Family Photos
Kelly Charging-Hatlen, Baby Cash’s mother, visits him at the Sanford Children's Pediatric Intensive Care Unit in Fargo, North Dakota – a Haunted Forest helps raise money to pay medical bills

Backyard Haunted Forest Benefits Child with Rare Condition

Cary Rosenbaum
10/30/15

A backyard haunting called “Cash’s Haunted Forest,” which attracted more than 1,700 people this past October on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation, has used ‘jump-scares’ to raise money for a hospitalized toddler suffering from a rare throat condition.

The toddler’s name is Cash Hatlen, a three-year-old boy of Three Affiliated Tribal descent that has been diagnosed with laryngomalacia and cerebral palsy. Hatlen, who nearly died in 2012 when his throat collapsed, has spent most of his life in intensive care, where a ventilator allows him to breathe. He will turn four on May 3 and has never received a haircut, because his mother, Kelly Charging-Hatlen wants him to be connected to his native identity.

Cash Hatlen’s godmother, Stephanie “Snuzzy” Laducer, 43, owns the 5.5-acre parcel of land used for the Halloween-themed event on the 6x 12 mile Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota.

In the fall of 2012, she decided to host a fundraising event for her best friend of 21 years, Kelly Charging-Hatlen, Cash’s mother, who was living in Minneapolis so she could be with her then one-month old son, who was in pediatric intensive care at a children’s hospital. Her husband, Dave Hatlen, and two children were back in Fargo.

Along with fellow Turtle Mountain Community Elementary teacher Tasha Marcellais, Laducer came up with a plan in the fall of 2012 to raise money by transforming her backyard with Halloween decor, and requesting a donation to enter.

“I jokingly suggested it to Tasha, and she said ‘Let’s do it,’” Laducer said. “I wanted to do something to help her, whether it was spiritually, mentally or better yet, financially.”

Different ideas crossed her mind, she said, “but I wanted to do something all my students could participate in.”

Since starting the event, Laducer estimates she has raised more than $20,000 to help sick children from her reservation, with Cash receiving 25 percent.

One of her favorite donations was a license plate especially for Cash signed by several Minnesota Vikings, including star running back Adrian Peterson.

Cash currently resides in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Sanford Children’s Hospital in Fargo and needs six nurses in order to return home, where he will require consistent 24-hour nursing to ensure the best care for Cash, Charging-Hatlen said.

“We’ve have the nurses in line, we have for months,” she said. “Except we need one more nurse. It’s been devastating to be so close.”

This past October’s fundraiser directed customers into an asylum-themed 17-station gauntlet, charging $5. Laducer and Marcellais coined the terms “From King to Craven, You’ll be in San Haven,” and asked volunteers to act out characters from Stephen King novels and Wes Craven movies.

Though they received some criticism for an asylum theme, the organizers say they look at it from a different perspective.

“As scary as those characters are, it's a form of prayer,” Marcellais, a 39-year-old kindergarten teacher said. “They're working for the good.”

Since its inception in 2012, the event has expanded to support three more children suffering various other conditions: Harley Meinhardt, 10, is a two-time cancer survivor; Eliana Jo Belgarde, a one-year-old born with Apert syndrome; and Reece Laducer, 3, who experiences several seizures a day and is awaiting diagnosis.

The dozens of volunteers stay in character despite October weather as low as 17 degrees

“Nobody complains because I tell them there are four other children who are going through worse than what we’re feeling out here,” Laducer said.

Last year, Cash’s mother, Kelly Charging-Hatlen attended the haunted forest for the first time and found herself emotional after seeing all the support.

“It was jaw-dropping,” she said, pausing. “People like that, those are our heroes.”

Laducer says her godson Cash, is her source for inspiration. “He has brought so many miracles and humbling experiences. You don’t know how much you should value your own life and health.“I call him ‘Ogitchidaa,’ which means warrior (in Chippewa),” she said.

“Children like Cash fight to live every day,” Laducer said.

A tentative theme for next year’s event, which will seek to gain non-profit status to attract more donations, is “Haunted fairytales.” Laducer wants to start the event sooner the allow for more children to participate before sunset.

For more information on Cash’s Haunted forest, go to  https://www.facebook.com/1544736412410020/.

 

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