Newark, Mo. -- Authorities have removed more than 100 children from a school for troubled youths because of an allegation of child abuse, school officials said Wednesday.
It was the third abuse allegation involving Heartland Christian Academy in the past five months.
Authorities removed 115 children from the school Tuesday and took them to a juvenile center in nearby Kirksville in northeast Missouri, according to a news release from Heartland. By Wednesday afternoon, some had been released to their parents.
Heartland attorney David Melton said the case started when a 13-year-old boy ran away and told Lewis County authorities another boy had been abused.
Melton said a boy who was about to be spanked for repeatedly fighting had fought with three staff members, punching and choking one staff member. When the staff member tried to break free he accidentally struck the boy in the ear, injuring the boy's eardrum, Melton said.
Melton said Heartland refused authorities' requests to force the staff member to talk to police and to fire him. ''That's what initiated everything that's going on,'' he said.
Lewis County prosecutor Jake DeCoster said he will file assault charges against a Heartland employee. The employee's name was not released, pending his arrest. Another case of alleged abuse is under investigation, DeCoster said.
Heartland has about 240 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Melton said all the 115 students removed Tuesday were troubled students. The remaining students are local children who do not live at the school.
In the first case against the school, in June, five Heartland workers were charged with child abuse for allegedly punishing misbehaving youngsters by forcing them to shovel animal manure in concrete-lined pits. The five all appeared in court Wednesday and pleaded innocent.
In addition, four people associated with Heartland have been charged with abuse for allegedly striking a teen-ager with a board.
Heartland officials deny any wrongdoing.
''It's just part of a pattern of harassment we've been undergoing and will apparently undergo in the foreseeable future,'' Melton said.
He added that child-abuse allegations frequently come from students hoping to leave the school and return to lives of crime or drug abuse.
The 200-acre complex was started in 1995 by millionaire Charles Sharpe to treat troubled youth and adults by using a combination of work therapy and Christian-based instruction.
Sharpe said he would do everything possible to return the children to Heartland. Court hearings were scheduled Friday.
''I'm sick,'' he said. ''We spent $22 million of our own money here to help children. It seems outrageous to me that we would destroy the very thing we built this place for.''
On Wednesday, some students and parents returned to the school to pick up belongings.
''We're not abused here -- we're loved and nurtured,'' said Christina Bold, 17, of Quincy, Ill., who has been at Heartland about nine months.
Terry Hans, said his son's behavior and grades have improved significantly in the year the boy has been at Heartland.
''It seems our rights as parents have been taken away,'' Hans said. ''How can that be right?''