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Founder of Missouri Christian school dies; state raid there led to years of lawsuits

Founder of Missouri Christian school dies; state raid there led to years of lawsuits

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BETHEL, Mo. • The Rev. Charles “Charlie” Sharpe, the millionaire founder of a rural Missouri Christian school where a state raid over discipline tactics led to years of lawsuits, has died.

The Rev. Sharpe died Wednesday (Feb. 1, 2017) at age 89. The Heartland community website says he had cardiac and renal problems.

The Rev. Sharpe founded Ozark National Life Insurance Co. in Kansas City in 1964. In 1996, he opened the Heartland community in a remote area of northeastern Missouri, about 170 miles northwest of St. Louis. The community includes several businesses, homes, a dairy farm, Heartland Christian College and Heartland Christian Academy. The academy is a K-12 school with about 225 students, including many sent there by their parents because of disciplinary problems.

Juvenile authorities raided the school in 2001 amid reports of spankings and allegations that misbehaving students were forced to stand in hip-deep manure. More than 100 students were removed.

The Rev. Sharpe strongly denied the abuse claims, saying unruly kids were made to shovel manure but never stand in it. Parents overwhelmingly sided with the school.

Students were allowed to return days after the raid. Five employees were charged but all were either acquitted or had charges dropped.

The raid led to several lawsuits against the state. Fifteen students eventually settled out of court. In 2005, the state settled a lawsuit from Heartland by agreeing to pay attorney fees and court costs that amounted to nearly $800,000.

The academy also sued in federal court, but a jury ruled in 2010 that the raid did not violate constitutional rights.

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