Missouri boarding school under investigation will shut down

Jan 10, 2023, 10:27 PM | Updated: Jan 11, 2023, 1:06 pm

FILE - Agape Boarding School in Stockton, Mo., is pictured in December 2020. According to a stateme...

FILE - Agape Boarding School in Stockton, Mo., is pictured in December 2020. According to a statement released Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023, the Christian boarding school that has been the subject of state investigations after several former students alleged longstanding abuse will stop providing service to boys effective Friday, Jan. 20. (Jill Toyoshiba/The Kansas City Star via AP, File)

(Jill Toyoshiba/The Kansas City Star via AP, File)

A Christian boarding school in Missouri that’s been under intense scrutiny over abuse allegations announced Wednesday that it will close later this month due to financial hardship.

Agape Boarding School in Stockton has been the subject of state and location investigations and several lawsuits from former students. It will stop providing service effective Jan. 20, according to a statement from the school for boys.

Attendance at Agape plummeted after abuse allegations surfaced. Agape had 132 students 13 months ago, its lawyer, John Schultz said. It now has 12.

The school’s focus now is “on getting the boys who remain in the program safely transitioned to their parents or to foster care, other group homes or residential programs,” its former director, Bryan Clemensen, said in a statement.

Clemensen said the decision to close “is voluntary and solely due to the lack of financial resources to continue caring for the boys.”

Agape’s trouble began in 2020 when former students came forward with abuse allegations. One former student said he was raped at Agape and called “seizure boy” because of his epilepsy. Others said they suffered permanent injuries from being disciplined or forced to work long hours of manual labor.

Allegations of physical and sexual abuse at Agape and Circle of Hope Girls’ Ranch prompted a state law in 2021 requiring stricter oversight of such facilities. Missouri previously had virtually no oversight for religious boarding schools.

In 2021, Agape’s longtime doctor, David Smock, was charged with child sex crimes and five employees were charged with low-level abuse counts. Then-Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s office contended that 22 workers should have been charged, and with more serious crimes. But in Missouri, only the local prosecutor can file charges, and Cedar County Prosecuting Attorney Ty Gaither has said no additional employees would be charged.

Meanwhile, the husband-and-wife founders of Circle of Hope, Boyd and Stephanie Householder, face a combined 99 charges that include child abuse and neglect, sex crimes and other counts. The school closed in 2020 amid investigations.

Several lawsuits filed on behalf of former students also have named Agape and Circle of Hope. One former Agape student who sued, Robert Bucklin, said the closure means justice “has finally prevailed.”

“Today, the many victims who have come forth can rest assured that no more children will be hurt at Agape Boarding School,” Bucklin said in a text. “The healing process can start for so many.”

Among other things, the new state law allows state or local authorities to petition the court for closure of a facility if children’s safety or health are believed to be in immediate danger.

Schmitt last year asked a Cedar County judge to close Agape, but the judge had not yet issued a decision. Schmitt was elected to the U.S. Senate last year and sworn in this month. The newly appointed attorney general, Andrew Bailey, had said he planned to continue pursuing closure.

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