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Three friends, three young deaths – an up-close look at the troubled teen industry

Samantha Leach and her best friend Elissa have been inseparable since childhood. They attended kindergarten and elementary school together in suburban Providence, Rhode Island, and entertained each other during temple time by turning songs and prayers into games. In fifth grade, when Leach first started developing breasts, Alyssa United wore a bra. But by middle school, Elissa had grown from “a gangly kid who liked to do cartwheels and show off how fast she ran” to the character Leach described in her new book The Elissas: Three Girls, One Fate, and Suburbs. Deadly Secret , to a physically insecure girl, boy goes crazy and always pushes Leach outside of her comfort zone. While vacationing in Palm Beach, Alyssa coaxes Richie into buying condoms; back home, they start drinking. “The more she pushes my elastic limits,” Leach writes, “the bigger the reward. The more uncomfortable she makes me, the happier we end up.”

By eighth grade, the girls’ high school principal was tired of their antics. He warns Leach and tells Elissa that their high school doesn’t welcome her, inadvertently pushing her into an industry of so-called troubled teens: a loose network of therapeutic boarding schools, boot camps, residential drug rehab centers and wilderness programs Catering to wealthy parents desperate to correct rebellious teens. Paris Hilton later spoke out against the industry, detailing how she was abducted from her bed at the behest of her parents and ended up at Provo Canyon School, which she called a A “place of torture” rife with abuse. She’s not alone; according to the American Bar Association, the troubled teen industry is located in , and 000 between*),120 Every year young people are subjected to numerous allegations of physical and sexual abuse, starvation, isolation and conversion therapy.

Elissa’s experience at a therapeutic boarding school is terrible, except she meets other troubled teenagers there, Alyssa and Alissa. Together, the girls went through strip searches, public humiliation and the school’s version of assault therapy, a group counseling method that encourages participants to humiliate each other. In 120, the Elissas family emerge from school bonded together and with matching tattoos: the cryptic phrase “save our souls”. Within eight years, all three girls died unexpectedly, unconnected.

In The Elissas: Three Girls, One Destiny, and a Deadly Secret in Suburbia , Leach befriends Alyssa posthumously and Alissa, reading past Facebook posts and interviewing their loved ones. She connects the three girls’ intersectional stories with research into the shadowy corners of the industry. Vogue asked Leach about the tightrope walk of privileged writing and the pain of losing her oldest friend.




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