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Religious reform school closes after former students allege abuse & neglect

(WNDU)
Published: Mar. 30, 2020 at 4:54 PM EDT
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A reform school in Kosciusko County, facing allegations of neglect and abuse from former students, has closed.

The school has confirmed that they've closed permanently. This comes after a 16 news now investigation just over a month ago.

Hephzibah House sent a letter to their supporters saying they sent their last student away and that the closure came after their insurance carrier dropped them.

While those who run the school say it wasn't their choice or desire to close, former students, like Mary Kumar, tell us they're overjoyed.

“I think now that girls, children, aren't there right now is big—I mean its huge. It’s good to know that someone isn't actively being abused right now,” she explains.

The school was founded by Dr. Ron Williams in the seventies, but his son says he's glad to see it all come to an end.

“I wept with joy because I know now that no more parents, who don't have the ability to be the parents they should have been, can just dump their girls to somewhere where that girl is locked up for 1, 2, 3, 4… 5 years at a time! In a locked-up basement where they never see the light of day, as a prisoner… and that's over. Thank god!”

Ben Williams says this is just one step in the healing process.

“I know that there's hundreds of girls that this is huge for them and this is a relief… and I'm so happy for them. Because it's going to help them heal. It's going to help me heal,” he tells us.

Former students say it's thanks to a community effort that the school shut down.

“It feels great,” says Mary. “But we really couldn't have done it without you guys, without the media, without family and friends helping us… I mean we spoke up, but everyone else was basically holding us on their shoulders. So, it was a team effort by thousands of people across the country.”

Hephzibah House told supporters the facility that once housed troubled teen girls will now be a “Christian Camp” for those suffering with PTSD.

“Which is crazy, just insane, because there's 300 of us out here that have PTSD, says Mary. “The irony almost knocked me over.”

The school is still asking for financial support from Fundamentalist Baptist church-goers, which leaves former students with unanswered questions.

“[Ron Williams] is asking supporting churches to support him until the end of the year which is a lot of money. I mean, I think he brings up his utility bill is $20,000. So what is he doing with the money in the meantime? What is using the same staff he was using to help with children do for PTSD?”

Officials with Hephzibah House say they're still praying for former students in a statement that reads in full:

Hephzibah House has been based in the Winona Lake area for almost 49 years. The Faith Community has been prominent in our county since 1894, the beginning of the Winona Lake Bible Conference. Our ministry has been blessed to have been a small part of that Bible-based heritage. Through the decades, desperate Parents have brought their troubled teen daughters from all 50 States and from some foreign countries, (daughters of American Missionaries) to our ministry. Some of these girls are now serving in full-time Christian ministry. Others went on to become Godly wives and mothers and productive members of society. Still others went back to their old way of life. The consecrated staff of Hephzibah House loved and cared for each of these troubled souls, and though we are now closed, we continue to love and pray that each of our former students would have a grand success of the Christian life, or as a responsible member of their community. We want to express our thanks and appreciation to so many county residents who have made us feel welcome, have donated to our work and have prayed for us and encouraged us over these many years. God bless each and every one of you. It has been a rich blessing to be a part of our wonderful area. We all have felt “at home” with such superb and encouraging neighbors.

While Ben, Mary, and countless others plan to continue working together.

“There’s still people out here that are hurt, so I’m still talking. I'm still going to do my best, and as a group we're going to keep holding each other up. There's still work that has to be done,” says Mary Kumar.

“I’m not done! I will continue to try to help as long as people want me to help them,” explains Ben Williams.