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I'm Lester Holt tonight on Dateline. A secret too long in the shadows, one woman's courageous fight to bring it to light.


My parents were supposed to help these kids. You would expect this to be a good Christian place. No parent would have sent their child there knowing what happened. What was it like in there? It was hell. I was sexually abuse their. Yes, I felt like I was nothing. There were numerous concerns about abuse going on at this facility. My dad would pick a girl up by her neck, throw her to the ground. He would trip you and shove.


You knocked her out? Yes. I mean it. I just posted it to ticktock. Knock her out. It just blew up.


These allegations need to be looked into.


How could I do this to my child? Was better.


Your parents deny everything and they said none of that stuff is true. What was going on was wrong. Something needed to be done. Here's Keith Morrison with Broken Circle. The sky is endless here at the edge of the California desert. It's her heaven so far from the tree tangled the sky where she grew up, the woods of Missouri and the yellow farmhouse where this story begins. Her father's farmhouse, his school. Do you love your dad?


I do love my dad. Are you afraid of him to scared of my dad?


Well, strange, strange thing to have the person you're afraid of, the father you're afraid of, because at one point in time I was afraid of he wasn't when he is now, but she wasn't what she is now either, which is why she's come back all these years later to the woods and the old farmhouse at her dad's school graduation, uncleanness and our.


But we begin years ago and far away in a place called Feris, Texas, where Theresa Tucker, a single mom of three, was no other word for it.


Desperate, it was about her middle daughter, Ashley, spiraling out of control. What were you worried about?


Drugs and just rebellion. Very mouthy. And and so I didn't know where to turn our at the time, 16.


And on that December weekend of 2014, I actually was getting kicked out of yet another rehab, so Theresa called her best friend, the pastor's wife, for help.


It was my pastor and his wife that told us about Circle of Hope, Circle of Hope Girls Ranch and boarding school.


It was in Missouri on a farm. The students followed a strict regimen of chores, schoolwork and Bible study. Was it important to you that you go to a place where there was going to be some spiritual help at this point?


I didn't really care. I just needed to have help.


There are hundreds of private residential facilities across the country promising to reform troubled teens. They range from wilderness programs to therapeutic boarding schools to boot camps. And then there are those whose lessons derive from a very particular religious point of view. Circle of Hope was run by a married couple, Boyd and Stephanie Householder.


At the heart of their program, they said, was a strict interpretation of the King James Bible.


She was going to get going and she's going to get counseling. This householder was a nurse and she was going to facilitate her medications and things like that.


Most important of all, perhaps they had a free bed and could take Ashley right away for just a hundred dollars a month to Teresa. It felt like a miracle of sorts. She signed a contract committing Ashley to an 18 month stay, and then she said goodbye to the pastor and his wife drove Ashley to Missouri.


What was it like for you on the trip to that place?


I was scared. I was really nervous. I didn't know what to expect. My pastor and his wife kept telling me everything's going to be OK. You know, you're going to get the help you need.


What were your first impressions of the place when we first got there? It was at night. It was really dark. And there they were in the dark, she said, waiting.


Boyd and Stephanie Householder waiting up for her.


They were nice. They were sweet. They were laughing, joking, like, you know, I was like, OK, this is a really good place. I'm actually going to get help here.


But as soon as the pastor and his wife left, said Ashley, the householder's changed, they went from smiling and laughing to just straight face.


And that was it. I mean, they didn't show any emotions or anything.


Ashley didn't exactly know why, but she suddenly felt very afraid. And she stepped deeper into the farmhouse, into a world of fear. What was it like in there? It was hell. It was scary. You were alone. It was basically, while you're in there, survival. When we come back, what was really happening at that ranch, they had girls scrubbing the floor with toothbrushes, unless you were physically laying in bed to sleep, you were standing and you were facing a wall all day, every day, all day, every day.


I was like, what is this? Teresa Tucker had dispatched her daughter to a religious reform school in a tiny community called Humans Ville, Missouri, run by Stephanie Boyd Householder. Teresa, did you have any idea what was happening in that place?


No, I didn't. I have no idea. Amanda Householder, however, did knew that very well. Boyd and Stephanie are her parents. Was your dad well suited to this kind of work?


Yes, because he was a drill instructor. It was second nature to him. So just put people in their place.


Before he'd started working in reform schools, Boyd Householder had been a Marine, a trainer of Marines. Amanda had idolized her strong commanding father.


And when I was like two or three, I was I was a daddy's little girl.


He'd take her for drives and his jeep. She said, listen to music together. But things began to change, said Amanda, when her mother persuaded the drill sergeant to start going to church. There are many versions of Christianity, of course, this one. Do you remember what the sermons were like or what the preaching was like?


A lot of the sermons I remember were a lot based on fear and burning in hell for eternity.


And some, she remembers, talked about how to discipline children, how to beat the shit out of them. It was to spare the rod, spoil the child.


It was through someone. He met a church that Amanda's dad got his first job at a Christian reform school. The family later moved to Missouri, where Boyd worked at a gappy, a boarding school for rebellious boys.


And when Amanda was 15, he decided to open his own school. Only this one would be for girls. Who was this place like this physical house, the location.


It was just a very rundown, homely place.


Denay Haddrick was sent there in 2007, the year after the school opened. She was 14. What did you've been doing it. You've been committing crimes or something?


I had never committed a crime. My mom found out that I had become sexually active and that I had tried marijuana for the first time.


Maggie Drew arrived a few months later.


She was fifteen. Nobody was smiling. I saw the girls and everybody was so quiet.


And I was like, This is so dismal. What is this?


Maggie said the girls were afraid from the minute they woke up this immediately.


Get up.


Hurry, hurry, hurry, get dressed, get downstairs for Bible study last and then chores, bizarre chores. They had girls scrubbing the floor with toothbrushes. They had the girls wiping walls down. They had us picking weeds in the middle of the heat all day. They would say, you know, the Bible says this. The Bible says that no, that is your interpretation of the Bible. That's not what the Bible really says.


But you talk back to them like that. No. No, no, no, no, it was yes, ma'am, because if we did, we got punished punishment. In fact, it's right here in the handbook. Boyd Householder promised to help reform especially difficult children by imposing biblical discipline. Today said it didn't seem so biblical to her.


He'd sit in his chair like this and he'd be like push ups and they'd start doing push ups and it would turn into him going up and kicking their hands out from underneath them.


Another punishment he called standing on the wall.


Unless you were physically laying in bed to sleep, you were standing and you were facing a wall all day, every day, all day, every day. You'd have to eat like you'd be given like one of those old school plastic, like 80s style lunch trays. I wash them. At some point I would walk past people on the wall and just hit their trays and their food would go everywhere.


White House also denied that, said he didn't knock girls down.


Well, they did pushups either, but those weren't the only kind of stories we heard.


We spoke to more than a dozen former students and three former staff members whose experience is the circle of hope went from its earliest days until just last year. And all of them told us that Boyd Householder didn't just subject his students to chores, push ups and other creative punishments. No, they said he was physically abusive. He would go up behind a girl and grab them by the base of the neck, find their head like this, look right at behind your ears, almost.


And he would put a foot out and trip you and shove you follow down and shove you with force.


Face first carpet gravel. The floor of the chicken pen didn't matter, said Maggie. And at that point he put his fist on the side of your head and one in the middle of your back so that you couldn't get up.


And there was more, said. Maggie Boyd ordered some of the girls to help to put their weight on the students pressure points. And they did. It was like one of those things where it's like dog eat dog, where if you if you don't fight your way to the top and do what you're told to do, then it's going to come back at you.


And I said she found that out the hard way just once when she tried not to press too hard on the girl she was helping restrain.


He dropped his knees on top of my elbows. And then once he did that and pushed his way on top of me, the girl then started screaming and he looked at me and told me that if she wasn't screaming like that once he let go of me holding her, that I was going to be laying next to her until I pissed myself and said that I needed to make decisions of who whose side I was on.


The householder's told us they did restrain students when they were violent but never deliberately inflicted pain.


And Amanda?


Well, these girls were her age. Some of them could have been her friends, except Amanda wasn't a student and sometimes she was the one handing out the discipline.


I know I had power trips. I know there were certain girls my dad favored over me and I didn't like them. And so I treated them poorly in the sense I'd be like, just push, give me twenty five things.


She did. She said things her father wanted her to do. Whose side was Amanda on? Coming up, a stunning new allegation of sexually abuse. They're. Yes, sir, what happens to you when that's going on? I felt disgusted. I felt like I was nothing. I felt like I was never going to be able to get out of that place. When Dateline continues. On Sundays, the students and circle of hope sometimes climbed into a bus that drove them the 50 miles down Highway 13 to a church with a towering white steeple, Berean Baptist Church.


Then the girls walked inside, dressed in their Sunday best and church smiles. The smiles were fake, said Maggie. We did whatever we had to to make them happy. Amanda watched it all. She knew, she said, what the students were hiding, how her dad treated them behind closed doors. What was it like to see your dad punishing other kids?


I think that to me is the most traumatizing part, because to me it was it was just normal.


Amanda told us her dad had never spared her the rod, beating her regularly as a child, using his belt after church, but hearing the girls scream as they were being punished.


When you think of souls burning in a lake of fire for eternity, that's what these girls sound like.


And the screaming is especially hard to forget, she told us, because she helped her dad as a 15 year old, I was forced to restrain the girls the same way my dad.


What would that make you feel? I stopped. I refused to go. When they yelled restrain, I would always say I have to make lunch or make dinner or I have dishes to do.


Did you ever tell your dad, just go easy, go easy on these kids?


I never had the guts. I never had the guts. When she was 15, she tried running away, failed her father, denied punishing her. But after that, she said things changed for her. I was put on the wall just standing, facing the wall, just standing, facing the law. How long? Um, I think it was two months. Amanda was not like the other girls. No one would pick her up and take her away.


So she counted the days until she was old enough to leave. And in two nine, when she was 17, she moved in with her grandma. And then across the country to California, a new life, a fresh start. And I had a really good job.


I had my own apartment. I was doing everything a person does. Even so, she wasn't quite ready to turn her back on her family, not yet, anyway. In 2011, after a parent posted negative comments about the school online, it might surprise you who its loudest defender was.


You were online defending your parents, right? Why are you doing that?


I don't know, other than I kind of felt guilty that it was my family. And so any time that people would say something, I just felt the need I need. I don't want my dad to go to jail. I don't know how to explain it other than that.


And you have to understand, there were some stories she never heard back then. She never met Ashley Tucker, the teenager from Ferris, Texas, who arrived at the ranch in 2014 behind closed doors with just us kids.


They were monsters.


Ashley said it was in that culture of fear that the worst thing happened to her.


I was sexually abuse. They're. Yes, sir, the boy was Amanda's younger brother, she told us he was 15 at the time. She said it happened while she was doing chores in one of the buildings on the farm. He walked over there.


He grabbed me. He pushed me up against one of the walls and he actually ended up raping me right there.


What happens to you when it's going on? I felt this. I felt disgusting. I felt like I was nothing. I felt like I was never going to be able to get out of that place, she told.


No one couldn't tell her mom, she said, because she knew when she got calls from home, someone was always listening.


They would have their like their thumb over the little hang up button.


But then a few months into his day, Ashley took a chance.


She told her mother that she was losing a lot of weight.


She told me that they hung up. So I called back, like, what's going on?


Well, she's being rebellious, so he put her back on the phone.


And that's when Ashley finally said, they're starving me and the phone cut out again. Teresa had heard enough as soon as she could. She got in her car and drove from Texas to Missouri to see for herself what was going on inside that yellow farmhouse.


Coming up. I'm not going to lie. I hated my mom. I hated her. I couldn't stand her. Feel guilty. Yeah. You know, how could I see this as child thinking I was a bitter. Teresa Tucker left her Texas home before dawn to reach her daughter's school in rural Missouri. Ashley, she was sure, was in trouble. Teresa had never laid eyes on a circle of Hope Girls ranch before.


When we pulled up, I was just kind of was like, wow, this is it, really.


She'd been so desperate to find Ashley somewhere safe, somewhere healing. She had center there on blind faith. She didn't like what she saw.


So it actually came out Stainer. Coconut Grove. She lost so much weight, centralistic. So either we're going to. But before they left, said Teresa Boyd, Householder handed her this document.


I had to sign a paper that officially stated that she was not sexually abused and she was not physically abused there.


But what a curious thing for a person to have you sign, right. And actually tell you on the way home what she had been through.


It was a very log, eight hours. I told her basics, I don't really go into detail. It was too hard. The householder's son denies actually story of rape and she told us, as awful as it was, she considers him a victim, too, of the world he grew up in. She was at the time less forgiving of her own mother.


I'm not going to lie, I hated my mom, I hated her, I couldn't stand her, I couldn't stand looking at her, feel guilty.


Yeah. You know, how could I do this to my child of Salvator? Teresa did not want it happening to anyone else. Ashley Batur don't report the alleged rape. And so she didn't. But Teresa did call Child Protective Services CPS and told them about Ashley's other allegations of physical abuse.


They stated that they were going to go out and check the facility and all that. Once they got back with me, they stated that they didn't see anything. There was nothing they could do.


Teresa contacted the sheriff's office to say, I am sorry nothing happened.


What Teresa didn't know was that she was far from the first or only person to make a complaint to authorities about the circle of hope. A mother told us she reported the school the year after it opened. And as time went on, police records show more relatives and students told stories of abuse about a girl covered in bruises, a runaway who said she'd been choked by Boyd householder and four years later, another runaway who said Boyd had grabbed her by the throat and several times Child Protective Services went out to visit.


Except I was told if I said anything negative, then my life was going to be made miserable, Boyd coached.


The girls said the night before they talked to CPS investigators that they were sure he was listening, she said, eavesdropping from his office on the other side of the wall.


I remember being asked like, are people being starved? And I was like, no.


I was literally terrified about what would happen to me if I was going to start being the person that was starve next because nothing ever came out of this.


Amanda told us her parents had another way of handling investigators to. I was told when CPS came downstairs to take the girls outside and basically hide the girls from CPS, you hit the girls from the from the authorities who would check on whether or not they're OK.


Yes. You know, your parents said they had an open door policy with CPS, that they could come in any old time.


Is that not the case? CPS could come in, but like I said, I had to hide them. Amanda's parents denied that. So they never hit students from CPS. They said they told the girls to be honest with investigators. In any case, none of the reports ever resulted in any action. The school prospered and parents like Theresa had no way of knowing about the complaints.


Over the years, we have no regulations on any religious facilities in the state of Missouri. None. None, none. Not at all.


Carrie Engle is a Missouri state representative and former social worker. Did these places even have to register with the state when they open up?


No, we have no ability currently to even know about their existence. So I couldn't even tell you how many of these these institutions exist in the state of Missouri.


They're invisible, correct. Until something bad happens.


And it's not just Missouri. An NBC News investigation found gaps in regulation around the country. At least 21 states do not require religious boarding schools to tell their education departments that they exist. So who is looking out for these kids currently? Yeah, I would say that there's been a lot of buck passing. Systems, once entrenched, cruel ones especially, can seem unbeatable, impervious to change and their. One little thing like the first crack in a dam.


Coming up, fresh allegations of abuse from boys, I'd watch him grab students and children to a wall and a desperate move to alert the police.


I tried to tell them like they're beaten and the cops didn't believe, you know, when Dateline continues. A man of the household who was living in the California desert, she had her own babies, now a new family. She wasn't much interested in her old one. Why didn't you use your own name on social media for a while?


Because I was constantly getting hit up by girls that left circle of help telling me.


About what was going on, and I didn't want to hear it anymore. I was just. I know. Yeah, but there are some things you cannot escape in two thousand and sixteen or seventeen.


I got a message from a girl who I never heard of. And in it in the message, she's telling me, my dad my dad raped her.


And I'm like, no. And yet the message made her think back to a letter written years before the words of another angry student, I was there when my dad got this letter and it basically accused my dad of molesting her.


And I at that time, I was like, that didn't happen.


Like, I know my dad. That didn't happen.


That letter writer was Maggie Drew, who come the Circle of Hope at 15 and stayed for five years. Boyd said it never happened. But now, all these years later, Amanda needed to know had Maggie been telling the truth.


And she said, I know that you have no reason to lie to me. Like, just be honest.


Maggie, who had never told her story to police, told Amanda how Boyd had groped her in his private office after she turned 18.


And he'd grab my butt or he'd grab my boob from the side. And then after like the last year or so that I was there, he started trying to kiss me.


Amanda was devastated. She had no is agreed with how her dad ran the school, but this this was worse than anything she'd imagined.


She apologized to me for not believing her all those years ago.


OK, I know.


OK, I'm glad you wrote the letter, though. I'm really glad because. That letter is how I guess how I started just thinking Amanda started thinking about all of it, how her parents had raised her, what she said she saw them do to the children, the circle of hope.


It wasn't until I had my own kids that I realized. What was going on was happening to other people's kids, and she wanted to make things right. She and Maggie decided to track down the girls of Circle of Hope, as many as they could listen to their stories, ask if they were OK.


And it was a big thing for a lot of them to be able to honestly, in a safe space, speak their truth.


But it wasn't just kids at Circle of Hope who had stories about her father. Amanda began hearing from former students of Agapa, the boy's religious reform school where her dad used to work.


Kolten Shrug remembered him very well and watch him grab students and Cellcom to a wall grabbed by the neck and slam them on the rocks outside, get in their face, yelling and screaming.


Boy denied that. But Amanda listened and remembered her childhood at a coffee, watching boys being dragged off to a room known as the Padded Palace. When you open the door, it would go into this weird, dark, carpeted room and that was the restraint room. And then all you would see is later that these boys were being drugged back down from this room and they're all bloody and bruised.


We talked to a dozen former Agot Bay students and four former employees who told us they witnessed staff mistreating kids over a number of years ago. I did not respond to our requests for comment on its website. It states it staff doesn't participate in corporal punishment and they have all been trained in proper restraining techniques. Caulton insisted he was beaten there years ago and tried to report it to a sheriff's deputy who picked him up after he ran away from the school.


I tried to tell them like they're beaten us and he didn't listen, cuffed me up. I mean, back to the car and drop me off back in the gap. And that's the last I ever heard of it. Never saw KPS nothing.


And the cop didn't believe, you know, a cop like Circle of Hope was seen in the community is doing good work helping troubled kids.


Amanda said it wasn't unusual to see deputies hanging out a circle of hope, sometimes doing target practice with her dad, Maggie said. Boyd boasted about it.


They had ties with all the cops in the area. If we ran away or said anything, we'd be immediately brought back and nobody would believe us.


It was hard for Amanda to imagine they would listen to her now, and hard to understand how her dad's school continued to operate because in twenty eighteen, investigators from Missouri's Department of Social Services issued two findings of abuse against Amanda's dad, one for physical abuse and one for sexual abuse, which Boyd is challenging in court.


But remember, the religious school wasn't registered with any state agency. There was no license to suspend, no agency to go shut it down.


This facility continued to operate is I mean, it flies in the face of everything we know about child welfare policy.


So girls kept arriving at Circle of Hope. What could Amanda do? And then a few unguarded seconds caught on tape. And that dam with the crack in it gave way.


Coming up, knock her out. Yes, sir. I mean it.


The tick tock video that triggered a firestorm. Knock her out. What's it like to hear that even now made me sick to my stomach.


Amanda's dad, Boyd Householder, the man she once idolized, is now a man she was determined to shut down if CPS and the police weren't going to do it.


Amanda decided she'd fight back her way. This soft spoken daughter went where she knew people talk the loudest social media.


Tick tock. If you ever suffered extreme abuse due to spare the rod, spoil the child, the platform known more for its stunts and jokes and what she had in mind, I want you to know that I see Survivor.


She posted interviews with former students, answered strangers questions. No, I do not.


I absolutely do not regret it.


Assembled her case against her parents day after day.


We need to let the whole United States know what Boyd and Stephanie are capable of.


And millions noticed, especially after she posted this, a 21 second video recorded by a family friend inside a circle of hope on his cell phone. Knock her out.


Yes, sir. I mean it. The voice you can hear is Boyd. Householder's, he's telling his students to hit one of the other kids. Knock her out. Yes, sir.


That goes for the rest of you. If she clinches her first break, she's going to hit you. That's a threat. Knock her out.


Yes, sir. Knock her out.


What's it like to hear that you're now hearing his voice in that tone made me sick to my stomach? But seeing the video. I felt like I was right back at their house. Yes, sir. Yes, sir. All of the little officers. And if you don't say yes, sir. He can be slapped across the face, you have to say, yes, sir. Wow, knocker.


Twenty one seconds. That struck a nerve. Yes, sir.


I was floored by the amount of support and like sharing and viewing that was like from the tick tock video.


And I was like, there are listening.


Like, people are actually listening to us for once, including a sheriff's deputy.


After watching the video, he messaged Amanda. There are some people that want to help. These girls deserve to have their complaints investigated properly, that deputies boss is Cedar County Sheriff James McCrary.


What was it about the tick tock video that struck such a nerve?


Well, the allegation some of the allegations were pretty serious, serious enough, the sheriff said, to launch a brand new investigation.


His deputy went back and compiled all those years of complaints that had never gone anywhere. Amanda connected him with former students and staff. He put together a case file. Is that fairly thick file?


Yeah, it's it's about five inches thick, probably. Are you seeing a pattern of behavior on the part of the people running that particular school?


Well, it seems to be that way, yes. Having said that, I think we need to be patient and see where this investigation takes us. The sheriff's investigation was just the beginning.


In August, authorities removed two dozen girls from the school.


Two weeks later, state investigators descended with their own search warrant. And recently, Missouri's attorney general agreed to assist the local prosecutor with his investigation. Why did it take so long?


You know, over the years, we took we took several of the reports, the complaints to the prosecutor's office. Any idea why they didn't proceed with any, you know, any further action?


My belief and what possibly occurred is some of the the alleged victims may have been afraid to tell us what was going on.


If anyone thought that the sheriff's department was somehow protecting these schools when it knew that things were happening in there, that wasn't good for those students. If somebody thought that, would they be wrong, they would be wrong.


Yes, sir.


Finally, last September, Amanda got the news. She'd been hoping for her parents shuttered.


Circle of hope for good. How did it feel to you to see that girls are being pulled out of that place and eventually it was closed down happy? What does that say to you? That it takes a tick tock video to finally get authorities to move to protect children?


It tells me that the system is very flawed, something Representative Carey Engle is trying to fix. She has introduced a bill that would require religious schools to register and be held accountable if they're found abusing kids.


Several of the householder's former students are seeking accountability, too, for Jane Doe's have filed civil lawsuits against Boyd and Stephanie Householder to accuse Boyd of sexual assault. The householder's have not been criminally charged, and they vehemently deny all the allegations in a written statement. They told us they look forward to making their case to a jury, but declined to be interviewed due to pending litigation.


They also told us the great majority of their hundreds of students benefited from what they called their Christian based discipline program and school.


And they've been estranged from Amanda since 2014.


Your parents did give an interview to one of the local papers. They said that you are addicted to drugs, that you're a Satan worshipper. What do you say to things like that?


Um, when I turned 18 and I was on my own. I did experiment with drugs. I'm not going to lie when I had my kids, that changed.


One of the things they said in the newspaper article was that people who are complaining about the school, they've been failures in their lives and you're a failure in your life and your. Blaming them, they need you need somebody to blame. I may not be successful in the sense that I am a millionaire, but my kids are happy. My kids don't have to fear me. So to me, I'm successful.


I know. And she told us she is not done. Speaking out on a recent fall morning, she led a march to the gates of a gap at the boys school where her dad worked years ago.


It's time that we bring awareness to a copy.


It's been painful, she told us this reckoning with her father and her own past. But she said she hopes it mattered for former students like Ashley Tucker as they kicked her drug addiction and plans to become a paramedic. She's a mother herself now and calls her daughter her angel.


You know how your mom felt about you? Yeah.


Now, I realize that, you know, she was just trying to help me. Amanda does not expect to reconcile with her parents anytime soon. Do you miss them at all?


I miss what I wanted to have happen. Like what I I would never go back. But I think what I'm trying to say is I just miss something I never had any time. What she has instead is a cause to help those kids.


She wants New York and the others coming after them and to forgive herself as well. That's all for this edition of Dateline. We'll see you again Friday at nine eight Central. And of course, I'll see you each weeknight for NBC Nightly News. I'm Lester Holt. For all of us at NBC News, good night.