SNAP to MO AG: Investigate boarding schools!

April 15, 2024

Dear Attorney General Bailey:

As Missouri’s top law enforcement official, we feel strongly that you can no longer ignore the growing crisis involving kids in the essentially unregulated, mostly for-profit, purportedly religious boarding ‘schools’ where dozens of vulnerable kids have been – and likely still are being – abused.

Crisis is not an exaggeration given the recent disturbing disclosures of known and suspected child sex crimes that have surfaced at facilities like Agape School in Stockton, Lighthouse Academy in Piedmont, Circle of Hope Girls Ranch in Humansville and Kanakuk Kamps in Branson.

Ample evidence already exists in the public record that these institutions lack oversight and sometimes attract predators who hurt kids and supervisors who ignore or hide suspicious or criminal acts.

To cite just one example: At least Six abuse lawsuits have been filed by former students against Circle of Hope Girls Ranch. “According to court documents, one former student began attending Circle of Hope at 9 years old, where she was confined to a dark room for multiple days at a time, was forced to wear nothing but a soiled diaper and was deprived of an education. Other former students allege that they were forced to participate in or witness sexual situations.”


That one facility faces such allegations is alarming. The fact that in the past few years at least three other facilities face similar accusations – sometimes rising to the level of criminal prosecution and conviction – is beyond alarming, and strongly suggests more widespread wrongdoing.

To spare more children the devastating life-long impacts of horrific abuse, we beg you - as emphatically as possible – to help expose, deter and prevent potential crimes and criminal cover ups at dozens of similar, largely-under-the-radar ‘schools’ in remote parts of Missouri.

Specifically, we urge you to immediately

-- launch a thorough statewide investigation of these facilities,

-- contact prosecutors in every county where these facilities operate and strongly urge them to launch investigations as well,

-- clearly spell out how you can help them in these efforts, and, perhaps most urgently,  

-- use your bully pulpit to publicly help expose these troubling reports and allegations, and warn parents who are considering sending their children to these facilities or whose children are already in them.

We fear, and indeed predict, that your initial reaction to these common-sense public safety requests will be negative. You will likely be tempted to claim you lack the power to take these steps or the evidence to justify them. If so, we implore you to reconsider. Given the stakes – the lives and psyches of hundreds of boys and girls – now is the time to be proactive, not reactive.

And while attorneys general in other states may have greater powers than you have, remember the adage in the old saying “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” (For instance, noted gangster Al Capone was nailed not for violence or robbery but rather on tax evasion charges.) We are confident that you and your staff can be creative and effective in preventing more harm and bring predators and their enablers to justice, if you put forth serious effort.

If history is any guide, the operators of these facilities may cry ‘religious freedom’ and ‘discrimination.’ Please don’t be misled, distracted or deterred by such red herrings.

We understand and respect religious freedom. But actions and beliefs are separate things. Our laws say anyone can believe anything. They do not say anyone can DO anything. This key distinction – between beliefs and deeds – is too often overlooked or muddied, especially when it comes to religious institutions that serve or claim to serve kids.

Finally, five years ago, one of your predecessors launched a statewide investigation into child sex crimes and cover ups by Catholic clerics in Missouri.

We were highly critical of that probe. Still, like any effort that draws public attention to institutional child sex crimes and cover ups, it was beneficial.

That investigation was limited in many key ways, most especially because of its focus on past crimes.

You now have an effort to take much more meaningful steps to warn parents, police, prosecutors and the public about current, recent and very likely on-going crimes. In other words, you can stop child sexual abuse that common sense and considerable evidence suggests is happening right now.

We urge you to show real courage, leadership and initiative by seizing this moment and likely saving dozens of the very most vulnerable girls and boys in Missouri.

Aralysa Baker, Bixby OK [email protected]

Chelsie Fowkes, Knoxville TN

Maggie Drew, Tulsa OK

Julianna Davis, Albertville AL

Michael McCarthy, Cleveland OH

Colton Schrag, Midland TX

(all former students at religious boarding/reform schools in Missouri)

David G. Clohessy, volunteer director of Missouri SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), Prevent Abuse LLC, 7234 Arsenal St., St. Louis MO 63143, 314-566-9790 (cell), [email protected]

Douglas Lay, assistant director, Missouri SNAP, 2409 Lavin Ct., Florissant MO 63033314 646 9316, [email protected]

SNAP Network is a GuideStar Gold Participant