Providing Closure for Abuse Survivors in Missouri's Private Boarding Schools

Image: Screenshot from ABM Ministries' YouTube Channel

I've handled abuse cases for minors involving institutions, and while the pattern of boarding school abuse in Missouri certainly involves criminal issues, it also requires legal action to help provide accountability for the institutions themselves and, most importantly, to provide closure and recovery for children who suffered at their hands.

In my practice, I often help clients of all ages recover from visible losses or physical injuries. But for those who've suffered abuse, their injuries or pain is often unseen, endured alone, doubted by themselves and others. The damage and isolation is compounded in children.

The recent stories about Missouri boarding schools, including the most recent reports of Lighthouse Christian Academy, are uniquely troubling. Not only did the children at Lighthouse Christian Academy suffer alone, but there was an overwhelming level of neglect from local authorities. The history of community effort over years of abuse that were ignored or silenced, even with children as young as 12 reaching out to local authorities only to be sent back to their abusers, details a level of suffering that deserves our highest level of attention and concern.

For the sake of children still in private boarding schools in Missouri, we need to do more to ensure accountability at these schools. For the survivors of this particular institution, the case for lawsuits against the school is clear.

The Case Against Lighthouse Christian Academy

Establishing Duty and Breach of Duty

Lawsuits, particularly those involving abuse, hinge on establishing three critical elements: duty, breach of duty, and resulting harm. For institutions like Lighthouse Christian Academy, the duty to provide a safe environment for students is paramount. This school has a documented history of failing in these duties.

Lighthouse's failure to provide a safe environment:

Sexual Assault

The allegations of sexual assault at ABM Ministries' Lighthouse Christian Academy are severe.

Court records indicate that Lighthouse Christian Academy's operators, Larry, and Carmen Musgrave, along with school principal Craig W. Smith Jr., were implicated in a 2009 civil lawsuit. This case involved Smith allegedly grooming and sexually assaulting a female student over a period of years. The lawsuit settled in 2010 with a $750,000 judgment against ABM Ministries and Larry and Carmen Musgrave, and a $100,000 judgment against Craig Smith.

Harassment for Gender, Age, or Sexual Orientation

Michael McCarthy experienced severe harassment due to his sexual orientation. A recent article in the KC Star quotes Michael describing this treatment.

Numerous other students reported a culture of fear and intimidation, where even looking at someone of the opposite gender could result in severe punishment.

Shelter from the Elements

Students at Lighthouse Christian Academy were subjected to harsh conditions, including being forced to sleep on a bare plywood slab with no pillow in freezing temperatures:

Physical Safety

The physical safety of students was frequently compromised. Alyssa Baker spoke about witnessing a young boy being slammed between the wall and a table by a staff leader. Students also reported being forced to stand for hours or engage in harsh physical labor as punishment, highlighting the unsafe physical environment they were subjected to​​.

Psychological Safety

The psychological well-being of students was severely neglected. Students were not allowed to look others in the eye, contributing to isolation and fear.

Nutritious Food

The food provided to students was often insufficient and lacked nutritional value. While on red or black chip, the food was the worst, multiple KC Star articles show. Breakfast might be a tortilla with peanut butter or a pack of unflavored oatmeal​​.

"Standing as they ate, students on red or black chips would have to watch their classmates enjoy big portions of good food," a student named Phillip McNair said.


Another important aspect is whether the person being sued acted with malice.

One of the most harrowing accounts involves a young boy named Josh, who was only 7 or 8 and was subjected to extreme cruelty.

After attempting to run away, staff members placed a heavy chain around his waist and forced him to drag it everywhere he went.

The article quotes Aaron Blackburn, another former student, describing Josh's experience: "They padlocked him with a chain around his waist and made him drag it around. There was a river, creek, or something like that around the school, and every now and then, they'd take us down to go swimming, and of course, they made Josh get in the creek with the chain on"​​.

Pattern and Practice of Abuse

  • Documented history of lawsuits: The 2009 lawsuit against Lighthouse Christian Academy's operators is a significant piece of evidence. Such legal actions highlight a recurring pattern of abuse and negligence.
  • Kids running away: Numerous instances of students running away from the academy further indicate a hostile and unsafe environment. These escapes underscore the severe conditions that students were subjected to.
  • Witnesses: The articles reveal multiple witnesses recounting similar stories of abuse. According to the Star, there are 20 witnesses cited across the news articles, with separate interviews all corroborating each other's accounts.

Addressing Patterns of Abuse and Ensuring Accountability

The abundance of evidence against Lighthouse Christian Academy indicates two things. One, this group of former students have a clear opportunity for a lawsuit that can help them move forward with their lives and offer closure. Two, there's a clear history of disturbing patterns of abuse in Missouri boarding schools, with Lighthouse Christian Academy now the third school with evidence of this pattern. The evidence highlights the critical need for accountability to prevent more occurrences of private boarding school abuse in our state.

Talk to a Lawyer

If you or someone you know needs legal advice about abusive conditions at a boarding school in Missouri (or Kansas), we welcome your message or call. Our consultations are free, and it's our hope that you don't have to sift through your options alone. Reach out using our chat on the home page or email me personally at

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