The following information is taken from numerous newspaper articles. The articles on this page range from 1985-1993. To view the most recent articles by Tim Robertson of the Warsaw Times Union, please visit the "Newspaper Articles" page.
SCHOOL'S PRISON-LIKE CONDITIONS UNCOVERED
Post-Tribune (IN) - January 3, 1993
Author: The Associated Press
A hearing is planned this week in a child custody dispute that has uncovered prison-like conditions at a conservative Baptist school for girls in Winona Lake, an attorney said.
An Orange County, N.Y., father began fighting to gain custody of his 15- year-old daughter after she was placed in an unaccredited Northeast Indiana school by her mother, who lives in Tennessee. The teen, whose name is Sarah, has told both her father and his attorney that girls at Hephzibah House are given only a protein drink for dinner if they fail to memorize their Bible verses.
The girls' letters and telephone calls are monitored. Trips to the restroom and showers are supervised, and there are alarms on the doors and windows to keep the students inside, the girl claims. "I don't know what they're doing to these kids," said Anthony LaBella, a Middletown, N.Y., attorney representing the father. "They have no teachers. They're not allowed to talk in school. The school is not a school."
The school's founder, the Rev. Ron Williams, did not return a phone call Thursday from The Associated Press. The school's attorney, Paul Refior of Warsaw, was out of town Thursday, his secretary said. The last names of Sarah and her parents, Lucius and Mary, are not being used because the girl was sexually abused by a stepfather, who is in prison in Tennessee.
LaBella learned Wednesday night that Sarah had been removed from the school, apparently after returning from a court-ordered six-hour visit with her father on Tuesday. She was sighted in Tennessee on Wednesday morning, LaBella said. "They drove this kid all night long from Indiana back down to Tennessee," he said. "I'm really concerned as to what kind of shape this kid is in."
Sarah's mother brought her to Hephzibah House in February after the teen- ager was expelled from a Christian school in Tennessee, the attorney said. Lucius, a 60-year-old Teamster who describes himself as a born-again Baptist, is seeking custody of Sarah and her younger brother. An older sister is a married adult.
In a visit with Sarah on Tuesday, LaBella said he learned some "pretty scary stuff" about Hephzibah House , which was founded in Kosciusko County 20 years ago and is funded by independent Baptist churches. "The kid was a 'zombiac,' " he said. "There's parts of her that reminded me of my 8-year-old daughter, and she's a 15-year-old, not an 8-year- old."
Sarah's education at Hephzibah House involved no interaction with teachers or use of scientific equipment, the attorney said. Alarms are in place "not to keep people from coming in; it's to keep them from going out," LaBella said.
The powdered protein drink mix is served not only to girls who don't memorize their weekly Scripture verses, but also to teens who are sick, to deter them from faking illness, he said.
In an interview recently with The News-Sentinel in Fort Wayne, Sarah said that once she had lived on the drink mix two or three days. "It's gross. I gagged on it once and threw up," she said.
Lucius has asked a judge in Goshen, N.Y., to grant him permanent custody of Sarah and her brother. Next Thursday, school officials and Sarah's mother have been summoned to Kosciusko Superior Court for a hearing on the father's request for temporary custody.
LaBella said he hopes to learn more about why Sarah was placed in Hephzibah House , and whether it was in her best interests. "I need certain information for the long-term benefit of that child. I'm very interested to know what happened at Hephzibah House and how it might impact long term on that youngster," LaBella said.
SARAH CUSTODY CASE MOVED OUT OF STATE
News-Sentinel, The (Fort Wayne, IN) - January 8, 1993
Author: TANYA ISCH CAYLOR OF THE NEWS-SENTINEL
A Kosciusko Superior Court judge ruled yesterday that he has no jurisdiction in a child-custody case involving a former resident of a Winona Lake boarding school now that the girl has left the state.
The school's director still has some explaining to do, though. Attorneys representing the girl's father intend to question Hephzibah House founder Ron Williams next week about everything from the school's curriculum to charges that students are put on a liquid diet for failing to memorize Bible verses.
The answers to those questions - to be presented at a Jan. 29 custody hearing in Orange County, N.Y. - will help determine whether 15-year-old Sarah will live with her father in New York or her mother in Tennessee. They also may aid a state welfare investigator, who is reported to be making inquiries about Hephzibah House after a News-Sentinel interview with Sarah last week.
State law prohibits the Division of Family and Children - formerly known as the welfare department - from revealing whether it is investigating Hephzibah House , a religious boarding school for troubled teen-age girls. Nonetheless, a welfare investigator was seen in Warsaw yesterday in the company of an Indiana State Police trooper. Tim Elliott, state supervisor of Child Protective Services, could not confirm the sighting. "All I can tell you," Elliott said, "was that he was not in Indianapolis."
Sarah - whom The News-Sentinel is not identifying by her last name because she was sexually abused by her stepfather - was sent to Hephzibah House in February by her mother. Last week, during a court-ordered visitation with her father, Sarah said school officials punish girls who don't memorize their weekly Bible verses by giving them a "protein drink" instead of dinner. She also said she had missed six months' of menstrual periods during her 10-month stay at Hephzibah House - a common complaint of women who have lived at the home.
Sarah's mother, alerted that a hearing had been set in Kosciusko County to discuss awarding temporary custody to Sarah's father, picked Sarah up that night and drove her back to Tennessee. Neither Sarah nor her parents - nor Williams - were at yesterday's hearing. There wasn't much point in discussing a child-custody case in Indiana when neither the parents nor the child they're arguing over live in this state. Judge Robert Burner took about 30 seconds to rule that he no longer had jurisdiction in the case.
Burner can order Williams to cooperate with the father's attorneys as they prepare their case for the New York hearing, however. Warsaw attorney Paul Refior, representing Hephzibah House , declined to comment when contacted last night at his office. But the father's attorney, Anthony "Toots" LaBella, said he has been told that Hephzibah House will provide him with an informational videotape.