Part 1: Stolen Childhood

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”

American Outlaws: The Plight of Child Sex Trafficking Victims Living Underground
Part 1

Melody Bannister

During this time of year, many children live inside a snow-globe of sparkle and wonder, eagerly anticipating the festivities of Christmas Eve. Their loving parents smile, hearts full of joy at seeing the light in the eyes of their little ones; they sigh in contentment, resting in the heavenly peace of the season.

But some children are not so fortunate. Their days bring sudden noises outside the door that cause them to jump in fear; the nights are full of terrors that pervade their dreams. Replays of cruelty assail their memories, and yet they pray for a Christmas miracle that will set them free from their abusers’ pursuit.

*****

Have you ever wondered what it feels like to be a wanted woman, a fugitive of the law? Many a movie portrays it as a glamorous, guns-blazing adventure, but in reality it is quite different. 

I am one such fugitive, what with the warrant out for my arrest and all. My crimes?

  • Believing my children when they disclosed a lifetime of ongoing abuse.
  • Reporting to the Stafford, Virginia police.

After Detective J.G. Wright and Jennifer Dudley of CPS spoke of youngsters’ “vivid imaginations” and expressed concern for our mental health, they promptly closed the case. Oh sure, they chatted with some of the abusers first, who no doubt assured the officers of their innocence. I mean, if a guy is a respectably-dressed working professional who lives in a half-million dollar home in a picturesque suburban neighborhood, he couldn’t possibly enjoy beating and sexually abusing small children in the middle of the night . . . could he? Nah.

The cops thought not too. A local judge weighed in on the matter, giving total custody of all four children to their father—my husband William Joseph Bannister—the man who my children have told me covertly delivered them at the appointed times to the man they named as the abuse ringleader: his father Jay Tuhl Bannister, who lives directly across the street. (Perhaps that explains the mysterious wad of crisp one-hundred dollar bills on his dresser last December. Maybe a Christmas bonus for a dutiful son, keeping it all in the family?) 

My father-in-law is a generous man, after all. He is known in the community for his gift of giving; my children’s testimonies indicate that this generosity extends to sharing his grandchildren with his circle of friends. Why should he be the only one to gain pleasure from the terrified screams of preschool-aged girls in the darkness atop his big red barn? Why not have his tiny, innocent grandbabies be forced to perform sexual acts on his buddies as well? A man could make a profit from such an enterprise.

What does a mother do, when she discovers that the most unimaginable nightmares have occurred, repeatedly, to her little ones at the hands of the men who should have been the most protective in their lives: their father, grandfather, pastor, church members, and neighbors?

What does she do after the local justice system utterly fails them?

She takes her children and runs for their lives.

We have been fugitives for nearly six months, like vagabonds upon the earth, on the “wrong side of the law,” with the rancid hot breath of child predators close upon our backs. We left home with barely a week’s worth of summer clothes and are practically penniless, living off the kindness of friends, who one by one have taken us under their wings. 

We were hungry, and they fed us nourishing food. We stood shivering in the cold, and they gave us warm winter clothing. We faced illness and injury, and they provided medicine and homemade soup. We were virtual strangers, and they welcomed us into their homes. Meanwhile, the man of our family sits alone in our three-story house, atop his six-figure income, with no offspring to offer up to his daddy dearest.

After months on the road, we had to say goodbye to our beloved pets: our giant bounding bundle of puppy-faced joy, and our fluffy cat, whose soothing whirr often assuaged our soreness of heart. It is a comfort to know they are in good, loving hands, since they can no longer be in ours.

The mental health and credibility of my children and me have been assessed and verified by two of the most prestigious forensic psychiatrists in the country: Dr. Michael Stone and Dr. Carole Lieberman. Just as I suspected, we are neither insane nor lying. Naturally, the abusers did not take kindly to such a development, and are seeking to have the reports stricken from the record. “Eliminate all threats!” seems to be their motto. Hence our position of living underground.

We set up residence in Alabama and made it our new home, where we obtained a protective order against the man formerly known as Daddy. This was swiftly snatched away when the judge deferred to the Virginia ruling, which ordered me to return the children to him.

We are fighting on two fronts–family court and criminal court–when intrinsically this is a criminal matter. What judge in his right mind would place children back into the hands of vicious child abusers?! And yet, we see this same story repeated over and over again, all throughout the country.

Children do have bright and creative imaginations; it is an integral part of the human spirit. But no child is capable of pulling a story out of thin air, which includes them being violently abused physically, sexually, and psychologically, in ways that would cause even the most stout-hearted adult to lose their lunch. 

Why in the world would an upper-middle-class child, in a picture-perfect community complete with good schools, a social life, a backyard in-ground pool, and even a friendly neighborhood ice cream truck, concoct such a tale? What could possibly motivate them to whisper soul-crushing horrors to their mother on the back deck swing, when they knew what it could cost them: their home, their friends, their beloved cousins, their bedrooms and nearly all their worldly possessions? All this they would trade for a life on the run, hiding like frightened cottontails in the tall grass?

Effects of trauma do not wear away quickly, once a child is safe from his abusers. Our balmy summer meandered into a brisk autumn, when the leaves danced down from the trees in droves. Now Christmas is staring us full in the face.

There are many moments of blissful joy and sunshine in our life, yet recovery is a process that will not be hurried. The depth of betrayal twists like a poisoned dagger, and unspeakable terrors still haunt my children’s dreams. Scars of the soul are the slowest to heal.

“They stole my childhood,” she said late yesterday evening. “They stole my personality. They stole my identity.” Hopelessness and despair slithered uninvited into the room, trailing insomnia behind them like a skulking coward. Darkness stared through the kitchen window with a sinister smile, not caring if he was caught voyeurizing a young girl’s pain.

But morning comes, as it always does; and with it a renewed hope of life and freedom. A gentle rain washes away the tears of last night, and sorrow quietly moves aside to make room for determination at the head of the line.

We seek justice.

We appealed our case to the state and federal levels, and now await their responses.

Will they listen? Will they hear the cries of the children left behind, who wince at the flash of the camera over their battered bodies, and weep beneath the the jeering laughter of cruel men whose greatest pleasure is derived from inflicting pain on those smaller and weaker than themselves? 

Is it not better for the villains to be weighed down with the magnitude of their abominable crimes and cast into prison, than for them to be allowed to harm one more innocent child?

You can read Part 2 here.

*****

If you would like to help these children, you can contact the following to let your voice be heard.

  • Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring: 804-786-2071; mailopa@oag.state.va.us
  • Virginia Governor Ralph Northam: 804-786-2211
  • Alabama Governor Kay Ivey: 334-242-7100
  • Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall: 334-242-7300
  • Richmond, Virginia FBI: 804-261-1044
  • Stafford, Virginia Detective J.G. Wright: 540-658-5210; jwright@staffordcountyva.gov
  • William Joseph Bannister: 202-834-9442; bbannister@programmanagers.com; bill.bannister@gmail.com

Please sign the Change.org petition here. This petition includes wording you can use when contacting any of the above.

Our Alabama Family Court case number is DR-2019-500538.

Virginia Family Court case number is JJ053144-01-99.

45 thoughts on “Part 1: Stolen Childhood

  1. So glad to read this! Not happy about the “justice system,” but glad to know something! Have been so worried and prayed a lot! You and your children have a place in my home anytime day or night, no questions asked, if you ever need to return to the state of Virginia. I will contact some of those numbers/emails!! ❤️🙏🏼

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    1. Hi Barbara, This is very similar to what happened to me and my children, via their father and his father. Our case is in Virginia, also. I am wondering what the update is, on this Bannister case. There are so few people who understand what happens to mothers and children, in this situation. I have no one to talk to about this.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is absolutely heart wrenching why on Gods earth this judge did not check into this more this is such a injustice praying for your safety

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  3. Dear friend. Words cannot convey the agony & anger I feel for the injustice done to you and your children. Know you are loved and cared about by God the loving Father and many humans who are praying, sharing and contacting the authorities on your behalf. You have been in my constant thoughts and prayers since I found out. Dear friend you have many strangers to you who are taking up your cause. Please take heart knowing you are loved, cared about and supported.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. So sorry for the evil assaults and attacks on your precious children… So very very wrong! I’ve been studying the “millstone” verse… It’s predators trapping innocent prey… Pure evil… Translations have made it about causing little ones to stumble or sin… The Hebrew word skandalise is way broader than that! The “millstone” is for anyone who intentionally preys upon and abuses the vulnerable…

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  5. You are a brave and strong woman doing the right thing for your children.

    When you are able to process through the grief and trauma, I encourage you to read Unholy Charade: Unmasking Domestic Abusers in the Church.

    I attempted to email the VA Attorney General, but the email came back undelivered. Can you confirm the email address?

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I’ll be honest, reading all the parts of your story made me sick to my stomach. If there is anything you and the children need physically (food, water, money, winter gear, etc) please let me know by replying. We live in central alabama.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I called every single number on that list and plan on doing so routinely until I hear that justice has prevailed. I’m a new mother and I empathize with you. I cry for your children. You are brave and God will let justice reign. If not in this life, then in the next.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. God bless your efforts! Thank you!!

      Would you please sign the petition and share that on social media as well? The more we spread the word, the more people we will hopefully find who would be willing to call!

      Like

  8. May God continue to bless and watch over you and your children. You are doing what mom’s are supposed to do – protect your children at all costs. How dare these men of power abuse these sweet babies. I believe there is a special place in hell for people like this, however, your kids have seen hell already. Have faith!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Melody Bannister, I pray for the safety and hiddennes of you and your children. I will not share any news articles regarding your case. I trust and believe in you and your decisions. Although it may be unlawful you are harboring your children into a safe environment away from the abuse. God bless you and yours and I hope we all can get these cases over turned.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. If this is true I pray for you and your children. Did the court order exams for the girls? That clearly can verify for the court if they were in fact penetrated in anyway. While it is not ideal situation for the girls to face an exam it would provide proof and hopefully start a criminal case against the perpatrators.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. unfortunately the media in Virginia is not giving her view of whats happening. the local paper,as well as the Richmond and Shenandoah Valley TV stations are calling her a criminal. saying that she abducted her children and saying that the children falsely accused. So suggestion would be she stay away from any state that borders Virginia because well meaning citizens are going to be reporting her being seen.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I am praying for you and I hope you and those kids stay safe. The courts fail so many kids and I can say I am proud of you and would 100% do what you are doing… Keep your head down.. But up if you know what I mean. 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  13. In prayer for you and the children!! I pray God surrounds you with shield and delivers you from the evil that is after you. Prayers of comfort for you and the children. I pray you all find peace that surpasses all understanding that only God can give soon and very soon. I know it will be hard to forget but my hope is that you all five overcome this in every way possible. Stay strong my friend and dont let your guard down. Put all in the hands of God, he is one that knows all and sees all and the only one to truly help you. Hug those babies extra tight.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. If you ever want to come to Arizona, I’ll house you and your family. My heart breaks reading your story. And I believe you. If I can get money to you, find a way to message me, and I will find a way to get it to you. Aja Harper 480.828.6444

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Praying for Justice for those abused children . I understand what they went thru unfortunately. NO child should have to be subjected to this!! Praying also for safety for you and your children.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I don’t blame you for running. I would do the same if my children told me they were being sexually assaulted and abused. If you need a place to stay, My family and I would gladly help you and your kids. I hope all works out for you and justice is served to the fullest for the crimes against your babies. 💜

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was hit with 7 false charges for reporting my 4yr olds rapes in my Xs home. I DEMANDED trial and was found NOT GUILTY… yet they haven’t returned my child or taken him out of that home.

      I am LOUD and just won my appeal, no attorneys for family court and custody.

      It took 2 yrs!! If I had to do it over, I would run and hide

      Please find me somehow.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. OMG I was molested from the time I was 3 until I was 15. IT IS A NIGHTMARE and you never recover. People either don’t see or REFUSE to see it and act. It sickens me what men allow to happen to children. I was molested by family, members, family friends and strangers. I remember every single on of them and ever time. I can’t get it out of my head and I have grand kids now. This is so typical of our system. The same broken disgusting non-caring system that sends kids back to homes from foster care only to have them murdered. What a joke. Why can’t they let your children speak? Do they not believe them or will they just not listen to them or are your kids afraid to speak. I didn’t tell a SOUL until I was in my 30’s and even then it was the scariest thing for me to do, a grown woman, afraid to talk about childhood evils. I pray to God your children get heard and those inflicting the punishment are made to pay.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. “Scars of the soul take the longest to heal.” Indeed they do. I know how it feels to be on the run like that in another way. My 19 yrs have been filled with abuse: emotional, physical, sexual. Hopefully 20 will be different. When I was 16 the biological father who had abused me since I could hold memory took me and so we were on the run. It was like I was 4 all over again except this, this was on a much more extreme and elaborate level. I was labeled a runaway by my mother. And I was missing, unbeknownst to the anyone it was abduction. Just like when I was little. No one knew. I had been 17 a few months when I escaped. Back into the toxic relationship, the only thing I had left of my life from before being plucked out of society. Another 2 yrs of rape. The relationship ended and I had been 19 just a few months. Finnaly having got me diploma through it all. My cortisol was so high in my brain, an effect from everything and one of a few; I became rly sick in August literally 3 days before I started college. Then again I was in the ER for my health. And again. And again. In and out of Dr offices. The worst was when I was having seizures and puking and shitting blood. My stomach produces so much acid it causes bleeding. I had abdominal swelling so extreme it made it hard to breathe and my oxygen got low. I still have these things I just handle them better. And I wish I could say this ended happily, but my story still cnts. The person.. my biological father who hurt me for so long is now trying to contact me and has been trying to contact my little sister. So now .. now I have to find a way to put him in prison. Where he cant hurt me or find me. But especially my little sister. I wont have her go through any of it. But idk how. On a positive not therapy helps. It was helping me for a while before I became homeless and lost my job. Now I am couch hopping and in my car. But I’m trying to go back to college and stay in a dorm though. I’m working on healing the scars. It just takes time. It’s better some nights. And some nights are worse. I have PTSD and I’m trying to manage. Idk if you’re religious, but the experience made me more spiritual. I wish the best of luck. I was hoping that this would be a happy story but hearing and reading back it doesn’t sound so much so. I guess most importantly I wanted you to just know that your kids aren’t alone and neither are you. There are people that can understand and do in their own way.

    Sincerely, Anonymous.

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  19. I’ve tried to come up with some words to give hope or comfort and I’ve found there are none. This is beyond comprehension. Not necessarily the evilness of what has been done to your children we all know there are monsters in the world. But, the adding insult to Injury. Bye the police, cps, media outlets, and sadly the general population. I’m of the mind set that when you know there is something so horrifyingly evil is going on and you do nothing, say nothing your not only validating, encouraging, and YES, enabling these monsters! I’m sorry, this is soo…. why are any of these men walking the streets calmly? As citizens of this country WE NEED TO hold these officials, police, agencies, and media outlets accountable for their part in this horrible abuse (seems such a lame word to use for what has happened) to these children! They have compounded the damage, and I’m pretty sure it was out of self protection. I’d bet my last dollar that someone at every level that has tried to smear this mom and children, sweep it under the carpet etc. Is doing it so that their part in all this is never revealed.

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  20. I’ll help u hide as long as u need !!! Keep running until someone does something to protect those children!!! I too went through the same thing as a child and no one ever believed me but unlike u as a real mother u stand with them MINE never did!!! This alone still hurts me to this day!! U will truly be blessed for this!!! I’m in Anderson sc if u need a hand one day!!!!

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  21. My email is samanthasaylor@gmail.com
    Please each out if you get stuck and need help. The justice system failed my children and I many times. Sometimes us Mommas have to take desperate measures. The important thing here is that those children are safe. I’m willing to help if needed.

    Like

  22. When i first heard this story, i knew something was not right about it. I will protect you and your children if you ever need a place a stay..no questions asked. Please let me know if there is anything you need. One Mama Bear to another

    Like

  23. N.C. here….I will be sharing your story to garner support and get signatures on the petition! You keep your babies safe and take care of you guys no matter what! If you ever need anything tnewsome3878@gmail.com mental emotional and sexual abuse is never overcome but you learn how to survive and breathe….I am sorry for your babies and you as a mother! Keep fighting momma!

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Praying for You and Your Children. I know all too well the unfairness of the Family Court System. Was a Mother that tried to Protect My Children and Myself From their abusive Father I took my Kids to where I had Family Support to only be ordered to bring them back to where he was Awarded Custody Keep Fighting to Protect Them!

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  25. Mel, my sweet dear girl,
    My mama heart hurts for you, for your children. I long to hug you and tell you I’m hear for you. It’s been years since I’ve seen you. But I will never for get you.
    Thank you for fighting for your children and their safety

    Like

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