Another Missouri Boarding School Closes Following Abuse Claims 

School is one of four shuttered since 2020 after numerous pending allegations and lawsuits claim child abuse

Jessica Eturralde April 4, 2024

On March 6, ABM Ministries Lighthouse Christian Academy in Piedmont, Missouri, told the Missouri Department of Social Services it was officially closed. The action comes on the heels of the school owners’ arrest and as a state agency investigates whether the boarding school effectively addressed calls to an abuse hotline about the facility in the past.

ABM Ministries Lighthouse Christian Academy / YouTube screenshot

Lighthouse was a private Christian boarding school dedicated to helping troubled boys.

But a few days before its closing, authorities chargedABM Ministries owners Larry and Carmen Musgraves with first-degree kidnapping for allegedly locking a student in a room.

Sources, including former students, have said numerous complaints submitted in the past 15 years resulted in nothing.

The complaints—and the charges—are not the first abuse and neglect concerns for the state: Lighthouse is one of four unregistered boarding schools in Missouri facing child abuse accusations that have ceased operations.

Numerous accusations of sexual, physical, and mental abuse against children enrolled in unregistered boarding schools are still pending in Missouri courts, exposing a pattern of unchecked abusive leadership culture.

Along with the Musgraves, police also charged one of Lighthouse’s teachers, Caleb Sandoval, with abuse of a child for injuring a 15-year-old boy while boxing. Sandoval is the son of the school’s director, Julio Sandoval.

Before becoming the director of Lighthouse, Julio Sandoval was the Dean of Students for the Agape Boarding School, a school 229 miles west in Stockton, Missouri, which also closed last year after abuse charges.

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In 2021, police charged Agape’s longtime doctor David Smock with 11+ felony sex abuse crimes, and five other employees were charged with low-level abuse counts. Near the end of 2022, police arrested a children’s minister who had worked at Agape (and boarding schools in three other states) for possessing 215 counts of child pornography.

Agape closed its doors in January 2023 after at least 19 abuse lawsuits, a petition to investigate the school, and multiple hearings to shut it down. Representatives of Agape said the closing was merely due to financial reasons.

Although Lighthouse and Agape had no connection besides Julio Sandoval, Agape Boarding School had ties to another school that shuttered its doors.

Just 17 miles north of Agape in Humansville, Circle of Hope Girls Ranch shut down as authorities charged founders Boyd and Stephanie Householder—former Agape employees—with multiple allegations of abuse.

The ranch closed in September 2021 after police arrested the couple and charged them with 102 felony child abuse-related charges. The charges against them were so severe that Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt called the case “one of the most widespread cases of sexual, physical, and mental abuse patterns against young girls in Missouri history.”

Earlier that year, the alleged abuse of girls at Circle of Hope became national news after Dateline NBC covered a story on the ranch in the episode “Broken Circle.”

While awaiting trial, officials have placed the Householders in home confinement due to significant health issues. Their three-week trial is scheduled to begin after September 30, 2024.

At least five other unregulated Christian boarding schools exist in Missouri. One of them, Embark Behavioral Health (formerly Shelterwood Academy), is also facing lawsuits from former students and their families, including a suit accusing employee Demarquice Phillips of sexual assault. The victim’s parents claim the school continued to allow Phillips to mentor troubled girls despite allegations of abuse from several parties, including their teenage daughter.

Shelterwood Academy permanently closed last February.

The allegations against Agape, Circle of Hope, and other unlicensed boarding schools in Missouri have spurred lawmakers to update legislation granting the state more oversight over such facilities.

In 2021, Missouri enacted a new law forcing unlicensed boarding facilities “to undergo safety inspections, do background checks for employees, and provide adequate food, medical care, and clothing for students.”

In addition to charges, nearly 20 individual lawsuits filed by former students and their families remain pending against Shelterwood, Circle of Hope, Agape, and ABM Ministries.

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