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Mother files wrongful death lawsuit against now-closed Christian boarding school in Missouri

MISSION, Kan. (AP) — A mother is suing a shuttered Christian boarding school in Missouri, blaming her son's death on a gang rape and other abuse he endured there.

Agape Boarding School has been subjected to a wave of litigation as a series of abuse allegations emerged, but the case filed this month and amended Monday in federal court by Kathleen Britt is believed to be the first wrongful death suit.

The suit said that mental health problems plagued Britt's son, Jason Britt, after he left the private school, where several staffers subsequently were charged. The suit said he lifted weights obsessively and ingested copious steroids so he would become so strong that he never would be victimized again.

He grew so despondent that he wrote a suicide note. But heart and kidney failure were what claimed his life in February 2022.

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“The saddest part of his case is he finally found a cause to live when the circumstances of his choices ended up killing him,” said attorney Rebecca Randles. “It is one of those completely devastatingly sad situations.”

Among those named in the suit are the school, a company that transported students there, and Cedar County Sheriff James McCrary. Agape’s attorney and the sheriff didn't immediately return a phone message from The Associated Press seeking comment.

Jason Britt's parents turned to Agape because they were worried about his slipping grades and partying. In 2010, the then-16-year-old was awoken in the middle of the night while staying with his girlfriend. The men who transported him to Agape zip tied his hands and told him he had been given up for adoption, the suit said.

Instead of the counseling his parents were promised, the school was “a concentration camp or torture colony cloaked in the guise of religion," the suit said. Upon arriving, his head was shaved. And when he tried to write to his family about what was happening, he was punished. The maltreatment culminated in him being gang raped, the suit said.

The suit said the sheriff's department knew of reports of abuse at Agape and a sister boarding school. But despite those reports, deputies routinely returned runaways to their schools without effectively investigating or reporting concerns to state welfare workers.

Some of the sheriff's department staff also worked at the school, the suit said.

When Jason Britt's mother visited, she was alarmed by her son's demeanor and took him home, the suit said. The family learned he had been abused at the school, but they were ignored by Cedar County authorities, the lawsuit said. Anxious and withdrawn, he finished high school online and grew obsessed with weight lifting.

“The steroids, testosterone, high blood pressure and anxiety coupled with the drug addiction were the mechanism of his death; the cause of his death was the abuse at Agape,” the suit said.

More than a dozen other former students have settled lawsuits alleging they were abused at the southwest Missouri school.

When it shut down in January, it was the fourth and last unlicensed Christian boarding school to close in Cedar County since September 2020. The school’s former director, Bryan Clemensen, said the school, whose enrollment had tumbled, closed because it did not have the funding to continue.

Former Agape students came forward with abuse allegations in 2020. One former student said he was raped at Agape and called “seizure boy” because of his epilepsy. Others said they suffered permanent injuries from being disciplined or forced to work long hours of manual labor.

In 2021, Agape’s longtime doctor, David Smock, was charged with child sex crimes and five employees were charged with low-level abuse counts. Then-Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s office contended that 22 workers should have been charged, and with more serious crimes.

But in Missouri, only the local prosecutor can file charges, and Cedar County Prosecuting Attorney Ty Gaither has said no additional employees would be charged.