O Ricky, Where art thou?
In March of 2010, I posted a video on Facebook where I recalled the memory of a former roommate at Pinehaven Christian Children’s Ranch named Ricky Wagener. In the months following this broadcast, I was personally attacked and labeled by the Larssons as a liar because some of my recollections of the incidents surrounding Ricky’s disappearance over a decade ago in November 1995 were not completely accurate. I have accepted full responsibility for these inaccuracies, and have worked very hard over the past year and a half to develop a much more accurate understanding of what happened, who was involved, and what it means to every child abused at the hands of Pinehaven.
While my recollections were inaccurate, they do not hold a candle to the beaming contradictions, attempted cover ups and web of lies surrounding the death of Ricky Wagener. This article intends not to give a concrete conclusion as to what happened on that cold November night in Northwest Montana, but rather to present multiple testimonies, possible considerations, and a basis for you to make your own conclusions, and ultimately, your own inquiries.
A Bit About Ricky
Ricky Wagener came to Pinehaven Christian Children’s Ranch at the age of 14, in the summer of 1995, from Kirkland, Washington. Brazilian by birth, Ricky was adopted at some point in his childhood to an American family. When he arrived at Pinehaven, this young man displayed very distinct emotional and mental development issues. Oddly muscular for his age (estimated 2-3% body fat), Ricky had an absolute obsession with fitness. Also evident were either psychological or physiological issues that prevented Ricky from controlling his “natural functions”, resulting in embarrassing episodes on nearly a weekly, often daily basis. It was evident from the start that Pinehaven Christian Children’s Ranch had neither the experience, nor the operational capabilities to deal with Ricky’s many issues.
In response to Ricky’s self-defecating issues, both his houseparents made him masquerade in front of every other child in the Blue House with soiled sheets and clothing berated him in front of other staff and kids, even placing him into situations which might induce embarrassing episodes. In response to Ricky’s obsessive concerns with fitness, his houseparents Ned and Maxine Kent, “grounded” Ricky from exercising in an attempt to realign his focus from a narcissistic worldview to a Christ-centered paradigm. Even though he was the most capable, Ricky was not allowed to milk cows with the rest of his house brothers due to the inevitable forearm exercise involved. Instead, he was assigned to “shovel duty” where he would stand with a scoop shovel, waiting for cows to poop. The irony of this task did not fall upon deaf ears. In response to this treatment, Ricky became introverted in his thoughts, refusing to speak to any of us, even in the darkness of night. Finally, when he had had enough, he did what the bravest of abused children do – he ran.
I do not recall how many attempts Ricky made at running away, but in on a cold night in November 1995, Ricky ran off into the night, never to be seen again. Last year, when I published my Facebook video, before extensive research that has prompted this article; I proposed that Ricky chose his destination and suicide in order to make an irrefutable statement, while simultaneously sparking an investigation into the abuses at Pinehaven Christian Children’s Ranch. Although I would like to maintain this perspective, my findings have made this conclusion inconceivable.
The Official Pinehaven Story
Ricky’s alleged 5 mile journey to his death
According to Pinehaven Christian Children’s Ranch, Ricky Wagener ran away from the Ranch on November 6th 1995. From the Ranch, Ricky headed 5 miles east in the middle of the night to Pinehaven’s Headquarters Compound in St. Ignatius, MT, adjacent to St. Ignatius First Christian Church and an apartment complex owned by Pinehaven. Inside this secure compound, Pinehaven leadership stored many of their personal recreational vehicles, including an RV owned by Dewey Obenchain (former lead pastor of Pablo Christian Church and short-term associate minister of St. Ignatius Christian Church). According to Pinehaven, Ricky entered this RV and, once inside, ingested brake fluid presumably acquired from within the compound. After ingesting this fluid, Ricky passed away.
Seven months later, on May 30th, 1996, Andy Larsson was working at the office located at the Pinehaven Headquarters when, as he reported to a former staff member the day of the occurrence, he looked out the window and saw Ricky’s shoulder through the window in Dewey Obenchain’s RV. Rushing out to the RV, he found Ricky slumped over a table grasping a container of brake fluid.
The Official Lake County Sheriff’s Office Story
Upon initial examination of Ricky Wagener’s death certificate, it would be easily assumed that Pinehaven Christian Children’s Ranch and the Lake County Sheriff’s Office would agree on the timeline and details surrounding Ricky’s death. I also made this assumption until I read the account of these events from the perspective of Ken Scott. Ken Scott is a high-profile resident of St. Ignatius, prominently known as the region’s telecommunications “go to guy” and a former Lake County Sheriff Deputy. His involvement with the Larssons and Pinehaven include sporadic attendance at St. Ignatius Christian Church, consultation regarding the Pinehaven’s internal radio communications capabilities, and most importantly, aerial and civic liaison assistance regarding runaways from Pinehaven.
In the past two years, Ken Scott has been voluntarily vocal in support of Pinehaven, particularly in regards to the flood of attention Pinehaven received when four boys ran away in the summer of 2010 within two weeks. It was within this vocal support that Ken Scott reaffirmed his decades-long involvement with Pinehaven during all runaway search operations. According to Ken Scott, he had personally interviewed every runaway and had developed an exhaustive profile of motives and practices.
At the time of Ricky’s demise, Ken Scott was a Lake County Sheriff Deputy. According to him, on May 30th, 1996 he was on patrol throughout St. Ignatius when (for an undisclosed reason) he entered the Pinehaven Headquarters compound and found Ricky in an RV, dead. Obviously, this story is in direct contrast to that of Pinehaven’s leadership, yet no part of his story is in any more conflict with Ricky’s death certificate (other than the pronounced dead indication), making it of equal consideration.
The Death Certificate
Although it is public record, Lake County made it very difficult for many people to acquire Ricky Wagener’s death certificate. Thanks to the vigilant efforts of former Montana State Representative Jeanne Windham, we were able to acquire this document from the Montana Office of Vital Statistics. Within this document, there are very interesting entries, which we will identify one by one,
1) The Manner of Death is listed as “Could not be determined” when the option of “suicide” was available. The Manner of Death is not listed as “Pending Investigation”, indicating that an investigation was not being pursued beyond 4 weeks.
2) The original Place Of Injury was changed by hand by Joe Geldrich, Lake County Coroner, from occurring at Pinehaven Christian Children’s Ranch to Pinehaven’s Office in St. Ignatius.
3) The Coroner’s examination occurred a full 28 days following the date that Ricky was found and pronounced dead.
4) The Date of Death is listed as “estimated”, while the Hour of Death is specifically recorded as Late PM, although both are contingent solely upon the testimony of Pinehaven’s leadership.
5) The Method Of Disposition is listed as “Cremation” at Sunset Memorial Crematory in Missoula, MT – not in Ricky’s home state of Washington. “Removal from State” is an option indicated in the same category.
Pinehaven’s Response to Ricky’s Disappearance
As is the case with most children who run away from Pinehaven Christian Children’s Ranch, they are pursued by Pinehaven staff and Ken Scott, usually to be found “within a couple of days” as Bob Larsson prefers to put it. Through the utilization of Ken Scott’s aerial capabilities, and the rural locale of their facility, children are normally rather easy to locate. Most are picked up by the time they get to Ravalli or Arlee. From testimony given by Ken Scott, it was revealed that, upon apprehension, runaways are often taken to the Pinehaven Office (where Ricky’s body was found) where they are questioned extensively.
One of Ken Scott’s helicopters, used to find runaways from
Pinehaven Christian Children’s Ranch.
It should be noted that in the past 18 months – 15% of all Pinehaven residents have not only ran away from the Ranch (or the associative Kootenai Christian Camp), but have made it to a regional metropolitan area such as Missoula or Kalispell. In February 2011, two boys who made it all the way to Missoula held up a movie theatre associate outside his place of work with BB guns stolen from Wal-Mart.
Pinehaven’s documented policies to keep everything internal (as seen in their Policy Handbook) is further displayed by their voluntary non-disclosure to such agencies as CPS, local law enforcement, and the Montana State Missing Person’s Clearinghouse regarding runaways. It should be noted that no report was made to the Montana Missing Persons Clearinghouse following the November 6th, 1995 disappearance of Ricky Wagener, nor in the seven months till the discovery of his body on May 30th, 1996.
In January of 1996, before Ricky’s body had supposedly been discovered, Ned Kent responded to an inquiry by Blue House male residents regarding Ricky’s whereabouts by stating, “You don’t want to be where Ricky is.”
Pinehaven’s Response to the Discovery of Ricky’s Body
Immediately upon discovering of Ricky’s body, Andy Larsson took the time to visit Chris Hoppe at her home in St. Ignatius, a few blocks away from the Pinehaven Headquarters compound. In completely synchronized accuracy with the Pronounced Dead time of 1425, Mrs. Hoppe recollects this meeting taking place in the early afternoon. Andy Larsson told Mrs. Hoppe that Ricky had ingested brake fluid in order to commit suicide, relaying his story that he found Ricky slumped over the table, still clutching on to the bottle of brake fluid. It should be noted that Mrs. Hoppe was married to the St. Ignatius Judge.
Ricky’s adoptive parents in Kirkland, WA were notified that Ricky had been found frozen to death in a trailer. They were never notified that his death had resulted from an alleged ingestion of brake fluid. Ricky’s parents were not offered the opportunity to view Ricky’s body before he was cremated at Sunset Memorial Crematory in Missoula – an action taken by Pinehaven Christian Children’s Ranch without any Power of Attorney beyond the rights authorized to them within the Parental Agreement and Consent Form. It should be noted that this Agreement provides Pinehaven with foster care authority, although they do not meet the Montana State requirements for foster care, nor have they ever held licensure for such.
Years after the discovery of Ricky’s body, Andy Larsson related the story of his discovery to members of Pinehaven staff in an oddly contrasting manner. He told them that he discovered Ricky’s body on May 30th, 1996 when he went out to his RV to clean it out – not the RV belonging to Dewey Obenchain.
**UPDATE** – It has been reported that, in 2010, Bob Larsson told a Missions Committee in Indiana that had begun to question Pinehaven’s eligibility for missions support that Ricky’s father had Ricky cremated, and that his ashes were scattered over the Pinehaven property. In addition to these actions, Bob Larsson informed the pastor in charge of the Missions committee that Ricky’s father had set up a fund for building projects at Pinehaven. This was not recollected by Ricky’s father during an interview. It should be noted that Pinehaven issues donation forms with all quarterly newsletters that provide an opportunity to apportion donations to specific operations, including the general building fund. Any donation annotated to this category could be interpreted as “setting up a fund for building projects” regardless of the monetary amount.
Body Preservation Issues
Due to the lack of investigative operations performed by Lake County in the case of Ricky’s death whose cause could “not be determined”, it is important to identify the critical issue of decomposition of a fully exposed human body over a seven month period. In any other case, in other part of the country, if the seven month decomposed body of a child was found, it would garner massive amounts of media attention while undergoing an extensive state-level forensic investigation. While I am by no means a forensic expert, the following data presents a strong case for questioning why such a mild investigation and identification process was accepted by Lake County and ultimately the State of Montana.
The day that Ricky ran away and the following day had a low of 28 degrees with highs of 41 degrees. A day later, the temperature never even dropped below freezing, with a high of 51 degrees. Over the next three weeks, the temperature fluctuated achieving a lowest temperature of 19 degrees and a high temperature of 61, averaging 37 degrees.
Throughout the 207 days until Ricky’s body was found, 65 days never reached as low as 32 degrees, maintaining ample time for complete decomposition as displayed in this case study involving a pig corpse.
For more information, please visit: http://www.pinehavenabuse.org/