Missouri Christian boarding school founder and wife charged with kidnapping after reports of runaways

NBC News [New York NY]

March 4, 2024

By Marlene Lenthang

The Wayne County Sheriff’s Office said it had been investigating AMB Ministries Lighthouse Christian Academy for several months and is reaching out to former students.

The founder of a Christian boys’ boarding school in rural Missouri and his wife have been charged with first-degree kidnapping following reports of runaways and allegations of abuse at the facility.

Larry Charles Musgraves Jr., 57, and his wife, Carmen Grizel Musgraves, 64, were arrested Friday, the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department said in a news release

Both worked at ABM Ministries Lighthouse Christian Academy, a private Christian boarding school in Piedmont that serves boys ages 10 to 13, the sheriff’s department said. Musgraves is the founder and pastor of ABM Ministries, according to his LinkedIn page.

The 25,000-square-foot campus sits on 250 acres near the Ozarks, and the academy markets itself as a special campus for troubled or “learning impaired” youths, according to its website

Piedmont is a rural city in southeastern Missouri about 130 miles south of St. Louis, with a population of around 1,900. 

The sheriff’s department had received several calls about “runaways” from the facility, and an investigation into the boarding school was opened several months ago, the release said.

The arrests come a little over a week after The Kansas City Star published an article detailing how several boys had run away from the boarding school since Jan. 13. Wayne County Sheriff Dean Finch told NBC News on Monday that at least five boys had run away this year and were returned to their parents.

In the investigation, Finch was contacted by a former student and traveled to Albertville, Alabama, to interview the victim. From there, Finch came into contact with other former students, and “interviews are forth coming.”

The charges Friday stemmed from the former student who lives in Alabama, but Finch declined to detail what exactly led to them.

On Friday, the sheriff’s department arrived at the boarding school, and the 19 boys residing there were interviewed by officers from the State Highway Patrol’s Division of Drug and Crime Control, officials said.

Larry Musgraves was found at his camper on the property and arrested, the release said. His wife was arrested hours later when she showed up at the sheriff’s department to check on her husband.

The sheriff’s department said that “this investigation is far from over” and that more charges are expected as “more alleged victims coming forward.”

Finch said that in the interviews with the students, the boys said they were forced to do physical exercises like run and stand against a wall but didn’t express anything criminal in nature. However, he said that the youths were “scared” and that officers learned the children were taught that the staff at ABM Ministries were friends with law enforcement.

“They pretty well instilled in the kids that law enforcement is their friend … and law enforcement is not going to believe anything the kids say because there’s a reason they’re there to begin with,” Finch said.

Reports of runaways and abuse

The Star article published in late February said two runaways from the boarding school, ages 12 and 14, stopped a woman named Cierra Osborn in January. The boys had walked for miles without coats in cold temperatures and asked her to call 911. 

Osborn described the boys as “terrified and shaking” and said they told her the boarding school staff members would berate them and hit them for things like failing to do their chores fast enough. 

Finch said that there have been reports of runaways in the past but that scrutiny was renewed this year given that at least five boys had left the academy in the past two months.

Calls to ABM Ministries went unanswered Monday.

The state Social Services Department declined to comment about whether it is investigating the boarding school, citing state law that says “information related to specific child abuse and neglect investigations is closed and confidential.”

“When it comes to children, Sheriff Finch will leave no stone unturned until all victims are interviewed. We know the citizens are concerned as well that nothing was being done, however we can’t disclose what we are doing on cases,” the news release said, while asking for patience.

Musgraves and his wife are being held without bond at the Wayne County Jail in Greenville. It was not immediately clear whether they have retained lawyers.