March 27th, 2012
10:46 PM ET

Ungodly Discipline: Abuse accusations at a Christian school

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.

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Filed under: Ungodly Discipline
soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. John

    Let me start off by saying in no way or form do i support child abuse. Stories like this NEED to be investigated not only through the accusers, but also through the accused. Places like this are sometimes last ditch efforts for unruly kids with troubled pasts. The problem is the strict catholic persona. They don't take crap from anyone. Everyone has heard stories of kids being hit in catholic schools and that used to be the norm. I agree that physical violence is no way to disciple a kid and thankfully that has been fazed out for the most part. It can still happen though in these private organizations and camps because of the still existing violent tendencies towards discipline. Kids who attend these places will misbehave and get discipled, but the organization should really monitor and record these events. That way there can be less bias and maybe some common ground between the two parties. If these people were physically abused, why didn't they bring attention to it when it happend instead of years down the road? Saying they were scared is no excuse. Remember, some people will do anything for money, even if its exaggerating a story. I'm only commenting on this because things like this tend to be one sided. Keeping everything in mind will get you the real truth.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
  2. lawrenceqpadilla

    I looked at my wife and said Satan, before Gary even finished the question and sure enough that was the response. I must be a mind reader.

    March 28, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
  3. Wayne Kernochan

    Bob Larsson is a liar. Tough love is abuse, and, it's been proven to do more harm than good. He's influenced by Satan's greatest weapon: Greed

    March 28, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
  4. Carrie Brown

    Amazing – it brings back so many memories of the Dream Center Teen Discipleship program in Los Angeles – I wonder if they will be investigated????? The cover up there is great!! Verbal, emotional and spiritual abuse! So glad that these places are being investigated!! There are good things that have come from DCTD for some kids – but how many are traumatized and don't even know it??? The mind control was great! Keep up the good work – and don't stop!!!! I think the good outweighs the bad at dctrd...however – the bad needs to be dealt with and the eliminated!!!!!!!

    March 28, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
  5. Tim Sabens

    To Anderson and the AC360 crew, thank you for making this a national story and providing viewers with several stories and perspectives. The root of this issue is based on what Gary Tuchman mentioned in his closing statements last night concerning the oversight of the ranch. Without accountability, this ranch has been successful at presenting themselves as they choose to garner the financial and emotional support they need to operate from supporting churches, state funding (outside of Montana), and private sources. They are masters of marketing, and that is why I can say with 100% certainty that none of the students on the ranch the day CNN had their cameras there were shoveling manure in the bullpin, or picking rocks in a field. How many allegations of abuse must there be before something is done to protect children?

    March 28, 2012 at 10:14 am |
  6. Maggie North

    As a child who went to this place, my heart goes out to all who still suffer from their own experience while there. While I look back on my time as bitter sweet, nothing in this world is void of the depth of depravity of the human soul. I am who I am today because of that time in my life, and am thankful for the invaluable lessons I learned. I feel like if God is truly for Pinehaven, then who could be against it?

    March 28, 2012 at 12:39 am |
  7. Brittany Bingham

    My name is Brittany Bingham, daughter of David and Denise Bingham who spoke with Gary. My family lived there for 5 years, and witnessed physical, emotional, verbal abuse. Child abuse has and continues to happened at Pinehaven. I have witnessed Ned Kent physically abuse several children. He says he was told by Bob not to continue to pressure point children, but he still does it! Ned has just gotten better at hiding it these days. These children that are sent to Pinehaven come from many different walks of life. Some are sent by parents because they don’t have the tools to discipline their kids. A four year old boy was recently sent there by his social worker, ( who also sent her own two children to PH). This little boy will never get a chance to be adopted or have a normal life, as we’ve seen with past PH children who have lived their entire lives at the ranch. 29 children have been “trafficked” by a man named Charlie Duke, for simply being truant from school. Parents who are then forced to send their child to PH or to Jail. There is no counseling (Bob claims that his grandson is a licensed counselor however he only has a two year bible degree) There is no nurse or Medical Professionals at the ranch, many kids have had to suffer from broken bones, without any tending, frostbitten fingers, even the ranch Plummer has taken off kids toe nails with pliers because of ingrown toenails. All this I have seen with my own eyes. Please share this story with your friends and family, help us band together against these types of religious institutions.

    March 27, 2012 at 11:35 pm |
  8. Marilyn Stoner

    As a former employee of Pinehaven,my husband and I concurred there were both ethical and potential legal issues that determined we could not work there after two years. There is definitely intimidation of the staff as well as the children.
    We also strongly question the requirement that houseparents report a self-employed status for tax purposes.
    When we went there, we were told there was a board of directors. We found out that the "board"consisted of 2 couples in the church who only showed up at the Christmas party to hand out gifts. There were no meetings, and no records of board activity, and there were no written policies or procedures in place.

    March 27, 2012 at 11:03 pm |
  9. James

    After watching the report on Pinehaven it became very evident of your witch hunt of any form of discipline as being abuse. It is tiring to hear the one sided reporting that has no alternative views and thoughts. When was the last time that you interviewed the number of people in prison that had no discipline at all. Anderson I expect more of you and your program. Anymore it feels like you are trying to shape the culture to your belief system, rather then maintain a connection with society and report what they want to know about.

    March 27, 2012 at 10:59 pm |
  10. Lorna Stremcha

    This is happening Montana Public Schools too.

    March 27, 2012 at 10:58 pm |