The owners of a religious boarding school in southwestern Missouri have been arrested on dozens of abuse charges, following an investigation prompted by alumnae who spoke out on TikTok.
Boyd and Stephanie Householder, the owners and operators of Circle of Hope Girls’ Ranch, were taken into custody Tuesday after the Missouri Attorney General’s office filed a litany of charges.
Court records show Boyd Householder, 71, faces 80 felony counts, including charges for child molestation, sodomy, sexual contact with a student and neglect of a child. Stephanie Householder, 55, faces 22 felony charges for abuse or neglect of a child, and endangering the welfare of a child. The alleged incidents occurred from 2017 to 2020.
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt planned to hold a news conference Wednesday to provide more details.
The Householders were being held in Vernon County Jail, Cedar County Sheriff James McCrary said. They were scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday afternoon.
An attorney who has represented the Householders in civil lawsuits said he will not be representing them in the criminal cases. It was unclear Wednesday morning if the Householders had a defense lawyer. Stephanie Householder previously told NBC News that she and her husband deny all allegations against them.
Boyd Householder opened Circle of Hope in 2006 as a school that he claimed could reform rebellious teenage girls. Two dozen former residents previously told NBC News and “Dateline” that Boyd and Stephanie used cruel punishments against girls at the ranch, including withholding food, forcing them to perform manual labor and restraining girls face down for as long as an hour.
Since it opened, concerned parents, staff members and others had reported Circle of Hope at least 19 times to three sheriff’s departments, state child welfare and education officials, the highway patrol, and the state attorney general’s office, according to interviews and records obtained by NBC News.
However, these complaints did not result in charges. An assistant U.S. attorney declined to prosecute in 2018, according to an email from a highway patrol officer who investigated Circle of Hope. And state child welfare and education officials had no authority to close the ranch, a loophole that a bipartisan bill pending in the Missouri Legislature aims to close.
The wave of state action began after the Householders’ daughter, Amanda, and women who attended Circle of Hope as teenagers started to post videos on TikTok last spring alleging abuse at the ranch. The videos prompted the Cedar County Sheriff’s Office to investigate, the office confirmed.
Last summer, about two dozen girls still enrolled in Circle of Hope were removed by state officials as more people came forward with abuse allegations. The Householders voluntarily closed Circle of Hope in August and put the property up for sale.
Schmitt’s office joined the investigation in November, after Cedar County prosecutor Ty Gaither requested assistance.
Amanda Householder said in a TikTok posted Wednesday morning she never thought her parents would be held accountable.
“This is a moment that does deserve to be celebrated,” she said, reacting to news of her parents’ arrests. “I am sad because they are my parents, but something my parents would always tell me is, ‘You made your bed, now you have to lie in it.’ Well, my parents made their bed and now they’re going to have to lie in it. As hard as that is for me, it’s about time.”
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