tonight on "nightline," mystery malady. a case of uncontrolled twitching spreads through one high school, afflicting 14 girls. tonight, the story of an agonizing medical puzzle that's leaving doctors divided and a community on edge. >> no, no, i am done listening to you. >> over who or what is to blame. scandal in the skies. they are sworn to keep you flying safe, but can you trust your life to these air marshals gone wild? we investigate the outrages financed by your tax dollars. and orange crunch. super bowl sunday is always a big day for eating, you know, wings, chips, carrots. yes, carrots. inside the secret push to make
these little guys the new snack food favorite. >> baby carrots! >> announcer: from the global resources of abc news, with terry moran, cynthia mcfadden and bill weir in new york city, this is "nightline," february 7th, 2012. >> good evening, i'm bill weir. until a few weeks ago, le roy, new york, was best known as the birthplace of jell-o. but now a medical mysteries that thrust the small town into a spotlight. the case is drawing so much attention because the victims of this mystery malady are almost all teenage girls, classmates at the lee call high school. so, could it be something in the water causing their condition? in the air? in their heads? here's my co-anchor cynthia mcfadden. >> reporter: it's all anyone on main street can talk about. >> there are just so many different rumors. >> some people are weird about it. >> different stories. >> reporter: at the white hot center of it all, the question
of what is happening to the girls at le roy junior/senior high school. 15 of the 600 students have come down with a strange illness, a disturbing tick. their claims have gotten them national attention. but many of the families insist no real resolution. so, we went up to see for ourselves what was going on. there we met traci and her friend, lauren. both 16, say they've been sick since last fall. what about the kids at school? have they been understanding? >> some of them. >> some. >> a lot of them sail that we're faking -- >> reporter: you are faking because you want attention? >> seriously, why would we fake this? >> reporter: in fact, no one we talked to, not medical experts, not school officials, not the girls parents think they are faking. the girls are clearly suffering. when it first started happening, what did you think? what was the first thing you know tilsed? >> she was twitching her head
and she was making funny noises. >> reporter: so, you heard about other kids having, for lack of a better word, call it twitching. >> yeah. >> they didn't know the severity of it and stuff until it happened to my daughter. and then i did, i called my doctor. i also talked to the school nurse and that's when i found out that there were more girls. >> i first started seeing the girls in the beginning of october. and each case came in one at a time. >> reporter: this local doctor diagnosed the girls with something called conversion disorder. a condition where psychological stress results in real physical symptoms. surprisingly, neurologists say it's not that uncommon. but as the doctor saw more cases, she began to suspect something more unusual was going on. >> once you start putting it together and hearing the stories, it was easier to put a
picture together of mass illness. >> reporter: it's called mass hysteria, exceedingly rare psychological phenomenon where symptoms spread throughout a close community. usually among young women. document md cases stretch back for centuries. and we found three cases in the u.s. over the past 15 years. all in high school girls. >> reporter: they do get worse when you're together? >> yeah. >> reporter: but the diagnosis has enraged some of the parents here, who feel other possible causes have not be adequately investigated. especially toxins in the environment. enter erin brockovich. >> we don't believe all the environmental testing that should have been done, in fact, has been done. >> reporter: brockovich's environmental crusading made her famous after she was portrayed by julia roberts for exposing a massive environmental cover-up in california. so, when she got involved and pointed out there had been a major toxic spill in le roy,
parents took notice. for those who believe that these kids may have gotten sick at least in part duce to environmental reasons, this is really ground zero. where 42 years ago, a train derailment caused 35,000 gallons of a toxic substance to spill. brockovich sent her investigator, bob bowcock, to conduct further testing. that visit turned ugly, when the school superintendent threw him off campus, accusing him of staging a media spectacle. bowcock and brockovich say there are still many questions that need more thorough investigation. such as, are the natural gas wells on the school grounds safe? was dirt from the toxic spill site used as fill on the school football field? but the school and the state public health department still maintain that testing has ruled out environmental causes. in a letter to the community, the school says, "extensive
research, examination and testing have revealed that there is no environmental or infectious cause for this ailment." so when we were at the toxic site, we did find men doing additional testing. >> what are you doing to protect my kid? >> reporter: all of which was fod earl for the rumor mill that is roiling in this town. it culminated this weekend with an angry shouting match between the school superintendent and the people in the community. >> you are not doing your job. >> reporter: the doctor and a half dozen other neurologists we spoke with said the real problem is that most patients have a hard time accepting a psychological diagnosis. >> there comes a point where you have to get into the acceptance and start the healing process. you can search for things forever and what i can tell you is that the people that have done this are improving. significantly. in fact, dramatically.
>> reporter: what's wrong with that diagnosis? why do you think that's not a possible explanation? >> i know my daughter. i mean, i'm home with my kids and, you know, i -- i know they're wrong. it just does not make sense. >> reporter: meanwhile, many of the families have taken a new jersey neurologist up on his offer of help. nine of the girls have been evaluated by this doctor in the last week. >> often following a strep throat or another type of infection, one would develop symptoms of ticks, like we see in the girls, or in other related condition called obsessive compulsive disorders. >> reporter: he's now treating lauren and traci with antibiotics. but back on main street, there are still questions. >> seems like it is splitting people. >> reporter: kathy's daughter emily started to tick just two weeks ago. the conflict among the parents about whom to trust has left her confused.
>> reporte >> i wanted every avenue explored and even if we hit dead ends, say it's not this, i know what it isn't. >> reporter: the events have stirred something deep here in le roy. something that won't be resolved until all the girls are healthy and their parents' questions answered. for "nightline," i'm cynthia mcfadden in le roy, new york. >> thanks to cynthia for that. and just ahead, air mar shams are sum posed to defend your life in the skies. but is this what protection looks like? have i got a surprise for you! a mouthwatering combination of ingredients... i know you're gonna love. [ barks ] yes, it's beneful healthy fiesta. made with wholesome grains, real chicken, even accents of tomato and avocado. yeah! come on! [ barking ] gotta love the protein for muscles-- whoo-hoo!
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changed this country was the sudden proliferation of air marshals and maybe you've tried to spot the undercover lawman among your fellow passengers. well, tonight, the disturbing revelation that the guy with the gun might just be the same guy snoring. abc's brian ross investigates. brian? >> reporter: bill, there are an estimated 4,000 federal air marshal s and much of how they do their job is kept secret to protect them. but that secrecy has helped to hide what some current and former air marshals tell abc news is outrageous conduct. behavior that sounds more like something from "animal house" than one of the country's most important law enforcement ajen sirs. their job is to make sure this never happens again. traveling armed and undercover, they fit in with all the other passengers until something happens. >> federal air marshal! >> reporter: then, trained to swing into action and make
split-second decisions with mature, professional judgment. but a decade after the 9/11 attacks, there are disturbing concerns about the billion-dollar air marshal program. and florida senator bill nelson has demanded a federal investigation of this critically important agency. >> the lives of the traveling public are at stake. >> reporter: current and former air marshals tell abc news that behind the scenes, this air marshal office in orlando and others across the country, there are a striking lack of approximatalism. >> i expect my federal law enforcement officers to set the bar. not to act like a bunch of school kid punks. >> reporter: one prime example, a distorted air marshal version of the popular game show "jeopardy!" >> this game is played exactly like the game on tv. >> reporter: former air marshal steve theodore rop louse took
pictures of this version at the air marshal training office two years ago. the categories are all slurs. apparently meant to humiliate. >> category pickle smokers was directly aimed at gay males. >> reporter: our gang listed african-americans, sometimes called buckwheat. >> we had categories like ellen degeneres. if you were a gay female. >> reporter: including one that killed herself. >> anybody that's not like them, they're against. i mean, how do you operate under those conditions? >> reporter: also present during our interview were three currently serving air marshals, who are not appear publicly. >> i am speaking for them. >> reporter: he also said he spoke for this air marshal, who says she was the victim of sexual misconduct and assault by a senior manager but told us she cannot speak publicly while her discrimination complaint is pending. >> attempting to show off his
personal private parts without unzipping his pants. >> reporter: over the last five years, air marshals have been documenting the alleged bad behavior of their bosses. the air marshals say this photo shows another senior manager, since retired, sound asleep on a flight to atlanta, on duty and fully armed. >> now all you need to know is, a terrorist gets ahold of that gun, he has a free gun on the airplane. >> reporter: this photo shows another supervisor jumping into a nativity scene in brussels. >> this is unprofessional. this is unacceptable. >> reporter: now the report that senator nelson demanded is to be made public thursday. but obtained early by abc news. it concluding that for all the allegations and problems perceived or real, they do not appear to have compromised the service's mission. a conclusion welcomed today by
the head of the tsa, john pistole. >> do you feel the security of the public was put at risk? >> absolutely not. no. >> reporter: but senator nelson says he's not so sure about that. >> sooner or later, if you do not have people operating at their peak efficiency, then you take the risk that a terrorist is going to get away with its dirty deed. >> reporter: 76% of the air marshals surveyed said they felt the mission to protect the public has not been compromised. but that leaves about 1 out of 4, some 1,000 air marshals, who still seem to think there is a problem that makes in-flight safety and security less good than it should be. bill? >> brian ross, our thanks to you. coming up next, an ad campaign to promote a new, irresistible snack you may just have resisted before. what a bargain! [ female announcer ] sometimes a good deal
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here's one for the modern mad men out there. how do you get a famously fat loving nation to eat their carrots? well, one marketer is betting his reputation that you can do it with witty narration, sex appeal and a surprise twist. here's abc's david wright with tonight's "sign of the times." >> the most tasteful of your taste buds. >> reporter: it's not an ad for lingerie or cosmetics or beer. >> overt sexual innuendo. >> reporter: ladies and gentlemen, this is an ad for carrots. >> oh, baby! carrots. >> reporter: the tag line? eat them like junk food. >> brought to you by a bunch of carrot farmers. >> reporter: you are marketing them as junk food? >> well, we took the lessons of junk food and we kind of spun them. >> reporter: jeff dunn, ceo of
bolthouse farms imagines a future -- >> behold. the future of crunch. >> reporter: where baby carrots are as popular as potato chips. >> we have a perfect snack. 35 calories, affordable, great health, taste great. people aren't eating as much of them as we would like. what do we do? >> futuristic cliche complete. >> reporter: we wr >> we wrap this thing in the lessons of junk food marketing. >> reporter: before he took over at bolthouse farms, he spent 20 years as a top executive for coca-cola. >> when up have a product with charisma -- you don't have to explain a [ bleep ] thing. >> reporter: coca-cola kid has come over from the dark side. what are your friends thinking? >> anybody in the marketing business is always watching everybody else in the marketing business. >> reporter: do they think you are tilting at windmills here? >> i don't think so. we've gotten enough traction on this, we've gotten enough interest.
>> reporter: the company test marketed its new approach to baby carrots in cincinnati and syracuse last year. a campaign directed at kids, not moms. >> you know how vampires are all the rage right now? check this out. >> reporter: in both cities, double-digit growth. if they had the same success nationwide, there would not be enough carrots to meet the demand. they take their carrots very seriously. turns out baby carrots are not genetically engineered midgets, as i had previously thought. >> we try to breed them so they grow long and uniform and then we cut them up and peel them. >> reporter: this isn't a genius invention from a lab guy? >> no, no, no mad scientist going on trying to change the genetics of a carrot. >> reporter: they are what they seem to be. all natural, bright orange and kind of refreshing.
>> ready to taste? >> reporter: this is a taste test of various play vflavors. >> very light. easy, fresh. >> flavor might be a little strong. >> reporter: the carrot guys have studied what happened with the lowly potato. potato chips were selling just fine, then they introduced barbecue, salt and vinegar and all those other flavors. suddenly, potato chips took off. this would be the carrot equivalent of a barbecue potato chip? >> this right now would be something similar to that. >> reporter: move oaf, potato chips. the carrots have got your number. >> baby carrots! >> reporter: i'm david wright for "nightline" in bakersfield. >> and that is what's up, doc. february was supposed to be the month that republican presidential hopeful mitt romney sewed up the nomination. instead, he has a big fat rebuke from voters in minnesota and missouri tonight.