Minister Ran School Before Baptist Academy

St. Louis Post-Dispatch/March 29, 1996
By Tim O'Neil

A Baptist minister whose school for troubled youths was the site of a killing had closed a similar school in Mississippi in 1987 after losing a lengthy battle with that state.

The Rev. Bobby Wills and his wife, Betty Wills, run the Mountain Park Baptist Church and Boarding School about 12 miles east of Piedmont, in southeastern Missouri. On Monday afternoon, a 16-year-old male student was found slain outside the boys' dormitory. Three fellow students were arrested.

The school is in Wayne County, about 110 miles south of St. Louis.

The victim, William Andrew Futrelle II, 16, of Boca Raton, Fla., is to be buried today in Wilmington, N.C. Investigator's said Futrelle's throat had been cut and his head had been beaten. They found a 4-inch knife, club and brick near his body.

Anthony G. Rutherford, 18, of Siloam Springs, Ark., was held without bond on charges of first-degree murder and armed criminal action. Two 15-year-old fellow male students from California may also face charges as adults.

Investigators have declined to discuss a motive. The school has declined to comment on the killing or the conflict in Mississippi.

Wills opened Mountain Park some time after he began buying the school's 164-acre tract in Wayne County in August 1987. Until that year, he had operated the Christian Life Boarding Academy south of Hattiesburg, Miss.

In September 1986, a youth court judge in Forrest County, Miss., ordered the Mississippi Department of Public Welfare to take emergency custody of the 117 residents of Christian Life. One month later, Wills was convicted of civil contempt for failure to turn over information about his students.

The clash was between the court's insistence that only it could confine minors and Wills' claim that he was protected by religious liberties. At the height of the fuss, the Rev. Jerry Falwell flew to Hattiesburg and led a rally in support of Wills.

Until then, Wills had called his school the Bethesda Home for Girls. He had opened it in 1972.

Lawyers for Wills fought the contempt conviction all the way to the Mississippi Supreme Court. Wills contended that the state had no right to regulate a church-run school. But in 1988, that court affirmed the conviction, and Wills' $44 million suit in federal court against the youth court judge and guardians was thrown out later that year.

According to lawyers in Mississippi and articles published back then by the Jackson, Miss. Clarion-Ledger, and the youth court in Hattiesburg had determined in 1984 that Wills ran a detention center because students were confined to grounds. The court said the school was subject to court review of the status of all students.

The contempt order did not relate directly to the treatment of students. But during the controversy, Wills signed a federal-court consent decree banning the use of paddling pregnant residents and forced confinement in his school. That decree ended a separate lawsuit on behalf of a former student that was filed in 1982 by Morris Dees, head of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala.

In Missouri, the state does not monitor private, religious schools. Daniel Wise, a former special youth judge in Hattiesburg who issued the order allowing Mississippi to take custody of Wills' students, said Thursday he believed that's why Wills moved to Missouri.

Wills' school in Mississippi got many of its students from other states. His Mountain Park School also gets most of its students from other states.

The Missouri Division of Youth Services has received no complaints about treatment at Mountain Park School. The Wayne County sheriff's office has said it has handled only an occasional case involving a runaway.

But Mountain Park does have a dispute with Wayne County. The county cancelled the school's tax exemption for 1995 and billed the school $9,766 in property taxes that were due Dec. 31. The school has yet to pay or file a protest, the county collector's office reported.

County assessor Don Kemp said he proposed revoking the tax exemption after the school built a home in 1994 that Kemp valued at $132,000. He said the school also built a home in 1993 that he valued at $90,300. Kemp said the Willses and one of their sons live in the two homes.

"We put it back on the tax rolls because we think it's a commercial operation rather than a nonprofit,"" Kemp said Thursday. "I wanted proof of the cash flow."

Kemp said the school never had provided information about its revenue or assets.

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