After 5 Runaways, Boarding School Drawing Attention

Wayne County Journal Banner [Piedmont MO]

February 28, 2024

[To see a PDF of this front-page story, click here.]

ABM Ministries/Lighthouse Christian Academy has operated quietly in Wayne County for over two decades. In recent weeks, the Christian boys’ home has been under the microscope after 5 students have run away.

David Clohessy of St. Louis was in the Piedmont area Sunday passing out fliers related to the school. “We are a confidential support group for anyone who was hurt by anyone in any an institutional setting,” reads the flyer. “We are especially worried about those who are or were at this controversial boarding school in Piedmont.” The flyer referred people to the group’s website

Since the holidays, at least five boys have run away from this facility. When the runaways were found, they were returned to their parents.

Last week, the Kansas City Star did an in-depth story on the school and interviewed many area residents. The Star has written many stories about private schools that deal with “troubled” teens in recent years.

At 3:13 am on Jan. 14, the patrol was notified the boy was located in nearby Mill Spring. The patrol was called again to help when the two boys ran away later that month.

The multiple runaways has concerned many area residents. Residents have posted on social media sites urging authorities to do something. They’ve called the state child abuse and neglect hot line to report the situation at the school. And they have reached out 10 state lawmakers.

“Community members have also been in contact with several former students, who say they were mentally, physically and sexually abused during their time at ABM Ministries in the past two decades,” the Kansas City Star reported.

Former students posted testimonials over the years, but nothing came from them.

ABM Ministries director Julio Sandoval came from Agape Boarding School, another facility across the state in Cedar County where abuse was alleged.

Baylee Watts, a spokeswoman with the state Department of Social Services, told the Kansas City Star that except in “very limited circumstances,” information related to specific child abuse and neglect investigations is closed and confidential under Missouri law.

She did not answer specific questions about the runaways and whether the allegations about the school are being investigated.

Lighthouse Christian Academy’s 25,000-square-foot campus is “tucked away near the Ozarks on 250 acres near Black River.

The school, operated by ABM Ministries, has an average of 40 students and uses a teaching curriculum called Accelerated Christian Learning, where students learn at their own pace.

Court records show that ABM Ministries’ operators, Larry and Carmen Musgrave, and school principal Craig W. Smith Jr. were the subjects of a 2009 civil lawsuit in federal court. The lawsuit was sealed in 2010, court records show, with a $100,000 judgment entered against Smith and a $750,000 judgment against ABM Ministries and the Musgraves.

ABM Ministries’ current director, according to state documents, is Julio Sandoval. The Star reported in February 2022 that he had moved to southeast Missouri. Prior to coming to the Piedmont area, he worked for a boarding school that was closed after many allegations were made.

Sandoval was dean of students at Agape Boarding School in February 2021 when the Missouri Highway Patrol launched an investigation into abuse of students at the Cedar County school in Stockton. In September 2021, the Cedar County prosecuting attorney charged five staff members with 13 counts of third-degree assault. Sandoval, who had been at Agape about 10 years, left to go to work for ABM Ministries soon after that.