The state of Missouri has opened a criminal investigation into allegations of abuse and neglect at Agapé Boarding School, a Christian institution in the rural southwestern part of the state, a spokesman for the state’s Highway Patrol confirmed Friday. NBC News reported on the allegations earlier this month.
Agapé advertises itself as a facility that “turns around rebellious boys.” More than a dozen alumni and former staff members previously told NBC News that Agapé employees frequently assaulted the boys in their care, and that the school censored students’ communication with their parents.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol said Friday that its Division of Drug and Crime Control is conducting an investigation of Agapé ”at the request of the Cedar County Sheriff and the Missouri Department of Social Services Children’s Division.”
A spokesman for the Highway Patrol would not say what prompted the criminal probe or when it began. The development comes two weeks after NBC News and “Dateline” published the results of an investigation into abuse allegations at Agapé. The Kansas City Star has published similar articles in recent months.
The Missouri Department of Social Services declined to comment on the Agapé investigation, citing confidentiality rules around child abuse inquiries, but said that these probes “are often co-investigated with local law enforcement.” Cedar County Sheriff James McCrary did not immediately respond to a request for comment, nor did Agapé.
Agapé’s leaders have not previously responded to requests for comment on the abuse allegations. On its website, the school says it has hosted over 4,000 students ages 12 to 17 in the past three decades. Agapé also says that boys “will find any and every excuse to give their parents as to why they shouldn’t remain here,” and if the school were shut down, then the students would end up in jail.
Missouri is one of 17 states that exempts religious boarding schools from licensing and oversight by state child welfare and education authorities, the NBC News investigation found. At least 23 states, including Missouri, do not even require religious boarding schools to tell their state education department that they exist.
After hearing testimony from alumni of religious boarding schools, including Agapé, this month, a Missouri House committee advanced bipartisan legislation to require these schools to register with the state. The legislation would also give the Department of Social Services authority to seek to close the facilities following instances of suspected abuse.