Teen freed from church compound
Lawmaker helped to get court order

The Gazette, December 13, 1998


Associated Press

GRAND JUNCTION - After five months at a Louisiana religious compound, a 15-year-old honor student is home again, thanks to his family, a court order and a lawmaker's intervention.

A crowd of well-wishers greeted Matt Grise as he arrived Thursday at Walker Field Airport. Grise was near tears as he thanked those who worked to free him from the New Bethany Baptist Church in Arcadia, La.

Two years ago, Grise was living with his aunt and uncle, Sharlene and Payson Grise of Silt, who were his legal guardians after his mother died.

He moved to Independence, Mo., in late 1996 to establish a relationship with his father, Vincent Russo.

When the relationship deteriorated, Russo sent Grise to New Bethany in July. His family and friends were not allowed to telephone, visit or write him.

The compound, run by fundamentalist preacher Mack Ford, houses youths behind 10-foot barbed-wire fences.

Many youths who have spent time there have said Ford and his staff use physical abuse and other punishment as discipline.

Grise's grandmother, Joan Grise, campaigned to free him in the ensuing months.

The family enlisted help from U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Colo., and recently won a court order to secure Grise's release. Russo last week relinquished custody of the boy to the Grises.

Copyright 1997-1998, The Gazette


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