Accusations of abuse at the Pinehaven Christian Children's Ranch in western Montana have surfaced, and CNN's Gary Tuchman investigated the story.
For over four decades, the Christian boarding school operated in the town of St. Ignatius, run by Bob Larsson, a preacher who is now 82 years old. His school takes in troubled youth. Larsson told CNN that he tries to teach the kids that God loves them, and that God is the answer to everything because He rules everything. "He made man. He made the world. He made the rules," Larsson says.
Despite these holy proclamations, some former students and houseparents are painting a picture that is not so rosy.
Denise Bingham, a former Pinehaven houseparent, told CNN that if youngsters did not obey, they would receive physical pain in the form pressing pressure points, being dragged down a hill, or even choked. "I think God weeps when He thinks about the wrong that's been done," she told Tuchman. Larsson says that the allegations are not true, but are simply wrong perceptions and false memories.
James Mason was enrolled into Pinehaven when he was 13 years old and stayed there for six years. He alleges that he was choked when he was 14 by being lifted by the throat. Melissa Stasiuk was also enrolled there and has a similar claim of being choked by being lifted by the neck. She says that she was picked up by her throat and slammed upon the kitchen table by a houseparent named Ned Kent, who still works at Pinehaven. Kent says that the allegations about being choked are "totally false." He claims that he only used pressure points on the ears to restrain the teenagers. Larsson told Kent not to do that anymore since the practice could be misconstrued, and both say that the practice has ceased.
Lauren McClary, another former student, says that she experienced a different kind of abuse by a different houseparent, who grabbed her by her ponytail and dragged her up the stairs. Larsson disputed the claim and introduced CNN's Tuchman to former students who confirmed his side of the story. Troy Baker told CNN that "there was tough love but there was nothing cruel or unusual." By "tough love," Baker was referring to separating people from "drugs and alcohol and bad influences that brought them to Pinehaven in the first place."
Curtis Swanson praised the school, saying that had he not gone there, he would probably have a criminal record. "It kept me on track and gave me a better place to be," he said, adding that he learned ethics there and that the school saved his life.
CNN says that there are numerous and detailed complaints of abuse, despite the glowing remarks from some of the students. The reason for these accusations, Larsson told CNN's Tuchman, is because of the devil. "Ultimately, we only have one enemy who wants to defeat the goodness in the world," he explained, "and that's Satan. And I really believe that he is a real personality and he works to try to stop the works of God and cause the evil that keeps going on that will happen. I think that he influences people. The Bible says he is the father of lies, and people sometimes believe his lies." He alleges that "underneath it all," the reason that people are making accusations are because they are being influenced by Satan.