Abbie Bartels Has Died, After Indefensible Hershey School Decisions. It’s Time To Put Child Welfare Professionals In Charge, Before Any More Children Are Harmed.
  • Petitioning Kathleen Kane

This petition will be delivered to:

Pennsylvania Attorney General
Kathleen Kane

Abbie Bartels Has Died, After Indefensible Hershey School Decisions. It’s Time To Put Child Welfare Professionals In Charge, Before Any More Children Are Harmed.

    1. Petition by

      Protect The Hersheys' Children, Inc.

Tell Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane It’s Time To Protect Vulnerable Children At The $11 Billion Hershey Charity, Before Another Child Tragically Dies.

Abbie Bartels, a 14-year-old child, is dead. She committed suicide after facing indefensible policies at the Milton Hershey School, a charity with $11 billion in resources, including a controlling interest in the Hershey Company.

Abbie had spent ten years in residential care at Hershey, a school for disadvantaged children, having been enrolled at the age of four. 

Abbie was an honor role student, tenderhearted, and loved by all. She was also a member of an anti-bullying group and always put other children first.

But this spring, Abbie experienced severe depression and was doing her best to work through it. 

Receiving help, Abbie had begun repairing her self-esteem and was on her way to recovery. She was also excitedly anticipating her 8th grade graduation, together with her Hershey friends, whom she thought of as her family.

But ignoring the advice of professionals treating Abbie, Hershey administrators told her that she would not be permitted to return to the school.

They also informed Abbie’s family that she could not even attend her 8th grade graduation and student home picnic —and they threatened to call security if Abbie showed up, treating this tender and harmless child like a pariah. 

Even Hershey staff were mystified by the administration’s posture and struggled to understand why, with the school psychologist breaking down and crying on the phone over it.

But he was powerless to question Hershey leaders whose actions are shielded by Pennsylvania officials, no matter what decisions they make.

With nowhere to turn, Abbie’s fragile psyche could not withstand the added blows: a week later, she took her own life, after telling her brother that she had cried all night and wanted only to return to Hershey, the place she called home. 

Hershey administrators then allowed Abbie to return, to be buried in the Hershey Cemetery, paying for her funeral.

Abbie’s death is part of a long legacy of Hershey misconduct and poor decisions. 

This includes discrimination against kids with HIV, reckless housing experiments, gross misuse of funds, and self-enrichment by “charitable” board members who pay themselves millions, though they lack educational or child welfare qualifications. 

Hershey leadership hiring is also not driven by child welfare interests, but by fealty to the status quo.

It’s not that Hershey does not do vast good. On the contrary, with $11 billion in resources, it helps many needy children each year. But because of poor policy decisions and asset misuse, Hershey only scratches the surface of its enormous child-saving potential. 

Program flaws are revealed in massive attrition: more than one child is removed from Hershey on average every school day, despite $100,000 in per child annual spending. In the last ten years, 2,034 children were removed, while only 1,439 graduated. 

But rather than fixing systemic problems, Hershey’s leaders simply expel the children harmed by them. Abbie’s case is one example.

And sadly, those in charge are protected by their political allies in Pennsylvania government. 

These oversight officials — from both parties — refuse to intervene, no matter how many children are harmed. Even when children are put at risk of sexual abuse due to dangerous housing arrangements, the authorities fail to act against the politically and financially powerful Hershey trust. 

The latest example was the July selection as interim Hershey school president of a politically-connected insider with no educational or child welfare experience –but who happens to be the brother-in-law of Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s chief of staff. 

Attorney General Kane has direct oversight responsibility for Hershey; and this questionable appointment demonstrated that disregard for the interests of needy children would continue.

Even worse, just before the appointment, Attorney General Kane gave the Hershey board a free pass when she closed an unprecedented Hershey investigation without any meaningful action. This was despite very serious allegations of board self-enrichment, poor policy, and misuse of charitable funds. Attorney General Kane even let the board completely off the hook for squandering $25 million of child welfare money on a scandalous luxury golf project, raising grave questions that have yet to be answered.

But Attorney General Kane packaged this oversight travesty as “dramatic reform,” relying on public inattentiveness to do so. This brought condemnation from respected charitable trust observers, who warned of the consequences for needy children.

Less than two months later, Abbie Bartels was dead; and the disturbing manner in which Abbie was treated underscores just how dysfunctional Hershey has become.

All of which is why we ask you here to join us in telling Attorney General Kane that she must act now — before another child is harmed on her watch — by placing qualified people in charge at Hershey, and ending the charity’s use as a patronage mill or insider job-mart.

For more information, including historical Hershey background and a video tribute to Abbie, please visit:

Thank you for helping us to protect Hershey children, and for making sure that no other child ever again has to endure the treatment that Abbie faced.

On behalf of Abbie’s family,

Protect The Hersheys’ Children, Inc.

Please also visit our Facebook page:

For a Harvard Law School presentation on Hershey problems and how the school can save vastly more children, please watch “Making Bitter Chocolate Sweet: The Milton Hershey School's Past and Hoped for Future:”

Recent signatures


    1. AG Kathleen Kane Continues to Enable Hershey School Abuses

      Dear Supporters of the Justice for Abbie Campaign:

      The tragic suicide of Robin Williams was a poignant reminder that depression afflicts people in all walks of life.

      But unlike a famous actor, the suffering of a powerless and impoverished child like Abbie Bartels is easily ignored.

      This is why we hoped Anderson Cooper’s exposé would spur action by PA Attorney General Kathleen Kane.

      But we are disappointed to report that AG Kane still has done nothing to end Hershey abuses of children who suffer from depression. Nor has she rectified the school’s leadership failures.

      On the contrary, Kane again turned a blind eye recently as the Hershey school board practically trumpeted its stubborn refusal to change.

      Specifically, the board named as the next Hershey school president the very individual who was in charge of health services during the period when Abbie was mistreated, alumnus Peter Gurt.

      This decision followed a sham (but costly) “nationwide search,” the third such charade in a row. In each case, an insider and defender of the status quo was selected as school president over world-caliber candidates who were never even seriously considered.

      Hershey children like Abbie, employees, and the school itself suffer the consequences of this glaring cronyism, with only a sliver of Hershey alumni pleased by a gesture intended to mollify them too.

      Disturbingly, Mr. Gurt has a history of questionable conduct spanning some 20 years, going well beyond his role in shaping the policies to which Abbie was subjected. For example, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on a “joke” ascribed to Mr. Gurt concerning a matter far from funny. (See, “How child-porn case led to Hershey School”

      For this and other reasons, we believe that credible Hershey change will not come about under the current leadership.

      Accordingly, we will step up our calls for Hershey reforms, until AG Kane acts in a meaningful way.

      We would remind the public that it has been over 500 days since Kane solemnly promised the Hershey board would name child welfare experts to its ranks, with still not even a single such appointment. It is little wonder the board continues to make indefensible personnel and policy decisions.

      Once again, thank you for signing the Justice for Abbie petition. Your support will help bring about real Hershey change.

      With $12 billion in resources, the Hershey trust should be the world’s greatest savior of needy children, not an abuser of children who suffer from depression nor a job-mart for connected insiders.


      Protect The Hersheys’ Children, Inc.

    2. Anderson Cooper Airs Abbie's Story

      Dear Supporters,

      Sunday marked the one-year anniversary of Abbie Bartel's tragic death, a painful moment for Abbie's family. In a somber remembrance, Anderson Cooper aired a report last night about what Abbie faced.

      You can access the Anderson Cooper segment here:

      You can also visit our Facebook page to share your thoughts:

      With your help, we are one step closer to honoring Abbie's memory, by assuring that no other Hershey children are subjected to what Abbie faced.

      A tender and loving child was lost because of policies and attitudes that must change; but we need not allow any other children to suffer the same.

      On behalf of Abbie's family and the Protect The Hersheys' Children team, we thank you for your continued support.


      Protect The Hersheys' Children, Inc.

      "What are you, a bunch of morons!" - Abbie Bartels' mother, upon learning her child was banned from graduation

      Roughly one year ago, 14-year-old Abbie Bartels took her own life, hanging herself in her bedroom closet. A student at the Milton Hershey School, Bartel had been barred from attending her graduation, a decision her family maintains lead to the suicide.

    3. Reached 4,000 signatures


    Reasons for signing

    • Alyssa Williamson RED LION, PA
      • 3 days ago

      abbie was a friend of mine i was her roommate in the 2nd grade

    • Kenneth Beasley ARLINGTON, VA
      • 21 days ago

      Largest SINGLE child welfare organization in the state overseen by the AG and has NO staff qualified as a child care practitioner. This is horrific and appears to be the expected result of policies made by those unqualified by education or temperament. Additional children will die and others serious injury if the AG remains silent. In this day and age NO child should be placed in a situation with this level of continued incompetence.

    • Marcia Wilson TACOMA, WA
      • 3 months ago

      How can the school justify this?

    • Deborah Wes's BERLIN MD, MD
      • 3 months ago

      The children the best life a child could be offered. Now there are problems , the largest and richest school in the United States. The adults are depriving them just as thier parents did. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH I AM SO TIRED OF HEARING THESE SAD STORIES OF THESE BEAUTIFUL CHILDREN

    • Christine Rohlf LANCASTER, PA
      • 3 months ago

      My two daughters, Gretchen and Katrina Rohlf, were both terminated terminated from Milton Hershey School because of depression and multiple psychiatric hospitalizations. I believe if they had been allowed back in, they would have much different lives today, especially Katrina, who was terminated one month before her eighth grade graduation, and was not allowed to graduate with her class. I believe it has affected her ever since.


    Develop your own tools to win.

    Use the API to develop your own organizing tools. Find out how to get started.