SALEM, W.Va. — One attorney that represented former Miracle Meadows School students say they have a new lease on life following a lawsuit over abuse.
A $52 million settlement was announced last Thursday related to acts at the Harrison County institution. Twenty-nine students suffered physical and sexual abuse, in which the lawsuit also noted school administrators, including founder Susan Gayle Clark, attempted to cover up the acts.
Guy D’Andrea and Brian Kent of Laffey, Bucci & Kent were part of the legal team representing former students. D’Andrea said the institution, which was open from 1987 to 2014, was supposed to help children.
“It was supposed to be for children with mental health issues or who were at-risk youth,” D’Andrea said of the boarding school. “It was supposed to be an environment that was going to foster behavioral changes, so they could develop into productive members of society.”
Authorities raided the facility in August 2014, in which they removed 19 children. D’Andrea credited state agencies for their investigative work that uncovered the abuse.
“From physical abuse, choking children until they were unconscious, handcuffing them to objects, beating them to the point of broken limbs and broken jaws and the sexual abuse,” he said.
“They were integral in ultimately getting the facility shut down and gathering and collecting evidence, which led to the successful prosecution of Gayle Clark. Being in this remote location, I hate to say it this way, but it was the perfect place to do these atrocities to children.”
D’Andrea said school officials had told parents not to trust their children if they told them about physical violence.
“The parents didn’t believe the children who came forward,” he said. “It just fell on deaf ears, and the facility kept running for decades.”
Clark pleaded guilty to child neglect, failure to report and obstruction of justice, and received a six-month jail sentence along with five years of probation.
“Finally, for the first time, these former children were believed, they were heard,” D’Andrea said. “Now, they have an opportunity. With this resolution, they will finally have at least an opportunity at a new life.”