Jason Britt’s parents hoped Agape Boarding School could help their troubled son Jason, but the abuse he suffered there led to his death, according to the latest of two dozen lawsuits filed against the now-closed school, also known as Agape Baptist Academy.
The suit calls Agape “a concentration camp or torture colony cloaked in the guise of religion” and names six defendants, including two local sheriffs who worked at Agape. Local law enforcement routinely rounded up kids who had run away after suffering abuse but allegedly did nothing to investigate or stop the brutal practices.
The suit also names the founder of Safe Sound Secure Youth Ministries, a transportation company that helped to capture teens like Jason Britt and transport them to Agape. The nonprofit closed last year.
The suit, filed in October, says workers at the Academy confined Jason Britt in a padded room, forced him to strip naked for strip searches in front of others, repeatedly beat him, causing injuries requiring stitches, forced him to stand up against a wall for hours at a time while reciting Bible passages, and gang raped him.
His parents rescued him from the school, but not before he experienced mental health issues. He wrote a suicide note at one point and ultimately died of heart and kidney failure last year.
The lawsuit was hailed by the Missouri chapter of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
SNAP says two dozen suits have been filed against Agape, which housed more than 6,000 boys over three decades, and 16 suits already have been settled. One Agape staff member was convicted for first-degree statutory sodomy involving a student.
Agape is the fourth and final unlicensed Christian boarding school to close in Cedar County, Mo. The state’s lax oversight led to a growing troubled teen industry there before claims of abuse and mismanagement led to the closure of all four schools.
Agape closed in January, with director Bryan Clemensen claiming the closing was “solely due to the lack of financial resources to continue caring for the boys.”
Clemensen was founding pastor of Agape Baptist Church, an independent fundamentalist KJV-only church near Stockton, Mo., that still lists the closed school as a ministry of the church and claims the school strictly maintains “discipline and security, while showing Christian love and care for the boys at all times.”
Missouri officials said they had substantiated claims of child neglect and physical abuse against Clemensen, but his attorneys successfully argued to keep him off Missouri’s child abuse registry, even though the history of abuse at Agape was well known. Clemensen protested that listing him on the registry would prevent him from working with young people.
Agape was accredited by the Association of Christian Teachers and Schools, a nonprofit that promotes “Christ-centered academic excellence” and “the highest level of educational credibility.” The association did nothing to stop abusive practices that had been the norm at Agape for decades.
Steve Robert Wukmer, a former children’s minister who worked at Agape and three other now-closed boarding schools, was indicted in March for 215 counts of possessing child pornography.