A Missouri juvenile court officer has begun an inquiry into disciplinary methods and work routines of a private boarding school for troubled youths where a student was killed March 25.
The school. Mountain Park Baptist Church and Boarding Academy, is about 110 miles south of St. Louis in eastern Wayne County. Three fellow students were held in the death of William A. Futrelle II, 16, of Boca Raton, Fla., whose throat was slashed and head bludgeoned.
A Highway Patrol investigator has said the suspects were afraid Futrelle would foil their plan to take over the school and get on national television.
The first court appearances were scheduled for today.
Roger Barr, chief juvenile officer for Missouri's 42nd judicial circuit, said he toured the school for two hours Tuesday. Barr said it appears to be well maintained. He planned to interview students and former students.
"The accommodations are above reproach, and the facility is nonrestrictive. These kids are not prisoners," Barr said Wednesday. "We want to know more about the forms of discipline and the types of work these children do. The juvenile court can act if conditions are injurious. We can remove any child if we believe it isn't a safe environment."
To do that, Barr would have to seek a court order. Barr said the operators of Mountain Park Baptist Academy had been cooperative, but he warned that he could seek a court order if that cooperation ceased.
In a related development, the Missouri Division of Family Services said that it received a call to its child abuse hot line after the death alleging lack of supervision at the facility. An agency team that investigates abuse and neglect in group settings will examine the school, a spokeswoman said.
Anthony G. Rutherford, 18, of Siloam Springs, Ark., has been charged with first-degree murder. He is to appear in the Wayne County courthouse today for a hearing to ensure that he has legal counsel and to consider a date for a preliminary hearing.
The court also is to have a separate, private hearing for one of two 15-yr-year-old boys from California whom juvenile authorities are holding. Barr said his office would ask the court to certify one to stand trial for murder as an adult but remand the other to juvenile detention on a lesser felony charge of concealing a crime.
Barr said Wayne County Circuit Judge J. Max Price has ordered the youth who faces a murder charge to undergo psychiatric evaluation.
The Rev. Bobby Wills, who runs the school, has been unavailable for comment since the killing. His supporters in Wayne County and in Hattiesburg, Miss., where he operated a similar school until 1987, have said Wills and his wife,
Betty, use a combination of biblical studies and regimented discipline, including paddling, to turn around troubled youths.
Corporal punishment is legal in Missouri. Barr said the court would investigate its application if students were bruised or struck anywhere but on the buttocks.
Barr's office is in Salem, Mo., and his five-county district includes Wayne County. The Willses closed their former school, the Bethesda School for Girls, after the Forrest County, Miss., Youth Court took over the school in 1986.
That court said Wills had no right to detain children in his school without court orders. The school there had high fences around the dormitory buildings.
Barr said the only fences he saw at Mountain Park were around the swimming pool and recreation courts. He said he did not see any fence behind the girls' dormitory, as a state fire marshal had reported seeing last year.
Jimmy Henderson, a state fire marshal, said he toured the school last April 25. Henderson said he had seen a small yard behind the girls' dormitory that was enclosed by a high fence topped with razor wire. Henderson said Wednesday he hadn't been to the school since then.
Henderson said the school's enrollment one year ago was 219 girls and 26 boys. Barr said the school now has about 200 girls and 30 boys.
Henderson said he recommended 15 improvements to the school, including always keeping its sprinkler system turned on, installing more exterior doors to the girls' dormitory and rerouting the exhaust stack from the kitchen stove hood. He said the school later wrote that it would consider his ideas.
Defendant Rutherford's father is Bruce Rutherford, the presiding administrative judge of Benton County in far northwestern Arkansas. The elder Rutherford has declined to comment.