August, 18 2018

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Complaints of abuse prompt probe

PETAL � Eleven students at a school here for TROUBLED TEENS fled the facility on Wednesday after some of them told authorities they were abused by employees.

The incident occurred about 9 a.m. at Bethel Girls Academy, when several of the students said they weren't being watched.

"Some of the girls had an uprising and sort of took over the place," academy director Herman Fountain Jr. said. "They just ran away."
The school has been under scrutiny in the past by state officials. The Department of Human Services removed 38 girls from the facility in May 2004 after receiving complaints of mistreatment.

No charges were filed in connection with the incident. Sheriff's Department Investigator Sharon Roberts said she believes all the missing girls had been accounted for.

George Clark/Hattiesburg American

Angenika McNeil, 16, of Miami has accused Herman Fountain Jr., director of the Bethel Girls Academy, of breaking her wrist while trying to restrain her.

The academy uses biblical teaching and strict discipline to HELP girls with behavioral problems. Another school operated by Fountain's brother, John Fountain, concentrates on troubled boys.

The Bethel Boys Academy has been the target of investigations dating to the 1980s and most recently was the target of a probe in 1993 which resulted in a consent decree with state officials to set guidelines for discipline.

On Monday, Miami resident Angela Roberts filed a complaint with the Forrest County sheriff's department against the girls' academy. "I got a call from inside the school that they (staff members) were beating the girls," Roberts said Wednesday. "I drove from Miami to get my child from here."

Roberts said she had not been aware of the school's history of abuse allegations when she decided to send her daughter there. Her daughter, Angenika McNeil, 16, said Fountain Jr. broke her arm when she was being restrained Feb. 10. She said there had been ongoing verbal and physical abuse at the school.

Fountain Jr. said he was not present when McNeil was injured. She may have been hurt when she punched a wall, he said. Nikki Rich, a drill instructor at the academy who had worked there for about a month, said she was quitting after the incident.

"This is ridiculous. I'm not going to stay here," she said. "I'm never seen (Fountain Jr.) put his hands on the girls, but something is definitely going on there."

Rich said she witnessed some of the verbal abuse the girls said they endured.

"One complaint was that they were tired of staff members calling them 'losers' and 'freak shows,' " she said.

"He (Fountain Jr.) said that was their way of joking."

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