Missouri’s Agape Boarding School for Boys With 'Bad Behavior' Will Close Amid Abuse Allegations

A sign at the entrance of Agape Boarding School.
A sign at the entrance of Agape Boarding School. Getty

The Christian-based boarding school for teenage boys has been plagued with accusations of abuse by former students for years.

Agape Boarding School will shutter its doors later this month following countless allegations of abuse. The former director of the Missouri-based Christian reform school, Bryan Clemesen, said in a statement announcing its closure that the “decision to close is voluntary and solely due to lack of financial resources.”

The religious boarding school became plagued in controversy in 2020, when former students came forward with allegations of abuse, the Associated Press reported.

Since then, several people associated with the school have been charged with various crimes related to their care of students.

A former employee was charged with 215 counts of possession of child pornography, according to Rolling Stone, and a doctor that treated the male students will appear in court for various counts of sexual misconduct against a child, statutory sodomy, stalking and child molestation, Ozark First reported. Various other staff members have been charged with misdemeanor assault, according to Ozark First.

In a press release announcing the closure, the boarding school said it had enrolled more than 6,000 boys in its 30-year history. In 2021, the school had 132 students enrolled, and currently, it has 12 students enrolled, the AP reported.

On its former website, Agape Boarding School touted itself as a “boarding school for teenage boys exhibiting bad behavior or failing academics,” and invited families of boys “out of control, angry, defiant, failing school, hanging out around the wrong crowd or experimenting with life-threatening activities or self-destructive behaviors” to inquire about admission.

But accounts of former students painted a bleak picture of the goings-on at the school.

Allen Knoll, who testified in a 2021 hearing, said he was 10 years old when he was “restrained for two months straight … because sometimes I didn’t want to go to church,” the Missouri Independent reported.

Brett Harper, a former student now in his 30s, started a petition several years ago on change.org to call for an investigation of the school. In the description of the petition, which has more than 4,000 signatures, he discusses his physical ailments including sciatica, spinal stenosis and herniated discs that required spinal surgery that he claims doctors attributed to childhood abuse and neglect.

“During my stay at Agape numerous times I complained of my back pain but they did nothing,” the petition wrote. “Several staff members stomped on my back while I was doing push-ups or would apply weight there and tell me to straighten my back. It is clear according to numerous medical professionals that they caused this injury which has plagued me for 14 years, still causes me disc pain, and caused me to have to get a surgery on my spine at 33.”

Harper also shared details of his mental health battles “all with roots to trauma I experienced and witnessed at this horrific place.”

A former student who suffered from epilepsy alleged he was raped and called “seizure boy,” the AP reported.

Various others took to social media to detail accounts of their own abuse.

Clemensen, however, said in a 2018 interview with Rolling Stone that there was no wrongdoing. “It’s about getting these kids to a place in their life where they have to look to God for help. Where they stop looking to drugs, or their friends, and say to God, ‘I need your help to feel better.’ If you don’t save their souls, it ain’t going to stick.”

All of those charged with crimes related to Agape Boarding School have pleaded not guilty and maintain their innocence.

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