The Circle of Hope Girls’ Ranch, a fundamentalist Baptist reform boarding school for troubled girls in southwest Missouri, is shutting its doors.
But the school’s owners insist their decision to close the 14-year institution has nothing to do with the ongoing criminal investigation into a slew of abuse and neglect allegations leveled by former students.
“I’m closed for good,” Boyd Householder, 71, told the Kansas City Star in an interview with his 55-year-old wife, Stephanie. “I will not put up with a corrupt sheriff’s department and a current social services department. I will not.”
“We’re going to take this all the way,” Householder added, denying ever physically abusing or neglecting former students. “We’re gonna, how do you say it, vindicate ourselves.”
Last month, Cedar County authorities removed all 25 girls still enrolled at the ranch in rural Missouri, about two hours outside of Kansas City, after several former students told authorities the Householders deprived them of food and water, gave little to no formal instruction, made students perform manual labor, and forced some to stare at “The Wall” for hours.
The Cedar County prosecuting attorney’s office confirmed to The Daily Beast that an investigation into the Householders is ongoing after numerous reports of abuse by former students. Among those students is the couple’s own estranged 29-year-old daughter, Amanda Householder, who has taken to social media over the past year to discuss the alleged abuse at the faith-based ranch.
After she came forward, Householder told the Springfield News-Leader she’s been in touch with at least 30 women who claim they were abused during their time at Circle of Hope. Some of these former residents also shared videos of their alleged abuse on social media, including footage that appeared to show Boyd Householder endorsing violence. The 71-year-old claims the video was edited, and he simply told a girl she had the right to defend herself.
“Girls are being physically, emotionally, religiously and sexually abused,” said Amanda Householder, who was kicked out by her parents when she was 17. “And what I mean by ‘religiously’ is they cannot practice any religion but my parents’, which is fundamentalist Baptist.”
The Householders, however, vehemently deny all abuse allegations. The couple alleged to the Kansas City Star that all of the claims were manufactured by their daughter and several former students who have “gone nowhere in life” after leaving the ranch and are seeking revenge.
“They’re angry and they’re bitter and they want to blame somebody,” Stephanie Householder said. “They feel like they’re victims, and they want to take their anger out on somebody.”
Her husband added that while these former students are “making comments and stuff,” those who have gone to college, or enlisted in the military, or have a career “in office buildings” or as “secretaries” are praising the couple.
The Householders did admit to “some mistakes” in the past, including allowing the girls to box each other.
Despite the Householders’ abuse denials, the Missouri Department of Social Services confirmed that the state has at least four reports of abuse and neglect claims involving Circle of Hope—including two that involve alleged sexual abuse.
One of the allegations, according to the Householders, was made in 2017 by a girl who claimed 71-year-old Boyd Householder had sexually abused her multiple times. The couple said the report was ruled unsubstantiated because Boyd Householder provided medical records proving he had suffered a heart attack and was incapacitated during the alleged abuse.
“And then she turns around and changes the date, like, 'Oh, excuse me, I was mistaken. It happened three months earlier.’ …That’s a little fishy to me,” Stephanie Householder told the Star. “And they told him she was 17, but when they came back, it’s in the substantiated paper they sent, they said she was 16 at that time. She was very clear that it was, quote, consensual. Now, all of a sudden, it’s rape.
“And that’s when we started having all of these big problems with the allegations. We actually appealed it, but they’ve not even allowed us to go to court yet for that appeal.”
To date, no criminal charges have been filed against the Householders. Earlier this month, prosecutor Ty Gaither served a search warrant at Circle of Hope Girls’ Ranch—though details of the investigation remain unclear.
“I want to know what happened, what happened in the system,” State Rep. Keri Ingle, who has requested the state’s Office of Child Advocate also conduct a review of the allegations, told the Star. “Was it they weren’t following their own policies, they weren’t following existing laws? Or are there laws and politics that need to be put in place to prevent this from happening again?”