Agape Boarding School leaders in Cedar County, Mo. announce plans to close

Published: Jan. 11, 2023 at 1:33 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 11, 2023 at 2:33 PM CST
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A Christian boarding school in Cedar County, Missouri, that’s been under intense scrutiny over abuse allegations announced Wednesday that it will close later this month due to financial hardship.

James Griffey said, “It sounds like something out of a horror movie. How is this a Christian organization?”

Griffey was a student at the Agape Board School in Cedar County in the late 1990′s.

“He literally threw me on my back and started punching me in the face, head butting me, and screaming at me because I used God’s name in vain by saying gosh. That was my first night at the school,” he explained. How are they doing this and also at the same time talking about God and the bible, convincing our parents that it was a good place?”

He says he’s been waiting for the school to be shut down for a long time.

“There’s been so many moments over the past couple of years where a lot of us survivors have been fighting to have the school shut down. We thought this was the final nail in the coffin and this is it. The attorney general is getting involved. This is it every time,” he said.

Attorneys for those claiming abuse at the hands of school officials say the closure does little to erase what happened.

“We’re working with some lawmakers and the Missouri Association of trial attorneys to try and get some of those statutes changed in Missouri to either open a window or extend the statute of limitations for victims of child abuse,” said attorney Ryan Frazier.

That work will help people like Griffey.

“I’m turning 40 this year. To finally get to a point in life where people are believing my stories and actually supporting us and getting behind us, not questioning it, just calling us a bunch of rebellious kids it is just huge,” he said.

Agape Boarding School in Stockton has been the subject of state and local 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 hundreds of 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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