Crime & Courts

Judge releases document in abuse case involving adopted children from Peru

The North Newton home of Jim and Paige Nachtigal.
The North Newton home of Jim and Paige Nachtigal. File photo

School staff were among those who contacted the Kansas Department for Children and Families to voice concerns over the welfare of three Peruvian orphans who allegedly suffered religiously fueled abuse by the North Newton missionaries who adopted them.

According to an arrest affidavit released Wednesday by the Harvey County judge who has presided over the criminal cases filed against Jim and Paige Nachtigal, a social worker at Santa Fe Middle School in Newton immediately began getting reports from teachers about one of the children — an 11-year-old boy — when he started classes last year.

“The concerns kept coming so frequently that … (the social worker) decided to bring in another school social worker,” who decided the worries were significant enough to be reported, the affidavit says.

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Concerns cited in the document, which gives new details on what law enforcement discovered after they launched an investigation into the couple Feb. 8, include:

▪ That at least one of the boy’s parents refused him sufficient food at home.

▪ That the boy brought only a peanut butter sandwich for lunch and wasn’t allowed by a parent to have milk with it.

▪ That the boy’s mother became angry when she learned a teacher was paying for him to eat cafeteria meals.

▪ That the boy came to school with scabs on his face, reportedly caused by scrubbing the garage floor using his forehead.

▪ That punishments inflicted on the boy included hours spent standing with his nose on a wall or copying Bible verses into notebooks.

The boy also begged his teacher to not make him go home nearly every Friday, according to the document. The teacher told authorities that Mondays and Fridays at school were especially difficult for the boy because “she believed he was being punished … most of the weekend” and because he “knew he would be home all weekend.”

Family members and other witnesses who observed the boy and his 11-year-old and 15-year-old sisters also told authorities that the children were “terrified” of their mother, had been spanked with wooden spoons, were refused food “for no apparent reason” and that the Nachtigals have said they “were ready ‘to relinquish their rights to their kids’ because the children had too many issues,” according to the affidavit.

One of the boy’s teachers and her husband had tried to adopt him, the affidavit continues, but the Nachtigals stopped the proceedings a few days prior to finalization because they thought giving up the boy would negatively affect Jim Nachtigal’s reputation and employment.

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At the time of his arrest he was the chief executive of Newton elderly care facility Kansas Christian Home, but he has since been fired from that position. The couple also had been seeking financial support from churches for ministry work in Iquitos, a Peruvian city in the Amazon forest, as well as through a GoFundMe page.

The Nachtigals each face at least a dozen criminal charges involving the children, including three counts of child abuse alleging cruel and inhuman corporal punishment, seven counts of aggravated battery, and two counts of child abuse alleging child torture.

Prosecutors say the two younger children took the bulk of the abuse; they were starved and beaten with a board and cane to the point of having broken bones and severe scarring.

Law enforcement began investigating the family after the 11-year-old boy was found walking barefoot in a field by a state trooper during his second runaway attempt on Feb. 5. Authorities have said the children told them they were punished for not doing homework, “for not behaving in certain ways” or for not praising their mother’s cooking enough. If they behaved, they were given minuscule amounts of bread, fruit and water or meat-and-cheese sandwiches as a reward.

North Newton Police Chief Randy Jordan has said it appears Jim Nachtigal, 51, doled out the majority of the abuse but that it was done at the direction of his wife, 49.

Jordan in February said it appeared DCF had received around a dozen welfare reports since 2014 from a variety of people about the children prior to the Nachtigals’ Feb. 16 arrests. None were forwarded to his department for further investigation, he has said.

The Nachtigals are due back in court Aug. 1. They will have the chance to enter a plea in the case at that time. They are free on bond pending further adjudication of their cases.

The arrest affidavit was released Wednesday, months after local news organizations made their first requests for the document in February. Initially, Harvey County District Court Chief Judge Joe Dickinson refused to open the affidavit to the public, but that decision was opposed by The Eagle and other media outlets.

In a letter that accompanied a redacted version of the affidavit, Dickinson said Wednesday that he had withheld the names of family members to help protect the children’s identities, as well as a description of one incident involving one of the children because it “could very well have been embarrassing to the child if disclosed.”

Amy Renee Leiker: 316-268-6644, @amyreneeleiker

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