4/14/10 – Legal Court documents (Thorne): Alamo members (current and former) recount beatings, forced fasts, underage marriages, polygamy, educational and medical neglect as commonplace on compound ***COMMENTS***
April 14, 2010


No. CA 09-583.

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division I.

April 14, 2010.


This is one of four appeals decided today that involve children who
were removed from the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries compound in
Fouke, Arkansas, in November 2008. The circuit court heard the cases
together in one adjudication hearing. Appellant, Don Thorne, is the
father of three children placed in DHS’s custody. He challenges the
circuit court’s order adjudicating them dependent-neglected. We affirm
the court’s order.

In September 2008, DHS took emergency custody of six minor females who
lived in Tony Alamo’s residence at the Fouke compound. DHS presented
evidence that their parents were aware of beatings administered to the
ministry’s children by adults; that some of the parents and other
children witnessed the beatings; that the parents condoned the
marriage of underage females to adult males and placed their daughters
in the residence of Tony Alamo without parental supervision; that
Alamo sexually abused one of the girls (M.B.1) and spent time in his
bedroom with others; that the parents neglected to provide the
children with proper medical care and education; and that they
condoned extreme disciplinary measures for young children, such as
fasting. On November 18, 2009, we affirmed the circuit courts orders
adjudicating the girls dependent-neglected. See Broderick v. Ark.
Dep’t of Human Servs., 2009 Ark. App. 771, ___ S.W.3d ___; Seago v.
Ark. Dep’t of Human Servs., 2009 Ark. App. 767, ___ S.W.3d ___; Reid
v. Ark. Dep’t of Human Servs., 2009 Ark. App. 784.

The evidence taken at the girls’ adjudication hearings led DHS to seek
emergency custody of many more children in Fouke. The circuit court
held an adjudication hearing that began on January 12, 2009, for the
Reid, Seago, Broderick, Ondrisek, Krantz, Thorne, Myers, Parrish, and
Avila children. Many of the children sought by DHS, including some of
the Thorne and Myers children, were hidden by their parents or other
ministry adults. The court granted DHS’s motion for directed verdict
as to the Reid, Seago, Broderick, and Ondrisek children because their
siblings had already been adjudicated dependent-neglected. On February
17, 2010, we affirmed appeals from those adjudications because the
appellants had raised their arguments for the first time on appeal.
Today we affirm the orders adjudicating the children of the Thorne,
Krantz, Myers, and Parrish families dependent-neglected.

Don Thorne is the father of a daughter, A.T.1, aged fourteen, and two
sons, A.T.2, born in 1995, and A.T.3, aged twelve. From an earlier
marriage, he is also the father of one of the other appellants, Sophia
Parrish, aged twenty-three. He has been a member of the ministry since
1974, when he was nineteen. There was testimony that A.T.1 lived in
Tony Alamo’s residence. Thorne works for the ministry and lives on its
property in Fouke. At the time of the hearing, his wife, Luisa
Cordero-Thorne, was in hiding with A.T.1 and A.T.3 with Thorne’s help.
Although Thorne claimed to not know where they were, the circuit court
held him in contempt until his wife brought the children back.

The witnesses at the adjudication hearing were G.P.1 (the son of
Carlos and Sophia Parish); J. C. (a former member of the
ministry); M.B.1 (a former member); N. B. (a former
member); S.B. (a former member); H.D. (a former member); Don Thorne;
Sophia Parrish; Carlos Parrish; Bert Krantz; Debra Ondrisek; Miriam
Krantz; Richard Ondrisek; Cindy Allen (a DHS supervisor); Brian
Broderick; Alphonso Reid; Bethany Myers; Rebecca Avila; and Jose
Avila. Nicholas, M.B.1, and S.B. are siblings of M.B.2, who was a
subject of this hearing. J. C. is their aunt. Like Thorne,
the Krantzes, the Parrishes, Bethany Myers, the Ondriseks, the Avilas,
Brian Broderick, and Alphonso Reid are parents of some of the children
with whom this hearing was concerned.

J. C. testified that she was born in the ministry in 1972 and
married her husband when she was sixteen and he was twenty-seven. She
said that the ministry is not a safe environment in which to rear
children and testified at length about its communal lifestyle; its
secrecy; the reporting system that encourages members to inform on
each others’ transgressions; the imposition of fasting as punishment;
and the restrictions on members’ contact with the outside world. She
said that she left because she wanted her children to go to college
and that it was not customary for girls to finish high school because
they usually got married. She gave several examples of girls no older
than sixteen who married grown men. She stated that, in the past, Tony
Alamo had run the organization from prison; that he encouraged parents
to give up their parental authority to him; that the parents adopted
Alamo’s views and were blind to the risks to their children; and that
children were often separated from their parents, as she was at the
age of twelve. She described being in a group of children present when
J. M. was given 140 licks with a three-feet-long paddle at
Alamo’s direction; when it was over, blood seeped through his pants.[
1 ] She said that Alamo had spanked her with a board and had beaten
others mercilessly, and she named numerous people whom she had seen
beaten. J. C. said that, before she left the ministry, her son
confided to her that he was thinking about suicide.

S.B. described being beaten at Alamo’s direction by one of his wives,
Michelle [Mishael] Jones, when S.B. and her sisters M.B.1 and A.B. were living
at Alamo’s residence. She said that A.T.1 (Thorne’s daughter) and L.K.
(one of the Krantzes’ daughters) were in the room during her beating.
She also said that A.T.1, N.M., and M.M. (Bethany Myers’s daughters)
lived in Alamo’s home, which L.K. visited. She stated that Alamo had
slapped her four or five times and that he had hit B.S. (Greg Seago’s
daughter), C.R. (Alphonso Reid’s daughter, aged ten), and A.O. (the
Ondriseks’ daughter). She also said that some girls were forced to
fast. S.B. said that she was threatened with a spanking by John Kolbeck
[Kolbek] if she told anyone what happened at Alamo’s house. She
testified that, in February or March 2008, she and the other girls at
Alamo’s house, including A.T.1 and M.M., were forced by Alamo to
participate in recording Tape No. 564, in which they denied being
molested by him.

In detail, M.B.1 described the ministry’s secrecy and the members’
isolation from the outside world; Alamo’s teaching that the Bible
permitted girls to marry at puberty; her sexual molestation in the
shower by Alamo when she was living in his home; her beating by John
Kolbek; Kolbek’s beating of other children; Alamo’s living
arrangements with adult women and girls as young as age eight; his
time spent alone in his bedroom with the young girls; her
participation in Tape 564 with N.M.1 and M.M.; and being forced to
help hold down S.B. (aged eleven or twelve) while Michelle Jones beat
her. M.B.1 said that she heard B.S. scream while John Kolbek beat her
and that Bethany Myers was one of the people who dragged B.S. to the
beating. M.B.1 also said that two men in their twenties had asked her
to marry them and that she had friends her age who had already married
and had children and who hated their lives. She stated that most older
boys leave the ministry; that it is not safe for children; and that
Alamo would continue to control the ministry while he was in jail. She
said that the parents believe that Alamo is a prophet and do not
question his authority.

N. B. described witnessing John Kolbek’s savage beating
of S. O., P. A., and A.O., while the Ondriseks were
present and did nothing. He said that Kolbek once slapped him, but
did not beat him, because N. stated that he was going to leave
the ministry. He explained that it was normal for boys to drop out of
school by the age of seventeen and that there were few boys in school
above the tenth grade, after which he dropped out. He said that he was
forced to fast a few times and experienced “diesel therapy” (being
forced to ride with a driver of a ministry truck). He added that young
girls were at risk of becoming child brides; that J.G. married a man
in his thirties; and that R.S. married when she was fourteen.

H.D., aged seventeen, testified that she had left the ministry when
she was twelve. She said that she was forced to fast for a week at the
age of ten because she had failed to perform a chore after suffering a
head injury in a fall. She stated that the fall caused her to lose
consciousness, and when she came to, people were praying over her; no
one, however, took her to a doctor. In fact, she did not think that
ministry members were supposed to go to the hospital. She said that
she had suffered memory loss and pain and swelling on the back of her
head. She said that her sister had also been placed on a fast. H.D.
described being present when J.G. was informed that she was going to
get married at the age of twelve. She said that she and J.G. were
playing with Barbies when J.G.’s mother [Shelly Garner] received a phone call in which
she learned that the marriage would occur; J.G. and her mother were
upset, and J.G. cried. She said that J.G. had a typical wedding with a
bridal dress and bridesmaids.
[ 2 ]
H.D. stated that she was taught
that it was permissible to lie to people outside the ministry.

Bethany Myers acknowledged violating the court’s order by not
producing her children for DHS. She said that she had no idea where
her husband and children were. The trial court held her in contempt
and placed her in jail.

Don Thorne denied having any first-hand knowledge that John Kolbek or
anyone else had beaten the children or that children had been forced
to fast. He admitted giving Sophia away in marriage at the age of
twelve. He claimed that the ministry no longer permitted young girls
to marry but admitted that he had heard Alamo preach that the Bible
condones polygamy and the marriage of girls at puberty. Thorne denied
letting A.T.1 live at Alamo’s residence but admitted that she had
stayed there for a couple of weeks. He was untroubled by Alamo’s using
her to create Tape No. 564 without his permission. He acknowledged
that his wife had told him that she had asked John Kolbek to spank
A.T.2 while Thorne was driving a truck for the ministry.

G.P.1, aged seven, testified that his father had spanked him and two
of his younger sisters with a paddle that had their names on it. He
said that both of his parents had slapped him on the face when he was
six, leaving red marks, and that he was afraid of being spanked by
John Kolbek.

Sophia Parrish admitted slapping and “popping” G.P.1 in the mouth on
two occasions but denied leaving any marks. She admitted spanking him
and G.P.2 with a paint stirrer or with her hand. After obviously lying
under oath and being threatened with a perjury charge, Sophia returned
to the stand and admitted that she had spanked G.P.1 with a paddle;
that she had married at twelve when Carlos was nineteen; that her
father had walked her down the aisle; that she had sex with Carlos
when she was twelve; and that she had given birth to a stillborn baby
girl at the age of fourteen. Sophia stated that the Krantzes were at
her wedding, which was widely celebrated by the members of the
ministry. She affirmed that John Kolbek had spanked A.T.2 at his
mother’s request. Sophia said that she had completed only the sixth
grade because she had not wanted to be pregnant while in school. She
stated that her friends had also dropped out when they began having
children, and she listed four other weddings of young girls that she
had attended.

Carlos Parrish testified that he did not believe N. and denied
having witnessed any beatings. He stated that he had no intention of
moving away from the ministry’s property.

Bert Krantz, who was fifty-seven years old at the time of the hearing,
testified that he joined the ministry, in which he is a minister, in
1972, and that he works in disseminating Alamo’s recorded messages. He
admitted that he was present at, and approved of, several weddings of
young girls but said that the ministry had not permitted underage
girls to marry in five or six years. He stated that, although the
Bible condones the marriage of young girls at puberty, he would not
permit his children to marry during their minority, nor would he let
his children fast or be disciplined by anyone else. He stated that he
had never witnessed any physical punishment. He acknowledged having
heard Tape No. 564 but said that it had not concerned him. Bert said
that he believed that Alamo is a prophet and that it would be a sin
against God to leave the ministry. He denied letting Alamo run
anything in his life, but he admitted that he does not drive because
Alamo does not want him to do so.

Miriam Krantz, who is twenty years younger than her husband and is the
custodian of the audiotapes, also said that no one else disciplined
her children; that she was familiar with Tape No. 564; that she also
believes that Alamo is a prophet; that she did not know that Kolbek
had administered discipline; and that, when she attended Sophia’s
wedding, she was aware that Sophia was twelve, but it did not concern

In the adjudication order, the circuit court found the children
dependent-neglected and made extensive findings of fact. The court
found that the Thornes had failed to protect their children against
physical abuse; that they were aware of the pattern and practice of
severe physical beatings; that they endorsed and facilitated illegal
marriages of underage females to adult males; that they neglected the
needs of their children by failing to assure that they received
adequate education and by failing to register their children in an
accredited school with certified teachers or providing legally
approved home schooling. The court also found that the parents
committed or permitted medical and physical abuse by requiring,
condoning, and permitting dangerous, involuntary fasts imposed on
children younger than fifteen, and by failing to have them properly
immunized. The court further found that the parents were aware of
multiple instances when Tony Alamo, through his direction to John
Kolbek or others, intentionally caused physical harm to S.
O., P. A., and A.O. The court found that the parents were
aware of Alamo’s pattern and practice of enforcing adherence to his
will by brutal physical attacks. The court noted M.B.1’s molestation
by Alamo at the age of thirteen. It further found that the parents
were aware that Alamo claimed to be married to multiple wives and that
they permitted and condoned the ministry’s practice of “diesel

The court set the goal of reunification and gave the parents
supervised visitation. Along with other requirements, it directed them
to obtain stable employment and safe and stable housing, separate and
apart from the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries and its members, and to
maintain them for at least six months. The court directed Thorne to
assist DHS in locating the children currently in hiding with his
spouse. The court expressly found the testimony of M.B., J.
C., S.B., H.D., and N. B. that beatings, forced
fasting, underage marriages, educational neglect, and sexual abuse
occurred credible and stated that there was a pattern and practice of
such abuse. It deemed not credible the testimony of Carlos Parrish,
Sophia Parrish, Thorne, Bert Krantz, and Miriam Krantz that those
abuses did not occur.

Thorne first challenges the evidence supporting the adjudication of
his children as dependent-neglected and contends that there was no
evidence that they were mistreated in any way. He points out that
there was no evidence that they were not immunized; although this is
correct, it does not require reversal, in view of the overwhelming
evidence of other threats to their well-being, which are discussed
below. Thorne also asserts that the evidence does not support the
trial court’s findings that he had educationally neglected his
children, pointing out, correctly, that the Christian A Beka
curriculum used by the ministry’s school is widely accepted, and that
the state does not require private schools to be accredited or that
their teachers be certified. Nevertheless, the evidence demonstrated
that young girls frequently drop out of school long before completing
high school and that the boys, who often are placed on diesel therapy,
do not progress much further. In the ministry, getting a high school
diploma is the exception, not the rule.

Thorne also asserts that the trial court did not judge his case
separately from the others and thereby contravened Arkansas Code
Annotated section 9-27-325(i)(1) (Repl. 2009), which requires
adjudication hearings to be closed. We disagree. First, the trial
court did close the hearing. Second, although the trial court’s
adjudication orders used similar language, it was apparent that the
court considered each case on its own. Third, that statute does not
prevent the circuit court from hearing certain cases together when it
is appropriate, and appellants have cited no authority to the

Adjudication hearings are held to determine whether the allegations in
a petition are substantiated by the proof. Ark. Code Ann. §
9-27-327(a)(1) (Repl. 2009). Dependency-neglect allegations must be
proven by a preponderance of the evidence. Ark. Code Ann. §
9-27-325(h)(2)(B) (Repl. 2009). We will not reverse the circuit
court’s findings unless they are clearly erroneous. Seago v. Ark.
Dep’t of Human Servs., 2009 Ark. App. 767, ___ S.W.3d ___. In
reviewing a dependency-neglect adjudication, we defer to the circuit
court’s evaluation of the credibility of the witnesses. Id. The focus
of an adjudication hearing is on the child, not the parent; at this
stage of a proceeding, the juvenile code is concerned with whether the
child is dependent-neglected. Id. An adjudication of
dependency-neglect occurs without reference to which parent committed
the acts or omissions leading to the adjudication; the juvenile is
simply dependent-neglected. Id.; Albright v. Ark. Dep’t of Human
Servs., 97 Ark. App. 277, 248 S.W.3d 498 (2007).

Arkansas Code Annotated section 9-27-303(18)(A) (Repl. 2009) defines a
“dependent-neglected juvenile” as any juvenile who is at substantial
risk of serious harm as a result of abandonment, abuse, sexual abuse,
sexual exploitation, or neglect. The definition of “neglect” in
section 9-27-303(36)(A) includes acts or omissions of “a parent,
guardian, custodian, foster parent, or any person who is entrusted
with the juvenile’s care by a parent” that constitute:

(i) Failure or refusal to prevent the abuse of the juvenile when
the person knows or has reasonable cause to know the juvenile is or
has been abused;

(ii) Failure or refusal to provide the necessary food, clothing,
shelter, and education required by law, . . . or medical treatment
necessary for the juvenile’s well-being . . .;

(iii) Failure to take reasonable action to protect the juvenile
from abandonment, abuse, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, neglect,
or parental unfitness when the existence of this condition was known
or should have been known;

(iv) Failure or irremediable inability to provide for the
essential and necessary physical, mental, or emotional needs of the
juvenile, including failure to provide a shelter that does not pose a
risk to the health or safety of the juvenile;

(v) Failure to provide for the juvenile’s care and maintenance,
proper or necessary support, or medical, surgical, or other necessary

(vi) Failure, although able, to assume responsibility for the care
and custody of the juvenile or to participate in a plan to assume the
responsibility; or

(vii) Failure to appropriately supervise the juvenile that results
in the juvenile’s being left alone at an inappropriate age or in
inappropriate circumstances, creating a dangerous situation or a
situation that puts the juvenile at risk of harm.

We reject Thorne’s argument that the circuit court erred in finding
his children dependent-neglected because there was no evidence that
they had personally suffered abuse. As we explained in our November
2009 Seago, Broderick, and Reid opinions, the General Assembly’s
expressed purpose in the juvenile code is to protect
dependent-neglected children and make their health and safety its
paramount concern; a child may be adjudicated dependent-neglected even
if he or she has not yet suffered abuse. Thorne, who lived and worked
in this community for over three decades, was rearing his children in
a secretive, communal environment that included sexual abuse of young
girls, underage marriage, fasting, and beatings. Thorne admitted that
his wife asked John Kolbek to spank A.T.2 while he was absent and
that he gave his twelve-year-old daughter in marriage to an adult man.
A.T.1, who apparently lived in Alamo’s home, witnessed S.B.’s beating
by Michelle Jones. Bethany Myers was one of the people who dragged
B.S. to be beaten by Kolbek. Additionally, Sophia Parrish admitted
“popping” G.P.1 on the mouth, as he had testified. Striking a child
six years of age or younger on the face or head, with or without
physical injury, is abuse. Ark. Code Ann. § 9-27-303(3)(A)(vii)(a).
Thorne’s assertion that the evidence of corporal punishment should not
be credited because there was no medical evidence is disingenuous in
view of the testimony showing that the ministry discourages its
members from seeking medical assistance.

Thorne’s second argument is that two provisions of the case plan
violate his right to freely exercise his religion as protected by the
United States and Arkansas Constitutions. The circuit court ordered
Thorne to “obtain safe and stable housing separate and apart from the
Tony Alamo Christian Ministries and its members, and maintain said
housing for at least six months” and to “obtain stable employment
separate and apart from the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries and its
members and maintain said employment for at least six months.” Thorne
contends that, in essence, the case plan makes him choose between his
children and his church.

DHS and the attorney ad litem argue that Thorne failed to make this
argument below and that the circuit court therefore never ruled on it.
We disagree. Thorne’s lawyer raised the constitutional issue at the
beginning of the hearing: “Your Honor, this case is purely a free
exercise of religion case.” Thorne and other witnesses testified about
the importance of communal living within the ministry. When asked
whether living off ministry property would have an effect on his
“Christian walk,” Thorne responded “[a]bsolutely.” The circuit court,
in ruling from the bench on the dependency-neglect issues, recognized
Thorne’s beliefs. “[T]he parents involved have very strong feelings
and very strong convictions concerning their spiritual beliefs and how
they wish to live.” And the court recognized the legal decision it

[W]e have the intertwining of the allegations of the state
concerning abuse in various forms and various forms of neglect coupled
with the religious and spiritual beliefs of the mothers and fathers
and families that are participants in this case. That right, as given
to us as citizens of the United States, that is freedom of religion to
believe as we cho[o]se I consider to be one of our most important
rights and one that I, as a judge, believe that I am charged to
protect within the law as within the facts.

The circuit court’s order, finally, required Thorne to make
substantial changes in his religious practices to pursue reunification
with his children. Taking this record as a whole, we conclude that
Thorne preserved the constitutional argument.

Every person’s right to make decisions of conscience about religious
matters is protected by the Free Exercise Clause of the First
Amendment to the United States Constitution and by an even more
sweeping provision of the Arkansas Constitution. Article 2, section 24
of Arkansas’s Constitution provides, in part, that “[a]ll men have a
natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to
the dictates of their own consciences . . . . No human authority can,
in any case or manner whatsoever, control or interfere with the right
of conscience . . . .” As another court stated the legal principle in
another case involving this ministry, “[r]eligious and political
beliefs, no matter how bizarre and nonconforming, are personal
matters, and the courts are not instruments of orthodoxy charged with
the responsibility of keeping citizens on the ideological straight and
narrow.” Miller v. Tony and Susan Alamo Found., 748 F. Supp. 695, 698
(W.D. Ark. 1990) (Morris S. Arnold, J.); see also West Virginia State
Board of Educ. v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624, 642 (1943). To judge the
constitutional issue fairly, therefore, we must acknowledge and
consider the circuit court’s unchallenged finding about the sincerity
of Thorne’s religious beliefs. We do.

A parent’s right of conscience in religious matters, however,
sometimes collides with state laws of general application promulgated
for the protection of children and other citizens. There are familiar
examples. Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972) (a state may not
compel Amish children to attend high school until age 16); Prince v.
Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158 (1944) (a child-labor law was
constitutional even though it kept a child from selling religious
tracts as part of her faith); Pierce v. Soc’y of the Sisters of the
Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, 268 U.S. 510 (1925) (a state may not
require students to attend public schools; a parent has the authority
to provide, and their child has the right to receive, sectarian
schooling with secular schooling). These fact-specific cases strive
for a delicate balance, one that respects all the important interests
involved: parents’ rights of conscience and of child-rearing and the
state’s interest as parens patriae in protecting children.

Arkansas law recognizes this delicate balance. “Parents, of course,
have a fundamental right to direct the care and upbringing of their
children. But the State of Arkansas has an equally compelling interest
in the protection of its children.” Porter v. Ark. Dep’t of Health &
Human Servs., 374 Ark. 177, 185, 286 S.W.3d 686, 693 (2008) (internal
citations omitted); see also Ark. Code Ann. § 9-27-102 (Repl. 2009).
And in child custody disputes, for example, a parent’s religiously
motivated choices and actions are material if they affect a child’s
well being. Hicks v. Cook, 103 Ark. App. 207, 212, 288 S.W.3d 244, 248
(2008). In some cases, the facts tip the balance in favor of
protecting the child, and against the parent’s liberty—even in matters
of conscience and religious conviction. E.g., Prince, 321 U.S. at 167.

This is one of those cases. As the circuit court found, the most
pressing potential danger facing Thorne’s children was simply living
on ministry property. The record is full of testimony about beatings,
sexual abuse, underage marriages, and other problems, all of which
victimized the children of families living on ministry property. In
fashioning its case plan, the circuit court responded to the potential
danger with a narrowly tailored solution—requiring Thorne to obtain
housing separate and apart from the ministry. And because ministry
life was communal in almost every respect, the court also required
Thorne to obtain employment outside the ministry so he could earn the
money to pay for this new housing arrangement and other living
expenses. Here, as the circuit court implicitly concluded, the State’s
interest in preventing potential harm to these children outweighed
Thorne’s conscientious choice to live on ministry property, work for
the ministry, and depend on the ministry for his family’s every need.
We see no constitutional infirmity in the circuit court’s disposition
order on this record. We therefore affirm on Thorne’s second point.


MARSHALL and BAKER, JJ., agree.
1. See Miller v. Tony & Susan Alamo Found., 748 F. Supp. 695 (W.D. Ark. 1990).
2. A wedding picture from J.G.’s wedding ceremony was introduced into evidence.
Click here to see the photo.

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2 Posts

  1. keith kelley Says:

    Very Strong Case.

  2. Noyb Says:

    You people need to repent before it is too late for you. May God have mercy on your souls.

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