The owners of a Christian boarding school in Missouri are jailed and charged with kidnapping crimes

Mar 4, 2024, 12:43 PM

The husband and wife owners of a Missouri boarding school for boys have been jailed and charged with felony crimes after a lengthy investigation by a county sheriff.

Wayne County Sheriff Dean Finch said in a news release that Larry Musgraves Jr., 57, was arrested Friday evening on the ABM Ministries campus in Piedmont, a small town 130 miles (209 kilometers) south of St. Louis. Carmen Musgraves, 64, was arrested around 3 a.m. Saturday when she came to the jail to check on her husband, Finch said.

Both have been charged with first-degree kidnapping and jailed without bond. The Musgraves do not yet have listed attorneys. A phone message was left Monday with ABM Ministries, the latest Christian boarding school in Missouri to face legal scrutiny.

ABM Ministries’ website says its facility, operated as Lighthouse Christian Academy, is a private Christian boarding school for boys ages 10-13, situated on 250 acres that include a spring-fed pond and a pasture with animals. On average, it has around 40 students, the website says. The website claims success in helping boys who are troubled, learning-impaired or dealing with ADHD or other disorders.

Finch said that since early January, his office has received reports of five runaways from the school. In one instance, two boys were picked up by a neighboring resident and taken home. The boys asked her to call 911.

But Finch said his investigation began several months ago after he was contacted by a former student living in Alabama. He followed up by interviewing other former students, and eventually the current students.

A probable cause statement says the former student told Finch that on her 18th birthday, she was locked in a small room and “held against her will.” The statement doesn’t specify how long she was allegedly kept in the room.

The sheriff’s department “anticipates more charges as the investigation continues, with more alleged victims coming forward,” the news release stated.

All five boys who had run away since January have been returned to their homes, the Kansas City Star reported.

The school was coed in 2009 when a federal lawsuit accused a former principal of sex acts with a female student and alleged that the Musgraves failed to take action to protect the girl. Court records show that ABM Ministries and the Musgraves agreed to pay $750,000 in a settlement, and the principal agreed to pay $100,000.

In 2023, Agape Boarding School in Stockton, Missouri, closed after years of investigations, lawsuits and eventually criminal charges that followed abuse allegations. One former student alleged he was raped 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 abuse at Agape and at the nearby Circle of Hope Girls’ Ranch prompted a state law in 2021 requiring stricter rules for 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. Those cases are still pending.

Also in 2021, Boyd and Stephanie Householder, former owners of Circle of Hope, were charged with around 100 child abuse counts. They pleaded not guilty and have been scheduled to go to trial in November.

Former students at ABM Ministries said justice was long overdue. Juliana Davis, now 34, said she was abused at the school in 2006 and 2007.

“I’m glad that he took us seriously,” Davis said of Finch. “There’s a whole group of us that have been trying for decades, speaking out about what happened to us and what we saw.”

Another former student, Aralysa Baker, 31, recalled being put in a chokehold and having her head held underwater when she was a student from 2005 to 2007.

“I never thought in a million years that charges would ever be brought,” Baker said. “We just wanted the school shut down and the kids sent home.”

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The owners of a Christian boarding school in Missouri are jailed and charged with kidnapping crimes