The former dean of Agape Boarding School in Missouri conspired with a California woman to have her son handcuffed and transported over 24 hours to that school, according to a recently unsealed federal indictment. The two people now charged with crimes face up to five years in prison and/or a $250,000 fine.
On Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced that the man and woman in question had been arrested for the alleged crime.
The woman is 35-year-old Shana Gaviola. About two years ago, her son began living with a different family and demanded emancipation. He wanted a legal separation from his parents. He accused Gaviola of domestic abuse and obtained an order of protection to keep her away from him. She was legally forbidden from interacting with him or from taking away his phone.
The man is 41-year-old Julio Sandoval. He used to be the dean of Agape Boarding School in Missouri but has since transferred to Lighthouse Christian Academy in the same state. He also manages a business called Safe, Sound Secure Youth Ministries, which is essentially a service that takes kids against their will to Christian schools or treatment centers with the approval of their parents. (“The transport is the first phase of this amazing journey called ‘change’,” Sandoval writes on the website.)
Last year, the two of them worked on a plan to send her son to Lighthouse Christian Academy. But how could she do that when she wasn’t allowed to interact with him? Simple. They hired outsiders to do the job for them.
Despite the protection order, Gaviola and Sandoval made plans for Gaviola’s son to be forcibly transported from California to Missouri. On Aug. 21, 2021, individuals acting on behalf of Gaviola and Sandoval found the minor at a business in Fresno, handcuffed him, and forced him into a car. He remained in handcuffs for over 24 hours while they drove to Stockton, Missouri. He was then held at the boarding school until his father was able to free him.
The story is even worse in the actual indictment. Gaviola was also said to have forged a court document that said he had the right to do this.
All of that is awful enough. But it’s deeply troubling that Agape Boarding School, Gaviola’s former employer, is involved in all of this, because that school has been a hotbed of abuse in its own right.
Last year, five staffers at Agape were charged with over a dozen felony assault counts… and yet the state’s attorney general had originally recommended prosecutors go after 22 employees on 65 total counts. One of the victims said he was “beaten, assaulted, starved,” and that other kids had been “slammed on tile, concrete and asphalt.” The decision not to go after all those other adults infuriated the attorney general so much that he asked to be taken off the case.
In addition to all that, the school’s in-house doctor, David Earl Smock, was charged in December with—wait for it—”second-degree statutory sodomy, third-degree child molestation of a child less than 14 years of age and enticement or attempted enticement of a child less than 15 years of age.” The school’s doctor was accused of a slew of sex crimes! Smock has since pleaded not guilty. (A different child sued Smock for sexual abuse this week.)
All of this was so horrible that Republicans in Missouri’s legislature eventually considered and passed a bill requiring some oversight of these schools. Until recently, faith-based schools in Missouri had been exempt from any statewide regulations. Now they must meet some basic health and safety guidelines, conduct background checks on employees, provide students with basic necessities like food and health care, and give parents access to their kids at all times.
The federal indictment this week says the teenager was sent to a boarding school in Stockton, Missouri… which, as it turns out, is also the home of Agape.
For the mother’s part, her lawyer told The Daily Beast there’s more to the story,
Anthony Capozzi, the attorney defending Gaviola in court, told The Daily Beast, “What’s in the indictment is not totally accurate to what happened. It only presents one side of the story. If Shana Gaviola had known there was a valid restraining order, this wouldn’t have happened. That’s all I can say at this point.”
Gaviola “will be fighting this case, and will take it to trial,” Capozzi added, saying that there “is a reason she did what she did. To protect her son. And to protect others. There’s so much more than what’s in this indictment. So much more.”
Whatever happened with these people and at that school, there seems to be blame to spread around. The amount of torture and trauma is off the charts. The scary thing is that there seems to be no end in sight to the depths of the horrors. Each week brings with it a new revelation of how Christianity gave these people cover to inflict all sorts of pain upon children.