Children removed from Cedar County boarding school as state launches investigation
CEDAR COUNTY, Mo. – As you drive down Highway N in Cedar County near Stockton Lake, you’ll pass what looks like a normal ranch. A pale white house and pasture with some horses inconspicuously sitting on the side of the road in rural Missouri.
That inconspicuous ranch is the Circle of Hope Girls Ranch, a girl’s home that’s been advertised as a place where troubled teens can be sent to get on the right track. It was started in 2006 by Boyd and Stephanie Householder, and it says on their website the goal is to “help young ladies who were destroying their lives through poor choices and behaviors, change their future.”
But their adult daughter Amanda says it’s something much different.
“You’re paying for your kids to be abused,” says Amanda Householder.
She says when she was growing up, she was abused by her father Boyd with little or no intervention from her mother.
“From the time I was about three or four, my parents started working in what we referred to as the ‘troubled teen industry.’ Before that, we were already being beaten, but that’s basically when it got isolated. Like, I wasn’t allowed to leave my house and talk to other people. I had told other people that my dad was beating us, making us overeat until we barfed. So he started isolating me there,” says Amanda. “My whole childhood… it was just violent. There were times that it was calm, but never would there be a time that we weren’t getting in trouble.”
She says that while she was living with her parents at Circle of Hope, girls were forced to eat double and triple portions of food, forced to eat their own vomit, would only be allowed to drink water at specific times of the day, and other attendees would be forced to help restrain other girls during punishments.
“My dad would pick up a girl, slam her to the ground, and then call myself and the higher-ups to come and sit on their pressure points. It was my dad with his knee on their head, and then 14 and 15 year-olds on the pressure points being told that if we didn’t press hard enough that it would be our turn next,” says Amanda.
Now, she lives in California and has been working to shine a light on what she went through by taking to Facebook, YouTube, and Tic Tok. She has also fostered relationships with other women who have been at the ranch, who have alleged physical, mental, and sexual abuse.
“If my parents weren’t running this place, I would not be like, ‘Hey, this is how I was treated.’ It would be done and over with because I’m an adult,” explains Amanda. “But they are still in charge of kids. And it’s been 30 years. They have been working in the troubled teen industry for 30 years, so it’s been 30 years of abusing kids. I just wish people would understand that even though they’re troubled teens, they’re not teens anymore. They’re adult women.”
“This is something where our reporter Kathryn Skopec has spoken to potential victims going back longer than a decade.,” says Miles Brite, Editor at the Cedar County Republican.
The Cedar County Republican has been following the story for months and was the first mainstream news outlet to publish allegations of abuse at Circle of Hope.
“Chasing this down has been something difficult because you get to a point where it is a one-sided story from victims. You want to believe them, you want to tell that story, but you don’t have the platform to do it because no intervention has taken place, no real law enforcement action had been underway. And while some of these things may have been known, none of it was at a point that it was actionable. We’re not in the business of telling stories, we’re in the business of reporting news,” explains Brite. “But in this instance, we had things brought to our attention for such a stretch of time it wasn’t something you could pass off, ignore, or dismiss. And again, our reporter Kathryn has done a phenomenal job gathering this information.”
Brite says they started reaching out to victims to catalog their allegations, but even then there were still roadblocks, especially when it came to reaching out to Circle of Hope.
“When we had reached out, be it to the actual Circle of Hope organization, or their legal counsel, neither one of them has ever given us anything of substance,” says Brite. “Amanda (Householder) reached out to us, and that really opened the gates when it comes to who she had remained in contact with, a network of previous attendees. We decided at some point, ‘Yes, this is news.’ The frustrating part is knowing you have to wait (because) we didn’t want to do anything that was gonna hamper any investigation.”
But now, official action has been taken.
Cedar County Prosecuting Attorney Ty Gaither confirms that children have been removed from Circle of Hope as part of an investigation by the state. The Cedar County Sheriff’s Office is assisting in that investigation. He was not able to comment any further, due to the ongoing investigation.
“This is now a platform for us to now continue to bring some of these victims’ stories forward to tell more and to tell the broader scope of this story. The depth and longevity of some of these accusations, the amount and the regular frequency that they happened at,” says Brite. “It’s not something that appears to be a one time instance. This is something where there’s genuine depth to it, and some of it is very heartwrenching. Much remains to be seen, and I truly believe this is the tip of the iceberg. And for the sake of those girls, if any of this is true, I hope they get the justice they’re deserved.”
And now that action has been taken, Amanda hopes that more women who have attended Circle of Hope will speak out and tell their stories to investigators.
“If you would have asked me two years ago, I would have said I wanted it shut down. But, the more and more stories I hear, if it just gets shut down, that’s not gonna do anyone (any) good. My dad needs help and just shutting it down and letting him move to a different state and opening another one is not gonna help him,” says Amanda. “The girls deserve justice, and they deserve to see him behind bars.”
We reached out to Circle of Hope Girls Ranch for comment. Boyd Householder answered and said, “I’m not doing good. Goodbye,” and hung up before we could explain why we were calling.
We will be following this story as the investigation unfolds.