There wasn’t much that McDonald County Sheriff Michael Hall could do when he received reports in May that a man with an alleged history of child abuse was operating a religious boys home in a remote part of Pineville, Mo.
In Missouri, child care programs operated by religious organizations don’t have to be licensed, which means that The Joshua Home wasn’t subject to inspections or regulation unless the state received reports of misconduct.
But before Hall could investigate further, Joshua Home founder “Brother” Gary Wiggins moved his boys home to Burnet County, Texas. So Hall called law enforcement there to warn them.
“I just wanted to let Texas know what they had coming, if they had something they could check into,” Hall told a Texas TV station.
This week, multiple Texas law enforcement agencies shut down The Joshua Home after receiving allegations of abuse, neglect, labor violations, fraud, licensing violations and human trafficking, the Burnet County Sheriff’s Office in Texas announced.
A search warrant was executed on July 25, law enforcement officers said. Evidence found during the search led to the immediate removal of eight boys.
“Those boys range in age from 10 to 17 years old and have been transferred into the temporary custody of CPS (Child Protective Services) until arrangements can be made to reunite them with their parents, all of whom reside out of state,” the sheriff’s office said in a release.
Wiggins and his wife, Meaghan, have billed The Joshua Home as a haven for Christian study, prayer and love for young boys.
But Wiggins has been dogged by child abuse allegations at previous operations in Alabama and Missouri.
In 2016, law enforcement raided the last home Wiggins operated — the Blessed Hope Boys Academy in Robertsdale, Ala. — after several boys ran away and told authorities that staff had punished them with forced exercise, solitary confinement and withholding of food.
One teenager accused Wiggins of physical abuse in an ABC’s “20/20” investigation from 2017. Wiggins told an undercover TV producer that he could “redirect” boys who “claim to be a homosexual” 80 percent of the time.
He told the producer that he would not beat a Blessed Hope boy for being “queer” but he would beat him for being “really bad.”
Wiggins and the staff of Blessed Hope Boys Academy were not charged with abuse, and later moved to Pineville.
There, concerned family members of boys staying at The Joshua Home contacted the sheriff’s office. Hall told The Star that law enforcement had made a few wellness checks on individual boys who told officers they were treated well.
Jacob Greer, of Georgia, was one of those boys. He said Wiggins asked him to leave the school earlier this year after extended family members with concerns about Wiggins’ past kept requesting wellness checks.
“The only punishment was staring at the wall and doing jumping jacks,” he told The Star earlier this year. “Students worked lawn-mowing jobs.”
Sheriff Calvin Boyd told Texas media last week that law enforcement was investigating whether boys had been illegally working for a lawn care service and moving company.
Wiggins’ lawyer, Eddie Shell, told an NBC-affiliated television station in Austin, Texas, that Missouri media reports might have prompted the local investigation.
“The parents of all of the boys have always been informed of the condition of the boys and the whereabouts of the boys,” Shell told KXAN. “Anything that the Wigginses have done, they have done it with the permission of the parents.”
Wiggins has not been charged.
Investigators have encouraged those with additional information about the Joshua Home, Joshua Home Ministries, Joshua Home Lawn Care, Joshua Home Movers, or JJW Home Services to contact the investigations division of the Burnet County Sheriff’s Office at 512-756-8080 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.