Students flee Bethel school; allege abuse Students flee Bethel school; allege abuse, February 16, 2005

Law enforcement officers were at a Petal (Mississippi) school for troubled teenagers Wednesday morning investigating allegations of abuse and reports that several of the girls there had run away.

According to Forrest County Sheriff’s Department deputies, 11 girls fled the Bethel Girls Academy, although the school’s director, Herman Fountain Jr., said only seven girls were missing. He couldn’t immediately explain the discrepancy.

Four girls were being sought by authorities this morning. Others had returned to the school. It was unclear how many staff members were on duty at the time the girls ran away.

“Some of the girls had an uprising and sort of took over the place,” Fountain said. “They just ran away.”

One of the girls, Angenika McNeil, 16, said her arm was broken after she was restrained. Fountain said she may have injured her arm when she punched a wall.

Another girls was treated in an ambulance for a cut to the head this morning. Fountain said she fell.

Fountain said he was not at the school at the time of the incident. The school has had a history of problems with state authorities. The Department of Human Services removed 38 girls from the facility last spring after receiving complaints of mistreatment from the girls about physical and verbal abuse.

No charges were filed in connection with the incident, and the school continued to accept students.

The school mixes Biblical teaching with military-style discipline. It takes in girls with behavioral problems from around the country.

Nikki Rich, hired about a month ago as a drill instructor, said she was quitting.

“This is ridiculous, I’m not going to stay here,” she said.

Rich said the girls were providing notes outlining their issues with the school to employees. Rich said she had several of the notes and planned to give them to DHS officials.

Deputies said DHS has been called. The agency has not arrived as of 1 p.m.

Originally published February 16, 2005

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