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Owner of Christian Academy closes school amid security questions, abuse convictions

Posted at 11:10 PM, Dec 02, 2014
and last updated 2014-12-03 07:34:10-05

CAROLINE COUNTY, Va. -- A shocking turn of events unfolded  at the Community Building in Caroline County Tuesday, when the owner of Abundant Life Academy told the Board of Supervisors there was no need to worry about well-publicized security issues, because his school has closed down.

Paul Branning said his team had pulled out, that there are no more children left at the Christian academy and that he doesn’t plan on coming back.

"When one student leaves, it's very serious for me," Branning told the board, fighting back tears.  "So in saying that, all of the children are gone.  I can't protect them."

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The boarding school had made headlines this past year not for its successes, but for an abundance of abuse: four life coaches were convicted of simple assault, and one still faces more than 20 felony counts of abuse and neglect.

Several episodes of violent beatings were caught on camera.

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CBS 6 reporter Jon Burkett asked Branning directly what he had to say to the families that paid for their child to come to his school, where some endured beatings at the hands of academy coaches, beatings that led to charges.

"I'm sorry,” he said.  “I made a commitment to help these children and what happened is totally inexcusable."

One angry father told me Tuesday he paid more than $100,000 to the school over several years, and was currently considering his options.

There were also four separate cases of runaways in recent months, which cost taxpayers thousands of dollars, when the Sheriff’s Department launched massive search operations.

It's why the board had wanted to meet with Branning Tuesday.

"If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it's a duck,” said Supervisor Reginald Underwood.  “This is not the first issue we've had with this organization.  Go back and read the history."

One supervisor had already noted Abundant Life Academy didn’t even have a business license to operate in Caroline County.

And that  history, which is why Branning says he doesn't plan on re-opening.

Even though Branning made it clear he has no intention of further doing business in Caroline County, the Board of Supervisors moved for a special hearing on January 27th over the future of ALA.  That will be a public hearing.