Springfield News-Leader [Springfield MO]
March 23, 2023
By Susan Szuch
[Via Yahoo News]
A former student has filed a civil lawsuit against a Christian boarding school outside of Humansville. Circle of Hope Girls Ranch now faces six lawsuits in federal court.
The most recent lawsuit, filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court’s Western District of Missouri, states that “instead of providing a safe haven to (former student Sophia Ellis) and others, the (Circle of Hope Girls Ranch) — by the actions of its owners, employees, and/or agents — subjected (Ellis) to physical torture and psychological abuse for three years” starting in 2017. The suit is requesting a trial by jury and an unspecified amount of money.
According to the court document, Ellis was brought by her father via plane to the religious boarding facility, where she, among other things, saw other children being restrained and forced into a push-up position for extended periods of time, had her belongings taken and never returned, refused her medical treatment that resulted in a permanent wrist disability and had food and water withheld from her.
The five other lawsuits filed by former students contain similar claims of abuse. According to court documents, one former student began attending Circle of Hope at 9 years old, where she was confined to a dark room for multiple days at a time, was forced to wear nothing but a soiled diaper and was deprived of an education. Other former students allege that they were forced to participate in or witness sexual situations.
The lawyer representing five of the former students, Jarrett Johnson of McGonagle Spencer Gahagan has previously told the News-Leader that he does not comment on pending litigation. Johnson is also representing two former Agape Boarding School students in civil federal cases against the now-closed Stockton reform school.
The fifth former student, Maggie Drew, is represented by Rebecca Randles of Randles Mata, LLC.
Not the first allegations of abuse for Circle of Hope Girls Ranch owners
Stephanie and Boyd Householder, owners of Circle of Hope Girls Ranch, were charged with more than 100 felonies in connection with a 2021 sex abuse investigation. Then-Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s office assisted the local prosecutor in that investigation.
Boyd faces one misdemeanor child molestation charge and 79 felonies: nine counts of statutory sodomy, six counts of statutory rape, six counts of sexual contact with a student, 56 counts of abuse or neglect of a child and two counts of endangering a child in a ritual or ceremony. His wife, Stephanie Householder, faces 22 felony charges including 12 counts of abuse or neglect of a child and 10 counts of endangering a child in a ritual or ceremony.
The jury trials for both Boyd and Stephanie Householder are scheduled for Nov. 27 of this year in Cedar County Circuit Court.
The Householders are also facing a civil lawsuit from their estranged daughter, 31-year-old Amanda Householder. Amanda Householder also names Agape Boarding School and its now-deceased founder, Agape Baptist Church, and a Circle of Hope board member as defendants.
“All of the defendants” named in Amanda Householder’s lawsuit “have acted together and separately to abuse children at their unlicensed ‘schools’ and ‘ranches,’ supporting one another and failing to report the known abuses and / or covering up these abuses,” according to the petition submitted to the court by Kansas City attorney Rebecca Randles.
The suit also details other allegations by Amanda Householder against her parents, some similar to former students’ allegations: She accuses Boyd and Stephanie Householder of making her perform forced labor, beating her for their sexual gratification, and forcing her to impose punishments on other students at their Humansville-area girls ranch and school.