The bodies of two teenage boys were found at the bottom of a gorge in the Los Padres National Forest on Wednesday shortly after they were reported missing from a school camping trip.
Monterey County Sheriff's Cmdr. Chris Pascone said there was no evidence of foul play, and investigators were considering the deaths accidental pending the outcome of autopsies. He identified the victims as Mikhail Nikolov and Vladislav Bogomolny, both 17.
The boys were nearing the end of an 11-day wilderness trip with a group from Urban Pioneers Experiential Academy, a San Francisco charter school, when they were reported missing about dawn Wednesday. Other students searched for them and found their bodies at the base of a 67-foot-deep ravine not far from the Arroyo Seco Campground where they had been staying, Pascone said.
Lester Schlesinger, one of six adults accompanying the 27 teenagers on the trip, told Monterey County television station KSBW that some students reported that a group of people wielding 3 1/2-foot swords invaded their camping area Tuesday night and that the students tried to get away.
He said it could have been a prank they were playing on one another.
Monterey County detectives said a curved knife about 10 inches long and a blade about two feet long were found on the ground in the vicinity of the campground.
Authorities also said students had told them that two strange men had visited the camp Tuesday night and that there had been some drinking.
A new public charter school, Urban Pioneers grew out of a quarter-century-old program for at-risk students in the San Francisco school system.
Opened last fall in an old Presidio building, the school has an unconventional curriculum designed to help young people on the verge of dropping out.
"Our mission is to give students the tools they need to take charge of their lives by giving them adventurous experiences combined with strong academics," Urban Pioneers Director Wayne MacDonald said last year.
That meant wilderness expeditions, survival training, community service and not too many textbooks.
According to the San Francisco Weekly, while the school's charter application was under review, the school district raised some safety concerns stemming from two past incidents.
In one, some Urban Pioneer participants took part in a logging protest on the North Coast. In another, some students got lost on a wilderness trip.
The paper reported that MacDonald called the incidents misunderstandings and had addressed the safety issues.