News Briefs

Prosecutor files felony charges against five Agape staffers accused of abuse

By: - September 28, 2021 12:12 pm

Allen Knoll, who was sent to Agape Boarding School in Missouri, testifies during a committee hearing on Feb. 10, 2021, about abuse he endured (Tim Bommel/House Communications).

Cedar County Prosecuting Attorney Ty Gaither announced Tuesday that five staffers members of Agape Boarding School will be charged with a combined 13 counts of third-degree felony assault — a fraction of what Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt recommended.

In March, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson directed the attorney general’s office to assist Gaither in an investigation into the abuse allegations at Agape Boarding School in Stockton in southwest Missouri. Former students have alleged being restrained and beaten, sexually abused and used as manual labor during their time at the school.

Agape received renewed scrutiny following an investigation by The Kansas City Star last year in which dozens of former students described enduring abuse and close connections between the school and local law enforcement.

At the conclusion of its investigation, the attorney general’s office recommended 65 criminal counts against 22 codefendants. Those charges involved 36 victims, and ranged from Class B and D felonies for abuse of a child, Class D felonies for tampering with a victim and misdemeanors for endangering the welfare of a child and failure to report child abuse.

Gaither instead chose to charge only five staffers — Scott Dumar, Seth Duncon,  Everett L. Graves, Trent E. Hartman and Christopher R. McElroy.

The prosecutor’s decision inspired Schmitt to request last week that Parson remove his office from the case, arguing that Gaither’s actions indicate “that he does not intend to seek justice for all of the thirty-six children who were allegedly victimized by twenty-two members of the Agape Boarding School staff.”

Several former Agape students told The Independent they were outraged by Gaither’s decision, with some contacting the FBI in the hopes a federal investigation could be launched in the boarding school.

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Jason Hancock
Jason Hancock

Jason Hancock has spent two decades covering politics and policy for news organizations across the Midwest, with most of that time focused on the Missouri statehouse as a reporter for The Kansas City Star. A three-time National Headliner Award winner, he helped launch The Missouri Independent in October 2020.