Liahona Academy (2001-present) Virgin/Hurricane, UT
Residential Treatment Center
History and Background Information
Liahona Academy is a WWASP-affiliated behavior modification program. It was founded in 2001 by Clayton AhQuin Sr and Joe AhQuin. Liahona Academy is marketed as a Residential Treatment Center for boys aged 12-17. Liahona reports that the average length of stay is between 6 – 9 months, although it is likely that these are underestimates.
The program operates in two locations. One campus is located at 325 W 600 N, Hurricane, UT 84737. The other campus was previously located at 1055 UT-9, Virgin, UT 84779. However, the second campus has recently moved to the building directly next to the original facility.
While Liahona Academy denies any affiliation with the Mormon Church, the word “Liahona” is a Mormon word meaning “Compass,” and survivors attest to a heavy Mormon influence in the program.
Liahona Academy is not outwardly affiliated with WWASP, but it has employed many staff from WWASP programs such as the notorious Cross Creek Programs in La Verkin, UT. In addition, the program structure at Liahona Academy is nearly identical to that of WWASP programs. For these reasons, Liahona Academy is suspected of being a WWASP spin-off program.
Founders and Notable Staff
Clayton AhQuin Sr. was the Founder od Liahona Academy. He is the father of Adam AhQuin, who worked at Second Chances in Southern Utah, Olympus Academy, and Horizon Academy (All WWASP facilities). The AhQuin family also started Maximum Life Skills Academy in Cedar City, UT. Clay AhQuin Sr. has also apparently worked at other WWASP facilities before founding Liahona Academy. He passed away on September 10, 2013.
Clayton AhQuin Jr. is the son of Clayton Ahquin Sr., and is the current Executive Director of Liahona Academy. Clay left the human-rights organization HEAL a voicemail but did not state the purpose of his call. He has also previously worked at the reportedly abusive Second Chances in Southern Utah.
Joe AhQuin is mentioned as one of the “creators” of Liahona Academy. He also founded Key Point in 2006 and Olympus Academy in 2013.
Parker Haslam is the current Program Director of Liahona Academy. His prior employment is presently unknown, although he reports that he has worked in the TTI since 2003.
Gayle Palmer DeGraff worked in the Admissions office at Liahona Academy. Prior to this, she was the founder of the confirmedly abusive Summit Quest until it was closed in 1991 following the death of a 15-year-old resident, Michelle Sutton, from dehydration. She also is reported to have worked as the Admissions Director at the Challenger Foundation before it, too, closed following the death of a 16-year-old resident, Kristen Chase, from heatstroke in 1990. She has also worked in the Marketing department of Lifelines Family Services, which was a marketing arm of WWASP (source).
Brian Parker worked as the Director of Clinical Services at Liahona Academy. He previously worked as a therapist at Cross Creek Programs (WWASP program) in La Verkin, UT. Many survivors of Cross Creek have recounted Parker’s psychologically damaging methods of “therapy.”
Thane Palmer was a Therapist at Liahona Academy. He previously worked as a Therapist for Cross Creek Programs (WWASP) in La Verkin, UT. He is the current Program Director of Three Points Center.
Carolyn Callahan was a Case Manager at Liahona Academy. She previously worked as a Family Representative at Cross Creek Programs (WWASP program) in La Verkin, UT.
Like other behavior-modification programs, Liahona Academy utilizes a level system consisting of five levels. These levels are reported to be:
- Level 1
- Level 2
- Level 3
- Level 4
- Level 5
There is also a level called “White Shirt” which is used as punishment.
Another punishment is called Suspension, in which the teen is forced to sit in a chair and stare at a wall for 10 hours+ a day for multiple days. During the daily therapy groups, the program director will evaluate the teen on suspension. The teen must stand up in front of 50 other students while the Director tells everybody what they did wrong. Sometimes he asks the students if they are ready to get back into the regular program and then there is a vote. Any more than like 5 or so objections is more than likely to keep the teen on suspension. During Suspension, the teens’ food is also restricted. They get oatmeal and 2 apples for breakfast 3 days in a row, then the food everybody else gets just without the “treat” for 3 days. This repeats for lunch, only they get 4 pieces of bread, 4 slices of American cheese, and two more apples. The teens are also forbidden from speaking to other residents, except for two “shadows” who are assigned to the teen by the staff. Survivors have reported that while on suspension, if they stand up to use the bathroom without raising their hand, waiting to be called on, and asking staff beforehand then they will most likely be restrained.
Other punishments used at Liahona Academy include food restrictions/not being given proper nutrition, CBO (communication block out), and being forced to do excessive cardio activity (including carrying large rocks and sprints) with seemingly no regard for possible health problems/risks.
Another punishment at Liahona Academy is forcing the teens to write lengthy essays. These essays vary in length depending on the severity of the rule that was broken. One survivor has reported, “they have 300+ rules of what they call phase one which gets you a 300 word essay, 50 or so that are phase 2 for 600-900 word essay, 20 or so that are a 900 to 1500 word essay, and then there is phase 4 which gets you a 3600-20000 word essay, if you get no essays you get 4 points for the day. If you end up writing 1200 words then you loose 4 points for the day. 5 different levels for privileges each in increments of 240 points. Just because you have the points does not mean you graduate at level 5. While I was there, one kid got up to like 2800 points.”
According to reports, the teens must wake up each morning at 6 a.m. and partake in an hour of exercise. The exercises performed depend on how long the resident has been in the program- an hour of indoor calisthenics if they are new, running outside on an 1/8 mile track of they have made some progress in program, and a circuit workout if they are getting close to graduating the program. The boys participate in therapy groups on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. The first therapy assignment is a Letter of Accountability, where the teen must write by hand 21 pages of what the teen thinks they did to end up in the program. It is then sent home to their parents once the teen’s therapist is convinced that they are not lying or leaving details out. Some kids reportedly have had to rewrite the letter 3 or 4 times., and they are put on suspension for “lying” in the previous drafts. After therapy groups the teens attend large group Monday through Friday from 10 to 12pm.
Abuse, Deaths, and Lawsuits
Many survivors have reported that Liahona Academy is an abusive program. Allegations of abuse and neglect that have been reported by survivors include emotional/psychological abuse, physical abuse, brainwashing, punitive punishments, forced manual labor/excessive exercise, medical neglect, attack therapy, humiliation tactics,
On January 19, 2010, 15-year-old Taylor Mangham died while attending Liahona Academy due to a brain aneurysm. He had arrived at Liahona only a few months earlier in November, 2009, and according to survivors that knew him, from the moment he arrived, his entire life and identity had be stripped from him: “They shaved his head; he had no access to the outside world, no phone, no internet, no access 911 or a crisis hotline, no one, not even his fellow students could talk to him. Taylor was forced into complete silence and isolation for the rest of his stay.” A witness who was there on the night of his death recounts “The night he died, I was the first to witness it. I remember him screaming in pain and scared because he didn’t know what was happening. I ran to the staff for help, and the shift supervisor refused to call 911 and had a few of us carry him to a facility van, so they could drive him miles away to have him transported to a local hospital. They didn’t call 911 because they didn’t want an open investigation; the staff knew better than to have the police come in and have us interviewed and have Taylor’s death open for investigation.” – Anonymous (May 30, 2020).
However, it is important to note that the exact events surrounding his death remain a great cause for debate, with conflicting statements from witnesses about the medical attention Taylor recieved that night. Another witness recalls, “I remember watching Taylor die that night, a fellow student approached me telling me Taylor was not doing well, as I went his room I saw Taylor screaming while banging his head against a table in pain as he was slowly losing conciseness. Sadly, Taylor was dying of a brain aneurysm. I immediately got the staff members and they REFUSED to call 911 to get medical assistance over there. Instead the supervisor and 2 students carried Taylor to a van and drove him to an instant care.” – Taylor (12/20/2019)
While Taylor’s mother maintains her belief that Liahona Academy did not contribute to her son’s passing and that there was nothing they could have done to prevent his death, several witnesses and former residents are convinced that Taylor’s life could have been saved. The previously mentioned witness also wrote in his statement, “The sad thing about brain anyuersums is there usually are not any warning signs but in some rare cases they can be detected. Taylor was one of those rare cases, but he was neglected for treatment of this medical condition by the staff of Liahona Academy. The main warning sign is chronic headaches, and if you have headaches for over 2 weeks, it is doctor recommended that you consult a physician about it. At Liahona if you ever need to take an Advil or Tylenol for a headache, you must request it from the staff where they log your name and date you took it in a book. Before I left Liahona I looked in this book, Taylor was taking headache medications for a month. He was constantly complaining about headaches to the Liahona staff but the staff at Liahona (including the owners dad-Clay) called Taylor a “faker”. They told him to “man up and stop making up medical conditions” . His parents and the world need to know, that his life could have been saved. While Liahona Academy say they teach young men to learn accountability, it’s unfortunate that their business can’t practice the ethics they claim to teach. They denied responsibility for someone’s death, they even had the nerve to bring Taylor’s parents to our facility and force us to lie to them. The end of the day, parents send their kids away to save their lives. However at what line does it become more dangerous for a child to be in a treatment facility than the outside world? I think back to this everyday, how if Taylor was having these symptoms outside of Liahona he would have lived.” – Taylor (12/20/2019)
In 2019, a 23-year-old staff member at Liahona Academy, Antonio Montav Ross-Jones, was arrested after allegedly throwing a 16-year-old resident to the ground during an altercation on August 3rd at the Virgin, UT location. The resident required 11 staples in the back of his head following the incident. Ross-Jones was charged with a second-degree felony, which can carry a prison sentence of up to 15 years if he is convicted. As of November, 2020 Ross-Jones is yet to be convicted. Ross-Jones had had previous run-ins with the law: he was charged in 2015 with misdemeanors for disorderly conduct, unlawful detention and consuming alcohol under age — but those charges were dismissed after he paid a fine and went to anger management classes.
10/19/2021: (SURVIVOR) “I thought I was going to a regular school, just in another state where I could continue my education, but that did not turn out to be the case. Seeing soon that the program is very isolative and little communication happens. When I first got there I was sitting at the staff table where staff kept asking me their name and why I was there. I was forbidden to talk to any of the other students. We were all on CBO or the long form Communication Block Out. I had to sleep out in the Commons with a thin brown blanket they gave me and a pillow. Some students I later learned that if they caused problems on the way there or if they were transported there overnight would not get a pillow or blanket and would have to sleep out there right in front of the staff. The staff there are really great at making sure that the rules are enforced. There are some staff that are nicer than others, but don’t let your guard down. After that first night you are woken up at 6 am local time by grave shift. You have an hour of just sitting there as you wait for the morning workout. An hour of indoor calisthenics if you are new, and running outside on an 1/8 mile track of you have made some progress in program, and a circuit workout if you are getting close to graduating the program. There is then therapy groups on tuesday, Wednesday and thursday. Your first therapy assignment is to write out by hand 21 pages of what you think you did to end up in the program. It is then sent home to your parents once your therapist is convinced that you are not lying. Some kids have had to redo it 3 or 4 times. Then they are on suspension for lying in the previous ones. Typically for lying you get to sit and stare at a wall for 3-5 dyas, sometimes longer depending on what you do on suspension. After therapy groups you go to big group Monday through Friday from 10 to 12pm. There the program director will evaluate you while you are on suspension you will need to stand up before 50 other students while he tells everybody what you did wrong. Sometimes he asks the students if you are ready to get back into the regular program and then it is a vote, any more than like 5 or so objections is more than likely to keep you on suspension. Suspension you get oatmeal and 2 apples for breakfast 3 days in a row, then the food everybody else gets just without the treat for 3 days, this repeats same with lunch, only you get 4 prices of bread, 4 slices of American cheese, and two more apples. Dinner is the same as everybody just without the snack. When you are with the two kids the director assigns as your “Shadows” then you are allowed to talk to only about the rules of program. A nothing else is CBO. Seeing this the first time wanted to get me to get out he fastest way possible, but you simply don’t just run away. The staff there are just waiting to catch you if you try to run away. While on suspension if you stand up to use the bathroom without raising your hand waiting, to be called on, and asking staff beforehand then you will most likely be restrained. If People want to hear more about this place, then let me know. This is just a part of the daily life that happens there and covers the intake and suspension. Thank you for hearing me out.” – u/Grape3645 (Reddit)
Parent Testimonial Thread on Fornits
7/22/2020: (PARENT) “We sent our son to Liahona expecting to be as advertised a treatment center but it turned out to be a scam. They literally torture the kids by making them stare at a wall for hours. They hardly feed them any food and let them sleep in the cold with no pillows and no blankets. Three years have passed since we took him out and he’s still traumatized. It’s a scam. Don’t send your kids there. Don’t make the same mistake.” – Ramon F. (YELP)
9/15/2019: (SURVIVOR) “This is a physically and emotionally abusive facility. Do not send your children here. This place had to have been founded by someone who was raised horribly. They emotionally, physically, and mentally abuse the kids and treat them like animals.If a kid stood up and walked to the bathroom he’d be restrained. There are 300+ rules they have to follow. Stupid petty rules. If you break one, typically you get a 300 word essay. But staff enjoy punishing kids and will often make PUNISHMENTS worse. ABUSE EXAMPLES
- Brian Parker, the “therapist” told a student to tell a group of 25 strangers everything he’s ever done “wrong”. When Brian didn’t believe him he assigned him a 4,000 word essay. It got to 16,000 before Brian was satisfied.
- “Process Group” is essentially bullying and humiliating individual boys. I struggled with self-harm. One time Parker Haslam said “Oh and Jairin is a cutter. Everybody feel bad for Jairin. He wants attention.” The whole group laughed. Not just staff but boys too! They turn your kids into bullies too
- I tried to write a letter to my parents about how abusive the place was. The letter came out in “Process Group” and Parker read the entire letter. I said nothing but the truth. Parker accused me of lying, gave me a 600 word essay, and I had to sit on a chair and stare at a wall for 7 days eating oatmeal and apples and bread and cheese. They call this “Work Crew”. they, the staff and boys, frequently tease and humiliate boys who are on “Work Crew”
- While I was staring at the wall, I picked at one of my hangnails. A staff member named Derek grabbed me by the shoulders and shoved me into the office. He pushed me into a filing cabinet quite hard while shouting and cussing at me about how picking a hang nail is the same thing as self harm.
- One kid wouldn’t comply. They made him run circles around the track with shoes that didn’t have laces indefinitely while we were on the basketball court FOR GROUP. In 3 months I got to play basketball once. The kid ran probably 20 laps before he tried to run. Parker then forced us to sit in a circle for hours and do nothing, blaming the vibe of the facility for the kid trying to run. They restrained him and made an example out of him in front of us.
- there’s no sense of comradely. If a kid sees you break a rule, he will go and tell a staff member immediately even if it was an accident. The kids are trapped and have no control. They take control by ratting out other kids and watching them get punished. Sometimes they rat kids out for things they didn’t do. One time a kid told a staff member I was using a pen to hurt myself (A LIE) and I stared at the wall for three days.
- I was forced to choose between writing an essay and losing points for the day (points are supposedly what gets you out) or drinking sour milk. I watched 20 boys drink a gallon of sour milk.
I could go on but I think you get the picture. This place needs to be shut down. Do not send your children here.” – Jairin B. (YELP)
1/17/2019: (PARENT) “By many measures, this place is largely run by con artists that are unqualified to provide medical care in any way, shape or form to children. I know this from experience after having had my own son previously at this facility… The owner’s name is Clay Ahquin. You can find his criminal report online. The Director of Clinical Services is named Brian Parker. Neither possess any significant credentials to claim any level of appropriate education to care for children. Brian’s “most impressive credential” is that he is a “Clinical Member of the Utah Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.” Wow…. This organization should be shut down immediately for abuse and neglect of children in addition to perpetuating medical insurance fraud. I currently have a very large medical insurance organization investigating this place for fraud. I have also turned a number of documents over to the Attorney General for the State of Utah for their investigation as well. This place is bad news… And don’t you find it just a little suspicious that the people that left positive reviews typically have less than 2 or 3 reviews on Yelp in total? Makes you wonder if these “reviewers” created accounts for the sole purpose of leaving a positive review to skew the overall rating of this organization..Just something else that you may want to consider as you’re making this highly important and highly expensive investment in your child…Do your research on these types of places. There are literally thousands of them and they are very loosely regulated by oversight authorities….” – Mr. G. (YELP)
2017: (SURVIVOR) “I went to Liahona from January 08 to March 09, and it is an absolutely dreadful place, a wolf masked in sheep’s clothing. It is a horrible facility that lies to parents so Clay , the owner, can get as many kids in there to fill up his pockets. They lie to parents about the disciplinary actions. Some of the disciplinary actions that I am certain are not relayed to parents include; being sat in a chair forced to stare at a wall for 10 hours+ a day, not being given proper nutrition, being forced to do excessive cardio activity (including carrying large rocks and sprints) with seemingly no regard for possible health problems/risks, grown men (the staff) getting physical with the kids, etc. The kids letters are read and censored “if necessary.” Any attempts to relay information of disciplinary actions by a student to his parents will result in the student’s letter not being sent. When the kids first arrive they are forced to act like animals(literally) in front of their peers. The purpose seems to be to immediately break them down and show them the authoritative manner in which the facility operates If the student refuses he will end up with punishments mentioned above. The facility lies to the parents, telling them the students go on a weekly activity out into the surrounding area. That is not true. In order to go out on the weekly activity the students have to earn it by displaying exemplary behavior, and I mean exemplary. Simply forgetting to push in their chair or to turn off the lights twice would result in a student missing the activity. They also mention on their website the statement that the students enjoy “daily recreational activity”, unless they consider forcing them to run miles on end, and punishing them even more severely for refusing to do so, recreational activity then that is also a lie. Recreational activity mostly only occurs on Saturday and Sunday, and like the weekly activity students must display exemplary behavior in order to be eligible. Repeatedly the kids at the facility are used for free manual labor, and the staff have the audacity to tell the kids to be grateful for the opportunity to do so. Free manual labor I personally performed while there includes; helping staff members move multiple times (as well as family/friends of the owner) , cleaning up a back yard of a staff members house, landscaping work at a staff members house, and landscaping work at the facility. The program is set up in a brainwashing manner that turns the students into obedient mindless drones by removing their identity and operating the facility in an authoritative like fashion. The rules are very strict and the punishments are very harsh. For example, writing 300 word essays and miles of extra running being dished out to the students for things as small as forgetting to push in their chairs. They force the kids to memorize meaningless quotes that are pages long week in and week out. The purpose of this is to keep them occupied, thus making them much more manageable. Punishments for refusing, or failing, to memorize the quote are quite severe. The student would miss the weekly recreational activity, and any weekend recreation. If a student never does the quote then essentially his stay at the facility is doubled, because he would only earn half points for that week. To top it all off, the ineffectiveness. Behavior of kids returning home usually will recede to to how it was before in a matter of weeks. You hear about it all the time at the facility, kid’s parents calling and complaining of returned negative behaviors. Some parents still have not figured out the scam and actually send their kids back. I guess Clay is a good salesman. So yeah, bottom line please do not send your kids here!” – Brandyn (Google Reviews)
5/13/2013: (PARENT) “I sent my son here and it was a mistake. Most, if not about all, of the staff are not professionally trained to handle at-risk youth. In fact, many of the staff are not great role models that put 100% into this academy. And they should because the cost is around $6,500 a month. For that price the youth should be getting top-notch counseling and a very good selection of knowledgeable teachers. The teachers are mostly cranky, old women from the neighboring area that come in just a few times a week. My child could never get any math help because there were always too many others that needed assistance and there was only one teacher for the subject. The owner is virtually absent most of the time. I can’t say all, but most of the the workers at Liahona have a responsibility that they are shirking by not giving their 100% and striving to make a real difference in the lives of these youth. These are all lost opportunities. Parents, my advice is to try to get your child some help closer to home where you aren’t forced to give up guardianship. See counselors in your area. Get your child in a place where you can better monitor what is going on.” – Anna P. (YELP)
Liahona Academy Website Homepage
Liahona Academy Old Website Homepage (archived, 2004)
Liahona Academy Enrollment Agreement (archived, 2005)
1000 Places You Don’t Want to be as a Teenager – Liahona Academy
A staffer at Liahona Academy, a school for troubled boys, charged with child abuse (Salt Lake Tribune, 2019)
Today a Child Died – Unknown, 2010 (2012). This is a thread about Taylor Mangham’s death at Liahona Academy. His mother and several former Liahona residents who knew Taylor provide (albeit conflicting) information surrounding his death in the comments.
Fornits Thread about Taylor Mangham
Inside the Program – Episode 6: Anonymous Survivor – Spring Creek Lodge & Liahona Academy (Inside the Program, 9/28/2020)