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Abuse at Kanakuk goes back decades. A new bill would help only some of the victims

 A 2007 photo of campers at Kanakuk in Branson. Camp leaders have denied claims that they are responsible for the rampant abuse perpetrated by a counselor.
Courtesy of Nancy French, used with permission.
A 2007 photo of campers at Kanakuk in Branson. Camp leaders have denied claims that they are responsible for the rampant abuse perpetrated by a counselor.

Victims of abuse at one of the largest Christian camps in the country are backing a Missouri bill that would allow older adult victims to seek legal action. But even an expanded statute of limitations would likely leave out victims who are now too old to sue under state law.

HB 1617 would add 10 years to the existing statute of limitations, allowing victims to file lawsuits until they reach age 41. The bill was passed out of the state House Judiciary Committee on Feb. 27.

“It would give them more time to work through their own pain and suffering,” said Bobby Thrasher, an attorney for a former Kanakuk camper abused by counselor Pete Newman.

After his arrest in 2009, Newman admitted to sexually abusing more than a dozen campers at the Branson-based summer camp. Prosecutors argued the number is likely far higher. Under current Missouri law, those victims must take legal action before they turn 31.

For many victims abused as children, that’s not enough time. Thrasher’s client, who was abused by Newman from 2005 to 2008, is now in his late 20s. The bill would give victims like him additional years “before re-traumatizing themselves and trying to bring a lawsuit against an organization — or re-face the perpetrator themselves,” Thrasher said.

But as uncovered by journalist Nancy French, accounts of abuse at Kanakuk go back decades, meaning some victims are already over 31. In one case, almost 40 years has passed since former Kanakuk camper Jody Jones was abused by a counselor named Chuck Price in 1985. Jones was 8 years old at the time.

“They let him pack his bags and walked out the door. But there was no investigation. There was no police report,” she told St. Louis on the Air in 2022, describing what happened after she alerted the camp to the abuse in 1990.

Thrasher, the attorney, said that while limited, the proposed bill is an important step, though there would be no retroactivity.

"We would have to amend the state constitution. There's more steps involved," Thrasher said. "It just becomes a bigger fight in order to get a law like that.”

Not all victims of abuse can be described as survivors. Elizabeth Phillips’ brother, Trey Carlock, was abused by Newman as a camper at Kanakuk. As an adult, Carlock took his own life at age 29. His family chose to disclose his abuse in his obituary, naming Kanakuk in the process.

“Because we were public about his abuse in that obituary, other families began reaching out and sharing their stories,” Phillips said. “And it became this mini ‘Me Too’ movement around Kankuk victims connecting for the first time.

Along with Thrasher, journalist Nancy French joined Monday’s St. Louis on the Air to share her insights from her investigations into Kanakuk and to discuss what’s happened since her 2021 reporting revealed evidence that the camp had ignored warnings about Newman and other counselors.

“I have heard a gigantic collective shrug of the shoulders from the American church,” French said. “I thought that if I could prove even a fraction of what I've speculated about this camp, that it would be a bombshell in the evangelical church — that they would react vociferously and with righteous indignation. Instead, people have not responded in the way that I anticipated. It's almost like evangelical Christians can believe that Catholics have a sex abuse problem, but not them.”

To hear the full discussion with attorney Bobby Thrasher and journalist Nancy French, listen to St. Louis on the Air on Apple Podcast, Spotify or Google Podcast or by clicking the play button below.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Roshae Hemmings is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to

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Danny Wicentowski