Minor Forcibly Taken to Notorious Agape School in Missouri

Mother arrested after the unlawfully detained minor endured 1,700-mile drive in handcuffs

click to enlarge Then-Agape Dean of Students Julio Sandoval wrote in a May 2020 newsletter for parents to not let their sons deviate from the boarding school's standards over summer.
Then-Agape Dean of Students Julio Sandoval wrote in a May 2020 newsletter for parents to not let their sons deviate from the boarding school's standards over summer.

A California mother and a Missouri boarding school administrator have been arrested for orchestrating the forcible transport of a minor from California to Missouri in violation of a restraining order that had been issued against the mother.

On Tuesday, 35-year-old Shana Gaviola, of Clovis, California, and Julio Sandoval, 41, of Piedmont, Missouri, were arrested on charges of violating a protective order. The charges stem from August of last year when Gaviola's son, referred to in court documents as MV, was forcibly taken from Fresno, California, and transported against his will to a boarding school in Missouri.

In 2021, MV was living away from his mother with a different family near Fresno. MV had petitioned a California court for a domestic-violence restraining order against Gaviola, and a judge had issued a temporary restraining order against the mother.

According to the indictment, after Gaviola was served the restraining order, she contacted Sandoval, who at the time was the dean of students at the Agape Boarding School for Boys in Stockton, Missouri, about an hour northwest of Springfield.

The boarding school, which bills itself as being for "at-risk or unmotivated boys," was investigated by the Missouri Highway Patrol last year, leading to five staffers being charged with 13 counts of assault. Last week, the Missouri Independent reported that Agape had 21 pending lawsuits against it, yet remains open.

A May 2020 newsletter from Agape includes a short essay titled "Summer Time" penned by Sandoval and directed toward parents of Agape students, encouraging them to not let their sons deviate from the standards of the school during summer.

"While your son/child is here at Agapé make no mistake… he is being worked with and trained. I tell them this on a constant basis," he wrote.

Sandoval's writing makes no mention of students being restrained by adult staff for six to eight hours a day, as one former student told the Kansas City Star happened to him at the school.

In addition to being the school's dean of students at the time, Sandoval also operated a "transport agency" that the indictment alleges transported minors to the school.

The Kansas City Star has reported that the transport agency is called Safe Sound Secure Youth Ministries and employs Cedar County Sheriff's deputies. Cedar County contains Stockton.

click to enlarge Agape boarding school in Stockton, MO.
Agape boarding school in Stockton, MO.

According to the federal indictment, Gaviola and Sandoval instructed two employees of the transport agency to travel to Fresno, locate MV, handcuff him and bring him to Agape.

Gaviola discerned the whereabouts of MV on the morning of August 21, 2021, and relayed this information to the transport-agency employees. Gaviola also gave the employees fake court documents to convince them that they were legally allowed to coerce MV back to Missouri. The fake documents were also shown to an adult whom MV was residing with as well as MV himself to make both individuals believe the transport-agency employees were acting within the bounds of the law.

The transport-agency employees drove MV in a rented car the more than 1,700 miles from Fresno to Stockton. MV was in restraints the entire 27 hour drive, the indictment states.

During the trip, law enforcement contacted Sandoval and told him that MV had a restraining order against Gaviola, yet the indictment states that Sandoval did not stop the detention and transport of MV.

Once in Stockton, the indictment says, "members of the Boarding School detained MV within the facility, despite requests by MV's father to release MV into his custody."

MV remained detained at Agape for eight days, before being released to his father.

About a month after MV's ordeal, the five Agape staffers were charged with assault in incidents unrelated to what happened to MV. Sandoval left his position at Agape afterwards, but the Kansas City Star revealed that he soon started working at Lighthouse Christian Academy, which describes itself as "a private Christian boarding school for boys" in the southeast Missouri town of Piedmont.

The federal indictment of Gaviola and Sandoval was unsealed Tuesday in the Eastern District of California.

If found guilty of interstate violation of a protection order, the two could each face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

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About The Author

Ryan Krull

Ryan Krull is a staff writer for the Riverfront Times. Find him on Twitter @ryanwkrull
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