Chris Hagman walked by the building almost every day for years with his dogs. It was a large, stately, pre-war structure with brick walls and white columns. To Hagman, it seemed like a nice place, a benefit to the historic Wichita, Kansas, neighborhood where he lived and worked as a middle school science teacher.
Hagman didn’t know much about what happened inside, only that the place had once been a hospital for unwed mothers and, more recently, a youth treatment center called Riverside Academy.
After the academy quietly closed last spring, the building became a nuisance in the neighborhood. People were breaking into it, sleeping there and using drugs. Hagman decided to look more closely and maybe complain to the new property owner.
As he walked up to the building, Hagman saw spray paint on the walls. When he got closer, he realized this wasn’t typical graffiti on an abandoned building. This was something different. “Pray 4 victims,” one message read. “We want justice.”
Next to an entrance, he saw another scrawl: “We need to talk about Riverside.” The door was unlocked, so he walked inside.
There, the spray-painted messages were more explicit: “Youth were abused here,” read the graffiti on one wall, “systematically.” Hagman grew alarmed as he photographed the messages.
“They weren’t put where they were put by coincidence,” Hagman concluded. “Whoever had written these things on the walls, they purposely wanted these words to be seen and heard.”
In fact, something had happened at Riverside Academy.
A yearlong investigation led by APM Reports finds the company took in some of the most difficult-to-treat children while keeping costs low in pursuit of profit and expansion. The result was dozens of cases of physical violence, sexual assault and improper restraints. Despite repeated scandals, many states and counties continue to send kids to Sequel for one central reason: They have little choice.
Listen to Lauren Dake’s full interview with OPB Weekend Edition Host John Notarianni using the audio player above
Read the full investigation here.