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'Hundreds of victims can now begin to heal': Former Agape Boarding School student reacts to news of its closing

Agape Boarding School cited financial reasons for its decision to close Jan. 20.

STOCKTON, Mo. — A Missouri boarding school for boys labeled the “Christian Reform School from Hell” by Rolling Stone magazine has announced it will be closing this month.

In a statement obtained by 5 On Your Side, Bryan Clemensen, former director of the Agape Boarding School, wrote: 

“For the past 30 years Agape Boarding School has provided over 6,000 boys with an opportunity to get their life back on track and toward a bright future. Agape has made the decision to stop providing services to the boys in its care effective Jan. 20. Agape’s focus is getting the boys who remain in the program safely transitioned to their parents or to foster care, other group homes or residential programs. Agape’s decision to close is voluntary and solely due to the lack of financial resources to continue caring for the boys.”

RELATED: 'I still have nightmares': Missouri regulates boarding schools after abuse allegations

Robert Bucklin said he spent five years at the Baptist facility in Stockton, Missouri, and was the victim of abuse there.

“After years of fighting for justice, justice has finally prevailed,” he said moments after learning the school was closing. “Today, hundreds of victims can finally start to begin to heal. This is just the beginning, we want to see more legislation not only in Missouri, but all over the U.S. to prevent situations like this from happening.”

Bucklin, now 28 and living in Michigan, said he attended the school from 2007-2012.

Agape's trouble began in 2020 when former students came forward with abuse allegations. One former student said he was raped at Agape and was called “seizure boy” because of his epilepsy. Others said they suffered permanent injuries from being disciplined or forced to work long hours of manual labor.

Allegations of physical and sexual abuse at Agape and Circle of Hope Girls’ Ranch prompted a state law in 2021 requiring stricter oversight of such facilities. Missouri previously had virtually no oversight for religious boarding schools.

In 2021, Agape’s longtime doctor, David Smock, was charged with child sex crimes and five employees were charged with low-level abuse counts. Then-Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s office contended that 22 workers should have been charged, and with more serious crimes. But in Missouri, only the local prosecutor can file charges, and Cedar County Prosecuting Attorney Ty Gaither has said no additional employees would be charged.

Meanwhile, the husband-and-wife founders of Circle of Hope, Boyd and Stephanie Householder, face a combined 99 charges that include child abuse and neglect, sex crimes and other counts. The school closed in 2020 amid investigations.

Several lawsuits filed on behalf of former students also have named Agape and Circle of Hope. One former Agape student who sued, Robert Bucklin, said the closure means justice “has finally prevailed."

“Today, the many victims who have come forth can rest assured that no more children will be hurt at Agape Boarding School,” Bucklin said in a text. “The healing process can start for so many.”

Among other things, the new state law allows state or local authorities to petition the court for closure of a facility if children's safety or health are believed to be in immediate danger.

Schmitt last year asked a Cedar County judge to close Agape, but the judge had not yet issued a decision. Schmitt was elected to the U.S. Senate last year and sworn in this month.

Missouri’s new Attorney General Andrew Bailey has said he would continue the state’s legal action against Agape when he was sworn in on Jan. 3.

The school has been under investigation for abuse allegations for more than a year.

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

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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