Several Students Leave Academy

Departures Follow Intensive Interviews

St. Louis Post-Dispatch/April 11, 1996
By Tim O'Neil

Twenty-one students at a Baptist boarding academy for troubled youths in Wayne County, Mo., left the school with state juvenile officers after authorities spent 10 hours interviewing every student there.

Juvenile officers have been investigating conditions and treatment of students at the Mountain Park Baptist Church and Boarding Academy since a student was killed there March 25.

Three students are suspected of involvement in the killing.

Police say the suspects feared the slain student - a 16-year-old from Boca Raton, Fla. - would spoil their plan to take over the school and get on national television.

The state Division of Family Services found foster homes or juvenile shelters for the 21 students who left the school Tuesday night and is waiting for parents to get them, a spokeswoman said.

Chief Juvenile Officer Roger Barr of Salem, Mo., said he went to the school with 19 other juvenile officers and state social workers to interview the roughly 200 students.

"They were extremely cooperative, but I'd say that cooperation eroded as the day progressed," Barr said.

Barr also said that he has sent a report to Wayne County prosecutor Jon A. Kiser; Barr declined to be more specific.

"We're asking them to review the results of our investigation for possible violations that we wouldn't have jurisdiction over," Barr said. "It concerns the type of care and custody and control."

School authorities at the academy declined to comment Wednesday, as they have ever since the killing. The school, on a 165-acre farm near the St. Francis River, has not let any reporters onto the grounds.

The school is 110 miles south of St. Louis and about 12 miles east of Piedmont, Mo. It is not subject to state education standards because of its religious exemption, but the juvenile court does have the power to investigate the treatment of minors.

William A. Futrelle II, 16, was killed on March 25. His throat was slashed and his head beaten.

A student at the school, Anthony G. Rutherford, 18, of Siloam Springs, Ark., faces charges of first-degree murder. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for April 30 in Wayne County.

Police say two 15-year-olds were also involved in the killing. Barr has recommended that one of them be charged with murder as an adult, and a hearing is scheduled for late May on that issue.

A court hearing last week sent the second 15-year-old into juvenile custody until age 18. Both juveniles are from California.

At the time of Futrelle's death, the school had about 200 teenage girls and 30 boys.

Barr would not say anything about students leaving the campus with him. But Mountain Park academy's principal, Sam Gerhardt, told the Piedmont Rotary Club Wednesday that 21 students did leave voluntarily.

The Rev. Bobby R. Wills and his wife, Betty, founded the school in 1987, after they closed a similar school near Hattiesburg, Miss. Gerhardt is their son-in-law.

Harold Ellinghouse, publisher of the Wayne County Journal-Banner, attended the Rotary Club meeting. He quoted Gerhardt, the guest speaker, as explaining the school's mission of Christian education "for students who are on shaky foundations."

Left On 'Own Accord'

Ellinghouse said Gerhardt, responding to questions, said 21 students had left with the juvenile authorities. "He said they left on their own accord," Ellinghouse said.

William McFerren of Oakland, Calif., said his 14-year-old daughter was among the 21 who left. McFerrin said he spoke to her Wednesday morning while she was at a shelter in Salem, Mo.

McFerren praised Mountain Park, saying his daughter's attitude had improved markedly during her 10 months there. He criticized Barr's staff "for taking my child out of the place without my consent and without telling me anything." He said he wanted his daughter to return to the school.

"That school isn't fun, but she's not there because she needs to have fun," McFerren said. "She needed a highly structured environment. We visited her a couple months ago and she was beaming. But if you ask a kid in a situation like that if she wants to leave, what do you think she's going to do?"

McFerren and another parent, Debbie Keller of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said juvenile officers had told them their concerns included inadequate medical care. Barr declined to comment.

Keller's daughter stayed on campus. Debbie Keller said she enthusiastically supports the school.

Barr said his crew went to the campus at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday and left at 9:30 p.m. He said juvenile officers and social workers interviewed every student privately.

"Brother Sam (Gerhardt) and I chatted throughout the day, and there was no attempt to interfere," Barr said.

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