115 students taken from academy; abuse alleged
By Associated Press
November 1, 2001

BETHEL, Mo. -- Authorities have removed more than 100 children from a school for troubled youths because of an allegation of child abuse, school officials said Wednesday.

It was the third abuse allegation at Heartland Christian Academy in the past five months.

Authorities removed 115 children from the rural school in northeast Missouri on Tuesday and took them to a youth center in nearby Kirksville, according to a news release from Heartland on Wednesday. Heartland attorney David Melton said the case started when a 13-year-old boy ran away and told Lewis County authorities another boy had been abused. Officials at the sheriff's office would not discuss the case.

Melton said a boy about to be spanked for repeatedly fighting had fought with three staff members, one of whom he punched and choked. When the staff member tried to break free, he injured the boy's eardrum when he accidentally hit the boy's ear, Melton said.

Melton said Heartland refused authorities' requests to force the staff member to talk to police and to fire him. "That's what initiated everything that's going on," he said.

Heartland had about 240 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Melton said the 115 students removed Tuesday were troubled students.

In June in the first case against the school, five Heartland workers were charged with child abuse after allegations of punishing misbehaving youngsters by forcing them to shovel animal manure in concrete-lined pits. The five all appeared in court Wednesday and pleaded innocent.

In addition, four people associated with Heartland were charged with abuse after they were accused of striking a teen-ager with a board.

Heartland officials deny any wrongdoing.

"It's just part of a pattern of harassment we've been undergoing and will apparently undergo in the foreseeable future," Melton said. The 200-acre complex was started in 1995 by millionaire Charles Sharpe to treat troubled youths and adults by using a combination of work therapy and Christian-based instruction. This article was published on Thursday, November 1, 2001 Copyright 2001, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Inc. All rights reserved. This document may not be reprinted without the express written permission of Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Inc.

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