New evidence in Agape Boarding School suits says abuse drove students to attempt suicide

[Springfield News-Leader] New evidence in Agape Boarding School suits says abuse drove students to attempt suicide

New evidence in Agape Boarding School suits says abuse drove students to attempt suicide

Former students of Agape Boarding School in Stockton testified to attempting suicide as a result of the "physically abusive climate," according to new evidence filed in civil suits against the school.

One former student, Robert Bucklin, described "a pandemic among students" attempting suicide, which still causes him emotional distress 10 years after leaving the boarding school.

In the evidence listed in the motion, three plaintiffs said they attempted suicide at least once during their time at the school.

On Monday, motions were filed in 14 personal injury lawsuits against the Stockton boarding school. Under Missouri law, initial pleas in civil suits cannot "contain a claim for a punitive damage award."

“The evidence that has come out through deposition testimony shows that Agape had a complete indifference and conscious disregard for the safety of the students. The allegations are horrific and support a claim for punitive damages, which is why we have asked this Court to allow us to present evidence to the jury for a punitive damage award,” said lawyer Ryan Frazier of Monsees & Mayer, who is representing many of the cases.

More:School document appears to contradict Agape Boarding School's claims they did not restrain a student

The motions include allegations that outline instances of physical, sexual and emotional abuse, despite the boarding school's handbook stating the school "will not tolerate child abuse and neglect."

John Schultz, who represents Agape Boarding School, refuted the claims made by students.

“For the past 30 years Agape has provided over 6,000 boys with an opportunity to get their life back on track and toward a bright future," Schultz said. "Along with 24/7 supervision Agape provides accredited academics, vocational training, mentoring, sports and many activities the boys enjoy. We are disappointed to learn of the sensational allegations that some of our former boys are making now — for the first time. We have read many specific allegations that we know could not have happened given the 24/7 supervision that extends to the sleeping quarter, shower bays, classroom, dining hall and all outdoor activities. We monitor the boys 24/7 for their own safety and the safety of every other boy here. We intend to file a response to these lawsuits, denying the allegations and look forward to a trial where evidence can be presented to refute these allegations."

Of the 52 pieces of evidence listed in the motion, including testimony from former students as well as staff members, over half included instances of physical abuse or inappropriate physical restraint.

In the last year, Bucklin has come forward as the plaintiff "R.B.," and has advocated for the closure of the school. Bucklin declined to comment for this article.

While at Agape Boarding School, Bucklin was physically abused, including one instance where a staff member choked him with a hair trimmer cord, according to the motion. Another former student reported an instance of a staff member "slamming his head through drywall" and yet another former student reported that after a suicide attempt, a staff member "bashed" his head into the floor, breaking the former student's nose and braces.

Former students also allege that then-medical coordinator Scott Dumar cut them off of their behavioral medications, saying "God would fix them," and that they suffered "bad reactions and withdrawal symptoms" as a result of the abrupt discontinuation of medication. The motion states that when asked about the situation, Dumar invoked his fifth amendment right during deposition.

During depositions, former students described instances of sexual abuse at the school, by other students as well as by staff members. When one former student reported sexual assault by another student to the school, "no action was taken to prevent further inappropriate sexual misconduct," according to the motion.

The motion also cites instances of verbal abuse by staff members, where they used race- and sexuality-based slurs. One student reported being called the "N-word" and another said a staff member called them "f-----."

More:Missouri appeals court tells judge in Agape Boarding School case to halt almost all action

Meanwhile, the state of Missouri's attempt to close Agape Boarding School seems to have ground to a halt. The Missouri Attorney General's Office tried in early September to close Agape Boarding School when a school employee was added to the Child Abuse/Neglect Registry and the Attorney General's office filed a petition requesting immediate closure of the school.

Since then, the petition has been amended to include new evidence, Cedar County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Pyle took over the case from Cedar County Circuit Court Judge David Munton.

In June, the school lost its accreditation from the National Council of Private School Accreditation and the Association of Christian Teachers and Schools.

In August, a former dean at Agape Boarding School was accused of transporting a teen against his will from California to Stockton.

In September 2021, Cedar County Prosecutor Ty Gaither filed 13 low-level "Class E" felony assault charges against five people linked to Agape Boarding School.