Boarding schools fleeing abuse claims in other states find ‘Promised Land’ in Missouri

Aaron Rother was 16 when the leader of his boarding school announced they were packing up and moving again, to their third state in a little more than a year.

But this time, in the mid-1990s, Agape Boarding School was moving away from the “nonbelievers” in Washington and California and heading east. To a place with “good Christian people,” no government scrutiny and where leaders could feel free to run their school the way they saw fit.

“It was the feeling like we were going to the Promised Land,” said Rother, whose father dropped him off at Agape in Othello, Washington, when he was 15. “Kind of like, ‘This is where the Christians can go to not be messed with.’

“When we got to Missouri, they announced to us that they had found THE place. Like this is our new home. … The state followed God’s law, that’s the message they told us.”

It’s a message that seemingly has been heard across the country for decades as schools have made their way to the Show-Me State, where a nearly 40-year-old law allows faith-based residential facilities to operate without a license, any scrutiny or interference from the state.

From Washington and California to Michigan and Mississippi, the schools come to Missouri, where no one is watching or keeping tabs.

The Star found that at least seven schools moved here after being investigated or shut down in other states for abuse or neglect. Four more started up in Missouri, inspired by some of those that moved here.

One school, Master’s Ranch Christian Academy — which has had a facility in southern Missouri for more than a decade — opened a new location in the Pacific Northwest last year. But it closed this year amid a sheriff’s investigation that included allegations of boys being physically restrained and shot with paintballs. Some of the students were sent to Missouri.

And while his Washington location was under investigation, Master’s Ranch owner David Bosley opened yet another facility in southern Missouri, this one for girls.

The state keeps no records on these unlicensed boarding schools. It doesn’t even know their names, where they are, how many there are or how many students they house.

The Star found at least 13 in southern Missouri alone. Three were started by former Agape staff and a fourth — Wings of Faith Girls Academy — reportedly was encouraged to come here by Agape owner James Clemensen.

Listen to the story here (~20 minutes of audio reporting).

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