative for the FBI said, “We don’t confirm or deny or give updates on specific investigations.” The FBI also rejected a FOIA requesting records of an investigation into the New School filed by Rolling Stone. 

Due to the abrupt mid-semester departures of many former New School students, and the fact that many attended before the advent of social media, alumni used the Smokers’ Court group as an opportunity to find students who had left during their time there. One name that was frequently floated around was Bonnie Allen’s. Few people had heard from her in the two decades following her departure from the New School, and there was virtually no information about her online.

According to Tony Allen, Bonnie’s father, and Andrea Higgins, Bonnie’s former best friend, Bonnie was briefly enrolled in a local public middle school after she left the New School, and was suspended shortly after having a violent altercation with a female student. Not long afterward, she ran away from home. Higgins spotted her one morning in downtown Wilmington, miles from her house, sitting outside a corner store. Higgins invited Bonnie back to her apartment, where she took a nap and showered. When her parents called Bonnie’s parents to let them know where she was, Bonnie panicked; by the time her parents arrived to pick her up, she was gone. 

Several days later, Tony Allen says, Bonnie’s mother found her in downtown Wilmington, and she called the police after Bonnie refused to get in the car. They later discovered she had pot and heroin in her bag. From there, Bonnie went to an in-patient rehab, then to a residential treatment facility for troubled teens. “We really didn’t want her to come home,” he says. “We did not feel like we could keep her safe.” 

When Bonnie finally came home in 2006, she seemed to be doing better, says Higgins: “she was a bit more mellow. She was like, ‘I am still trying to figure stuff out.’ Shortly after seeing her, I found out she threw herself in front of a car.” 

Bonnie’s attempt to take her own life was on July 30, 2006. She survived, but was in a coma for 10 months. Higgins and her friends would get updates from the Allens; some days were good, some days were not so good. “She was suffering more than she was progressing,” Higgins says. On May 27, 2007, Bonnie’s parents decided to take her off life support. She was just 15. 

When reached for comment about Allen’s death, the New School said, “It is painful when a student or former student commits a crime or meets [an] untimely death. Sadly those who try to help children achieve maturity have always faced such horrors.”


But when Tony Allen looks back on those last years of his daughter’s life, particularly her time at the New School, it’s with intense regret. “Our thought was, this might be something that would click with her, something that would work. She might be able to find herself in this different environment,” he says. 

He does not blame the New School for what happened to Bonnie, or for her death. But, he says, “we were hoping they would give her some support and guidance. And that did not happen.”