Some parents, school administrators, and church leaders across the country believe it’s necessary to physically discipline children in their care. CNN’s Gary Tuchman spoke with those who do it because, they say, they’re acting in the name of God.
The AC360° investigation began when parents of 7-year-old Lydia Shatz pleaded guilty, and were sent to prison, after their young adopted daughter was beaten to death. They claim they were following teachings in a book by Michael Pearl. Pearl co-authored “To Train Up a Child” with his wife as a guide for parents on raising their children in accordance with the Bible.
Tuchman spoke with the Pearls who explain their method of spanking, and say they’re not to blame for Lydia’s untimely death. To demonstrate the technique and force that’s used, Mr. Pearl hits Tuchman during the interview.
Also in the program, former students of a religious boarding school in Montana accuse the pastor and school leaders of abuse, including choking. The owner of Pinehaven Christian Children’s Ranch, Bob Larsson, says his mission is to impart a love for God to the students. The state government has no oversight of religious institutions, which you’ll learn more about in tonight’s report.
This week AC360° presents a three-part series investigating allegations of abuse at the Pinehaven Christian Children’s Ranch. The founder, Preacher Bob Larsson, asks new students to sign a document stating they understand the religious nature of the school and believe the bible to be the word of God. Because the Montana boarding school is a faith-based institution, the state has no authority to oversee or regulate it.
It’s an important factor to consider with former students and employees claiming abusive forms of punishment are common practice at the school. One former staff member told CNN’s Gary Tuchman, “... when I saw the kids they were wrenching and screaming because of the pain of what had happened.” Larsson believes Satan is behind that allegation and the others from more than a dozen people who told CNN they witnessed or experienced abuse.
Larsson, the owner for almost four decades, admits the school enforces a policy of “tough love.” House parent Ned Kent says he used pressure points on the children’s necks as a means to control their behavior. It’s a practice Pinehaven says is no longer permitted, but there is no government authority checking that claim. Teachers aren’t required to have certifications like instructors at public and private schools in Montana, and Pinehaven has free reign to employ anyone they choose regardless of qualifications or background.
In addition to the abuse allegations, at least one former student says he was raped by a peer. He began cutting himself as a way to cope with the pain. A former employee pleaded guilty to raping two students and subsequently went to prison. Larsson acknowledges past troubles, but he doesn’t welcome any changes to the law preventing state oversight of his school.
The Ungodly Discipline investigation continues tonight on AC360° at 8 and 10 p.m. ET.
Watch the first report in the series:
What everyone’s talking about:
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Pinehaven Christian Children's Ranch in western Montana doesn't deny their use of "tough love" techniques on students. In the past, one house parent would apply pressure to the children's necks to control their behavior, a practice Pinehaven says is no longer permitted. Several former students and employees say they experienced or witnessed physical and emotional abuse. Preacher Bob Larsson, who's been the school's owner for almost 40 years, denies the allegations and tells CNN's Gary Tuchman that their methods of discipline are not abusive.
Larson introduced several students who are thankful for their time at Pinehaven. Troy Baker said, "Tough love means separating people from drugs and alcohol and bad influences that brought them to pinehaven in the first place." Curtis Swanson says he never saw an abusive house parent.
Others claim that the abuse went beyond trying to discipline students to include difficult and dangerous construction jobs around the ranch. Larsson says those who didn't complete the work were punished, but not abused. When asked why he thinks some are alleging abuse, he told CNN he believes they are influenced by Satan.
Watch Part II of the story on AC360° at 8 and 10 p.m. ET.
Anderson Cooper goes beyond the headlines to tell stories from many points of view, so you can make up your own mind about the news. Tune in weeknights at 8 and 10 ET on CNN.
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