Hotch is in Strauss' office, and she gives him a case which at first appears to be a mass suicide at a military academy. Hotch can't tell for sure unless he and the rest of the BAU go investigate the case in person. The case involves a group of boys who hanged themselves with bed sheets from trees in the woods. The message "We're sorry" is carved on a fallen log, so it definitely looks like a mass suicide. Another student at the school, Bailey Shelton, had hung himself not long before, so that might have started a chain reaction. However, six boys were out in the woods, but only five bodies were found. And Josh Redding has gone missing.
The BAU arrive at the school and discover the man in charge, Colonel Massey, is a strict disciplinarian. The students are barred from using modern technology. Massey explains that Josh had been deeply affected by Bailey's death, and that Josh was a Brigade leader who was in charge of the younger students.
Hotch wonders why the boys had been sent out on a training mission just after one of their fellow students had just committed suicide. Tawes, Massey's second in command, explains the boys have to get used to traumatic experiences since men die in battle every day. Prentiss reminds him that the victims weren't men and they weren't in the middle of a war.
JJ speaks with Josh's parents. His father explains Josh was a troubled kid and although they didn't want to send him to the school, they didn't think anything else would get through to him. Josh still felt like he was responsible for the other students. Meanwhile, Josh is still in the woods and it appears that he's sharpening tree branches and building something.
Strauss explains to Morgan that Bailey had hung himself in the same room where Josh slept, and Morgan expresses doubts that Josh could've slept through something so traumatic. He also wonders where Strauss got this piece of information, but she is being cagey about her source.
Massey takes Hotch to the laundry room, where the first years are sent to work. Massey did speak to Bailey the night he died, but he denies he drove the boy to commit suicide. Prentiss figures out that Josh might be a psychopath, and he might have resented Bailey's death, which drove him to kill the other boys. If this is true, then Josh isn't lost -- he's hiding.
Tucker, one of the victims, appears to have suffered more during his death than the others. His neck is actually broken, which means he was truly hanged and not killed before being placed in the noose in the tree. Why did Josh want Tucker to suffer most?
The rest of the cadets at the school are reluctant to talk about the case with the team, but they figure out that many students feared Josh. However, Josh's parents recount the day that Bailey's father arrived at the school and Josh had given the man Bailey's belongings right away so he wouldn't have to pass the room where his son committed suicide. Also, it appears that Tucker bullied other students.
The team discovers that Josh was never supposed to go on the trip into the woods in the first place. The mission was only to discipline the more troubled students, but Massey decided that Josh needed the challenge anyway.
The BAU wants to interview Bailey's father about Josh, but when Massey calls the man's mobile phone, no one answers. Tawes is in the woods and hears it ringing. He discovers Bailey's father dead, caught in a pit with wooden spikes that Josh had made. After finding the man's backpack filled with bed sheets, they realize that Bailey's father killed the rest of the boys and was after Josh.
Morgan worries about Strauss' strange behavior, but Hotch explains it away as stress from working in the field. Morgan realizes that she's been drinking Strauss confronts Massey, and later Morgan warns Strauss about her drinking, telling her if Massey smelled the alcohol on her breath, they'd have to shut down their investigation. Morgan and Hotch argue about Strauss.
Bailey's injuries included some internal ones, which was odd since he was hanged. Reid discovers that Tucker had a habit of forcing the other cadets into the industrial dryers in the laundry room to discipline them. Josh wanted Tucker to stop and Massey allowed the pair to fight it out, although Massey admits that he approved of it anyway.
When Massey talked to Bailey's dad, he blamed Josh for Bailey's death, which he hoped would drive the father to kill Josh. But the man went too far and killed all of the boys in the woods. Bailey's father did blame Massey for his son's death, and took the lives of Massey's "sons" in retaliation.
Massey calls Tawes and demands that he find Josh soon because the FBI has figured it all out. However, Morgan and Hotch get to Josh and Tawes first, and Hotch shoots Tawes in the leg. Massey is arrested and charged with being an accessory to murder.
Finally, Hotch and Morgan stage a mini-intervention for Strauss. They find her desk drawer contains liquor bottles. Strauss worries about what being in rehab will do to her career, but Hotch promises that Morgan will check her into the FBI Employee Assistance Program confidentially.