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News From Action News Jax

  • A Jacksonville woman is making it her mission to help people heal by stitching teddy bears made from a loved one’s piece of clothing. The memory is something that will last a lifetime. TRENDING STORIES: Florida man found partially eaten by alligator died from meth overdose Fernandina Beach teen dies after contracting mono Jags DL Calais Campbell nominated for Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award Jacksonville triple murder: 2 years later, no arrests in slaying of baby, couple Families dealing with the loss of a loved one filled the pews inside Redemption Church on Jacksonville’s Northside Friday night for a special ceremony. Shirley Wright stitched together stuffed teddy bears from the clothes of lost loved ones to help families grieve. “You can’t get more personal than clothing. Clothing is something when you lose a loved one, clothes usually sit in that drawer for decades,” said Wright. Families who were in attendance say although the memories of their loved ones who have died will never disappear, having a physical reminder of them makes things a little easier, especially during the holiday season. Janette Adams son Travis James was shot and killed in October of this year. “He got killed on Kings Road at a Sonoco gas station,” said Adams. Her son left behind three children. “It is truly an honor to be presented with this beautiful bear,” Adams explained. Justice Coalition Executive Director Jolee Manning says it’s personal because her daughter Haley Smith was killed in a hit-and-run six years ago. Tiffany Higginbotham was arrested for killing her. “I have a bear of my own and it’s just a part of our loved one and mine sits underneath my Christmas tree every year.' Wright says these bears are something people can proudly display in their homes and pass on to keep memories alive through generations. “I hope in some way my bears bring comfort and can bring void to how they are feeling,” said Wright. The stories behind some of these bears are troubling but Wright is hoping it’s something family members can hold on to at night when they think of a loved one who died too soon. STAY UPDATED: Download the Action News Jax app for live updates on breaking stories
  • Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry is now ready to give the City Council the power to decide the future of JEA. That’s what he said Thursday in a letter to the JEA board and again Thursday night on Twitter. TRENDING STORIES: Florida man found partially eaten by alligator died from meth overdose Fernandina Beach teen dies after contracting mono Jags DL Calais Campbell nominated for Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award Jacksonville triple murder: 2 years later, no arrests in slaying of baby, couple This comes only two weeks after the mayor said he was going to allow JEA to finish its planning. The one thing Curry hasn't commented on is why he’s now had a change of heart. Action News Jax reporter Courtney Cole went down to City Hall Friday to find out why. Despite Curry’s tweets Thursday night, city spokeswoman Nikki Kimbleton said the mayor isn’t talking “to the media about this at this time.” Gina Kyle, JEA’s spokeswoman, told Cole, “JEA’s senior leadership team is in the process of reviewing Mayor Curry’s letter and will have no comment at this time.” Related stories: Jacksonville City Council votes to hire special counsel to help with process of potential JEA sale | J ax City Council holds first Public Fact-Finding JEA Workshop | Two Jacksonville mayors at odds over future of JEA | Jacksonville city councilman calls on CEO of JEA to resign | ‘We have an obligation to protect the public’: JEA, City leaders debate JEA sale method Cole spoke to one local organization that's determined to help the City Council keep this process honest. 'The lack of transparency is very obvious and has been all along in this process,' said Michael Ward, of the Jacksonville Civic Council. Ward runs the subcommittee investigating the JEA transaction, along with Bobby Stein. These tweets from Curry aren't exactly helping with the public’s perception of lack of transparency, either. 'He shouldn't have tweeted or said anything,” said Vanessa Dawson Jones, a JEA customer. On Thursday night, the mayor tweeted that he’s asking the JEA board to “move all decision making authority” for the future of JEA to the Jacksonville City Council. One customer told Cole she doesn’t agree with that, an opinion she Cole hasn’t heard from a customer since she first started covering the potential sale. “Because they know about it. They’ve been working with it. They work there, they know the ins and outs and City Council does not... point-blank. They need to finish dealing with it. City Council— they can sit in on it, but JEA needs to handle all of it,” said Dawson Jones. Ward believes the first question needs to be about the city’s finances. “What needs do we have? What might it cost? And then let’s look for the sources to meet those needs rather than the headlong rush to sell JEA,” Ward told Action News Jax. Next, he said the entire sale process needs to be restarted, as he states in a letter the Jacksonville Civic Council sent to the City Council on Thursday. “Secondly, we think the ITN (invitation to negotiate) process should be stopped. And there should be a normal request for proposals. Any city asset that’s sold normally goes through the request for proposals,' Ward told Cole. Ward acknowledged JEA is probably facing challenges but believes they can be met. “Other municipal utilities aren't saying they have to sell themselves in the face of these challenges, and I'm not sure we need to either,” said Ward. Ward said the City Council also needs to thorough investigate the Performance Unit Plan and figure out why the ITN process was chosen in the first place. “JEA has said we're in a death spiral. I guess my question would be, why did 16 people bid on a death spiral? That doesn't compute in my mind,” said Ward. Ward told Cole he has not heard back from the City Council yet, but said, “They’re thoughtful people, and obviously they’re going to take some time to think about it.” Moving forward, Ward also requested the City Council outline the roles of the JEA board and City Council to prevent any further confusion or delays moving forward. We will soon learn how Curry’s decision will affect the process moving forward; the next JEA meeting is next week, Dec. 17. STAY UPDATED: Download the Action News Jax app for live updates on breaking stories
  • A Jacksonville family said they noticed their seventh-grade student had trouble with a few assignments in class. In the Duval County Public School District, all students use an online portal called Achieve 3000. This is where students, parents and teachers can review assignments and grades. This local family went into their student’s account to find out where the grades started to slip and found an assignment that they described as concerning. The family asked not to be identified for the student’s privacy. TRENDING STORIES: Florida man found partially eaten by alligator died from meth overdose Fernandina Beach teen dies after contracting mono Jags DL Calais Campbell nominated for Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award Jacksonville triple murder: 2 years later, no arrests in slaying of baby, couple According to the Achieve 3000 assignment, it was called, “Catching Runaway Slaves.” It asked the student to read the provided article about the Fugitive Slave Act and answer three questions. After Reading Poll: “The Fugitive Slave Act was necessary in order to hold the country together. Agree or disagree?” Thought Question: “Would you have been willing to help runaway slaves in 1850? Why or why not? Use the facts from the news story to back up your answer. You can use ideas of your own, too.” Math: “In 1850, people who helped runaway slaves could be fined $1,000 and go to jail for six months. How long is six months?” Student could choose one of the multiple choice answers. Based on this assignment, the student’s family said the questions were “insensitive” in their wording. “We read through the article and I was deeply disturbed,” the student’s aunt said. “My blood pressure went up because of the way it was described, the details of somebody being in slavery and then these penalties that anyone who helps a slave escape gets.” Action News Jax spoke to the school district about this assignment. A spokesperson said this seventh-grade class had just completed a lesson called, “Comparing and Contrasting Fiction to History.” Students read historical texts and historical fictions. For example, a primary goal reads, “I can compare and contrast a fictional portrayal of a time, place or character and a historical account of the same period as a means of understanding how authors of fiction use or alter history.” Then each student read the same article that involved the Fugitive Slave Act. They later had assignments generated by Achieve 3000. However, they said each student would have a different assignment based on the individual’s reading level. Action News Jax reporter Elizabeth Pace met with other parents near the school. She explained the lesson and individual assignment to learn their opinions. “The time period gets lost in our time period because it is a really different frame of mind,” parent Kimberly Whipple said. “So I don’t have a problem with that question because you’re dealing with facts of history.” “I think that question’s OK by trying to say if they want to help,” another parent said. “I really don’t see a problem with it, but I can see where other people might,” a local mother said. “I just don’t feel like at that 13 and 12-years-old that should be something they should be asked,” another mother said. To address any concerns, the district spokesperson said, “We will continue to work to assist the parent in connecting with the school so they can provide a fuller understanding of the entire lesson plan and objective.” STAY UPDATED: Download the Action News Jax app for live updates on breaking stories
  • Police in Jacksonville Beach are investigating after more than a dozen cars were broken into over the course of a few days. It started last weekend along 5th Street South where several of those burglaries took place. TRENDING STORIES: Florida man found partially eaten by alligator died from meth overdose Fernandina Beach teen dies after contracting mono Jags DL Calais Campbell nominated for Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award Jacksonville triple murder: 2 years later, no arrests in slaying of baby, couple Police reports said there were 14 burglaries that happened Saturday through Monday. Joseph Rennie said he’s hoping this weekend they don’t see a repeat. “All in all, this is a pretty safe neighborhood. But occasionally, you have things like this happen and come up, but it’s definitely a little bit unnerving,” Rennie said. Police said someone was going around smashing out windows of vehicles and looking for valuables inside. Wallets, credit and debit cards were taken. Some people had nothing taken, but were left with a broken window. It happened to 6 cars on 5th Street, 4 cars on 12th, and several others on the surrounding blocks. Rennie, like many others who live in the area, said he’s thankful he wasn’t a victim, but was surprised it happened to so many people in the area. “There is a sense of just making sure you’re being smart about it, not leaving stuff of value in your car, kind of anywhere. But yeah, its really unfortunate to see that that’s happened, especially around the holiday season,” Rennie said. As always, police are urging people not to leave valuables in their cars. STAY UPDATED: Download the Action News Jax app for live updates on breaking stories
  • A man convicted in the high-profile shooting death of a teen in a Jacksonville convenience-store parking lot in 2012 is appealing to the Florida Supreme Court. Michael Dunn, who was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of 17-year-old Jordan Davis, filed a notice this week that is a first step in asking the Supreme Court to take up the case, according to documents posted Thursday on the court website. Michael Dunn pleaded not guilty Nov. 26 to charges connected to a Marietta teen's slaying. TRENDING STORIES: Florida man found partially eaten by alligator died from meth overdose Fernandina Beach teen dies after contracting mono Jags DL Calais Campbell nominated for Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award Jacksonville triple murder: 2 years later, no arrests in slaying of baby, couple As is common, the notice does not detail the arguments that Dunn, who is representing himself, will make. The 1st District Court of Appeal in September rejected arguments by Dunn, who contended, in part, that he had received “ineffective assistance of counsel” during his trial. As an example, Dunn argued that his lawyer was ineffective for failing to hire an expert to examine audio from the convenience store’s surveillance video, but the appeals court rejected the argument. The racially tinged case drew national media coverage and came amid increased scrutiny of the deaths of young black men. Dunn is white, while Davis was black. STAY UPDATED: Download the Action News Jax app for live updates on breaking stories The shooting came after Davis and three friends stopped at a Gate convenience store and Dunn pulled into an adjacent parking space. The teens were listening to loud music, and Dunn asked them to turn it down. Ultimately, Dunn and Davis exchanged words, and Dunn fired repeatedly into the Dodge Durango that carried the teens. Dunn was convicted of first-degree murder while discharging a firearm, three counts of attempted second-degree murder while discharging a firearm and one count of shooting or throwing deadly missiles, according to the appeals-court ruling. He was sentenced to life in prison for the murder.
  • Money is helping put local veterans in Northeast Florida back to work. Hundreds of people filled the inside of a warehouse at a former Navy base to celebrate a milestone. TRENDING STORIES: Florida man found partially eaten by alligator died from meth overdose Fernandina Beach teen dies after contracting mono Jags DL Calais Campbell nominated for Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award Jacksonville triple murder: 2 years later, no arrests in slaying of baby, couple It was 20 years ago when the U.S. Navy handed over ownership of Cecil Field Naval Air Station to the city of Jacksonville and the Jacksonville Aviation Authority. The air station is now being operated by Boeing Global Services. Friday, Boeing made a $55,000 check presentation to Veterans Florida to help put local veterans back to work. Samuel Leeca is a Navy veteran and was one of the first people hired by Boeing back in 1999. “We first only had one aircraft. Then they started filtering in. It was rough at first, but then we started to get it rolling,” said Samuel Leeca. “When I see the Blue Angels, I don’t even bother anymore because I was sharing with someone that all 6 of them, I’ve physically touched them. I’ve physically put the cell in and taken it out,” Leeca explained. Boeing Cecil Field site leader Warren Helm says the site is one of the most successful closed bases in the country. “We have a great mix about 70% veterans on this site. It’s a great mix between people who have been here since day one,” Helm said. Leeca says after working here for over 20 years, he heads a team of mostly young people who disassemble and repair aircraft. “I just look at it as, not so much someone has to do it, but someone always did it. We live in a world now where it is so dangerous, I said, ‘I can’t leave them, I have to keep going to help the newer guys keep the jets flying,’” said Leeca. STAY UPDATED: Download the Action News Jax app for live updates on breaking stories
  • In response to a smash-and-grab burglary at a Fernandina Beach gun store where thieves stole 57 guns in 60 seconds, The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the National Shooting Sports Foundation announced a reward\ of up to $5,000 for tips leading to the arrest of suspects or recovery of stolen guns. The burglary happened Sunday, Dec. 8 at TNT Firearms and Accessories off State Road 200 in Nassau County. TRENDING STORIES: Florida man found partially eaten by alligator died from meth overdose Fernandina Beach teen dies after contracting mono Jags DL Calais Campbell nominated for Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award Jacksonville triple murder: 2 years later, no arrests in slaying of baby, couple Security footage shows 3 suspects smash through a glass door before breaking glass display cases and ransacking the store of 57 rifles and handguns. The ATF is offering a reward of up to $2,500, which will be matched by the NSSF for a total of up to $5,000. The ATF and NSSF are working together in a national campaign to fund rewards in cases involving guns being stolen from federally licensed dealers. STAY UPDATED: Download the Action News Jax app for live updates on breaking stories
  • An arrest has been made in a June 2018 Gilchrist County crash that killed four young adults from Jacksonville. The victims were inside a 2006 Chevy Impala on U.S. 129 when it collided with a 2014 Ford Explorer at the intersection of CR 340, according to the FHP report. Blake Delapaz, the only person in the Chevy Impala who survived, was arrested on Friday afternoon in Jacksonville, the Florida Highway Patrol confirmed. TRENDING STORIES: Florida man found partially eaten by alligator died from meth overdose Fernandina Beach teen dies after contracting mono Jags DL Calais Campbell nominated for Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award Jacksonville triple murder: 2 years later, no arrests in slaying of baby, couple Delapaz is facing charges of DUI manslaughter, Vehicular Homicide, DUI with Serious Bodily Injury and DUI with Property Damage. Isabella Garcia, 19, Cameron Bell, 18, Hayden Raulerson, 20, and Alysia Littlejohn, 20, were pronounced dead at the scene at the time of the crash, according to FHP. “We hope that this will serve as a cautionary tale for other young people to avoid driving recklessly and drinking and driving.” Statement from Alysia Littlejohn’s mother. ⬇️ @ActionNewsJax @WOKVNews pic.twitter.com/b2WBVtRzRU — Russell Colburn (@RussellANjax) December 13, 2019 Gilchrist county crash victims These are the four victims of a deadly crash in Gilchrist County. Delapaz, now 21, was taken to UF Shands in critical condition. FHP said none of the victims in the Impala were wearing seat belts. PHOTO GALLERY: 4 young adults from Jacksonville killed in Gilchrist County Troopers said the group had just left Bob’s River Place in Branford at the time of the crash. The 28-year-old driver of the Explorer, Aimee Williams of Trenton, Florida, was seriously hurt in the crash. Newly-released report confirms Delapaz was the driver. Charges: DUI Manslaughter, Vehicular Homicide, DUI with Serious Bodily Injury, DUI with Property Damage. 'Blood tests revealed Mr. Delapaz was under the influence of alcohol at the time of this crash.' @ActionNewsJax pic.twitter.com/VguJ7juKRY — Russell Colburn (@RussellANjax) December 13, 2019 Delapaz was booked into the Duval County Jail and is being held on a $950,000 bond. He faces 11 out of county warrant charges, nine of which are felonies. Littlejohn’s mother released the following statement: « Today, we were notified of the arrest of Blake Delapaz in connection with the tragic crash that killed my baby Alysia Littlejohn and 3 of her friends last June. It has been a long and difficult wait for the family to learn of the results of the Florida Highway Patrol’s investigation. Although the next couple of months will be difficult, we stand with the other families in seeking justice for the senseless deaths of loved ones. In the blink of an eye tragedy can happen and it’s important for those responsible to be held accountable. We hope that this will serve as a cautionary tale for other young people to avoid driving recklessly and drinking and driving. As well as getting into a car with anyone under the influence. We ask to keep all of our families in your prayers as we travel down this journey for justice. » STAY UPDATED: Download the Action News Jax app for live updates on breaking stories

The Latest News Headlines

  • Police in Jacksonville Beach are investigating after more than a dozen cars were broken into over the course of a few days. It started last weekend along 5th Street South where several of those burglaries took place.  Police reports said there were 14 burglaries that happened Saturday through Monday.  Joseph Rennie said he’s hoping this weekend they don’t see a repeat.  “All in all, this is a pretty safe neighborhood. But occasionally, you have things like this happen and come up, but it’s definitely a little bit unnerving,” Rennie said.  Police said someone was going around smashing out windows of vehicles and looking for valuables inside. Wallets, credit and debit cards were taken.  Some people had nothing taken, but were left with a broken window. It happened to 6 cars on 5th Street, 4 cars on 12th, and several others on the surrounding blocks.  Rennie, like many others who live in the area, said he’s thankful he wasn’t a victim, but was surprised it happened to so many people in the area.  “There is a sense of just making sure you’re being smart about it, not leaving stuff of value in your car, kind of anywhere. But yeah, its really unfortunate to see that that’s happened, especially around the holiday season,” Rennie said.  As always, police are urging people not to leave valuables in their cars.
  • Florida, along with 29 other states, has been accepted for membership into the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), according to Governor Ron DeSantis' office. ERIC is a multi-state partnership that uses a data-matching tool to help enhance election security and make voter rolls more accurate.  The governor's office says through ERIC, member states can share information from voter registration systems, motor vehicle databases, social security death records, and US Post Office records, to help identify voters who have moved, passed away, or changed their name.  Additionally, the governor's office says ERIC will help boost voter registration as it will provide member states better information on how to contact potentially eligible, but unregistered voters.  Governor DeSantis says he has set aside an estimated $1.3 million in his 2020-2021 recommend budget to conduct outreach to these unregistered voters with a direct mailer prior to the 2020 general election.  But the governor's office says Florida's full participation in ERIC will be contingent on the state legislature signing off on his budget. Being a member of ERIC requires annual dues of around $75,000.
  • In response to a smash-and-grab burglary at a Fernandina Beach gun store where thieves stole 57 guns in 60 seconds, The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the National Shooting Sports Foundation announced a reward of up to $5,000 for tips leading to the arrest of suspects or recovery of stolen guns. The burglary happened Sunday, Dec. 8 at TNT Firearms and Accessories off State Road 200 in Nassau County.  Security footage shows 3 suspects smash through a glass door before breaking glass display cases and ransacking the store of 57 rifles and handguns.  The ATF is offering a reward of up to $2,500, which will be matched by the NSSF for a total of up to $5,000.  The ATF and NSSF are working together in a national campaign to fund rewards in cases involving guns being stolen from federally licensed dealers.
  • A Virginia mother is wanted on abduction charges after authorities say she took her four children on vacation six months ago and never brought them home. The woman alleges she is saving the children from sex trafficking by their father and grandfather. Along with four misdemeanor abduction charges, Melody Bannister, 34, of Stafford, is charged with felony violation of a court order and filing a false police report, a news release from the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office said. A warrant was issued for her arrest Aug. 23, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Her children are identified as Genevieve Bannister, 13; Janelle Bannister, 12; Vivienne Bannister, 11; and Peter Bannister, 7. Genevieve is described as 5 feet, 3 inches tall and 110 pounds with brown hair and hazel eyes, according to the NCMEC. Janelle is described as 5 feet, 1 inch tall and 115 pounds. Like her older sister, she has brown hair and hazel eyes. Vivienne is listed as 4 feet, 11 inches tall and weighing 95 pounds with brown hair and blue eyes. Peter is described as 4 feet, 1 inch tall and 90 pounds. He also brown hair and blue eyes. Bannister is described as 5 feet, 2 inches tall and 110 pounds. Like her two youngest children, she has brown hair and blue eyes. The children and their mother were last known to be traveling in a blue-green 2002 Honda Odyssey with Virginia license plate number VBH7123, Stafford County Sheriff’s Office Detective James Wright said during a segment about the case on “Live PD” on A&E. Finding Bannister and the children has become more urgent after “recent developments in the investigation have led investigators to believe the children may now be in danger,” the Sheriff’s Office’s statement said. Wright, who is lead investigator on the case, said on “Live PD” that authorities believe the missing family might be in danger due to the “clandestine nature” of the religious organization they belong to. “We’re concerned about the welfare because they are unable to take care of themselves. They don’t have any means to take care of them. Melody doesn’t have means to take care of them,” Wright told host Tom Morris Jr. Sheriff’s Office spokesman Amanda Vicinanzo said investigators believe Bannister has had help along the way from members of a religious group of which she is purportedly a member, according to the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg. The newspaper reported that the family’s pets, a white Great Pyrenees dog and white ragdoll cat, were left at one of the stops Bannister has made since leaving Virginia. “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,” Bannister wrote on her blog. “It is a comfort to know they are in good, loving hands, since they can no longer be in ours.” “Live PD” pointed out that Bannister has written about her religion previously, describing it as a “cult.” According to a blog she began in 2016 called Lady Adelaide’s Realm, Bannister grew up in a Quiverfull household. Followers of the Quiverfull movement believe that the men with the most children will earn the most favor from God. They shun all forms of contraception, believing that it is only God who “opens and closes the womb,” follower Kelly Swanson told NPR in 2009. The movement advocates stringent gender roles, and women are not allowed to question their husbands’ authority. They cannot work outside the home, wear pants or cut their hair. According to some of Bannister’s friends -- and a second blog the missing woman appears to have written since going on the run with her children -- the danger toward the children lies not with their mother, but in their father’s home. Bannister’s blog devoted to the allegations is subtitled “American Outlaws: The Plight of Child Sex Trafficking Victims Living Underground.” Her most recent blog post on Lady Adelaide’s Realm, dated June 28, names six men, including her father-in-law, as her children’s alleged abusers. The men are not being named because they have not been charged with a crime. ‘Will justice triumph over lawlessness this Christmas?’ A Change.org petition begging for help from Virginia and Alabama officials claims that the children’s father “conspired with (Bannister’s) father-in-law to perpetuate some of the most horrifying sexual and physical abuse imaginable upon her children.” “When local law enforcement failed to protect these children, ordering them back to live with their abuser, Melody chose to live on the wrong side of the law. What else could a truly desperate mother do?” the petition reads. Bannister has accused her husband of “deliver(ing) the children up for torture to the barn of his father.” She has accused her father-in-law of not only sexually abusing the children, but of offering them up for abuse by his friends. “The children have spoken of being given strange substances in the barn that made the world swim before their eyes and caused the taunting faces of their abusers to converge together in a dizzying blur,” Bannister wrote. She wrote on the blog that her only crimes were “believing (her) children when they disclosed a lifetime of ongoing abuse” and “reporting (it) to the Stafford, Virginia, police.” Stafford County officials said that an investigation into the allegations brought to them by Bannister in June found no evidence of abuse against the children. “A joint investigation with Stafford County law enforcement and Child Protective Services determined the allegations were unfounded,” according to the statement from the Sheriff’s Office. “Shortly after the conclusion of the investigation, Bannister left Virginia with the children on a planned vacation and never returned.” Bannister wrote on her blog that she and the children left town for a vacation June 14, the day after she reported the abuse, in part out of fear of reprisal from the accused. She said she called the Sheriff’s Office detective, Wright, a few days later to check up on the investigation. “We spoke briefly once, when he told me that he had interviewed my husband and would soon interview my father-in-law,” Bannister wrote. “After that, he stopped answering my phone calls.” She wrote that Wright and a CPS caseworker chalked the sex abuse claims up to children’s “vivid imaginations.” She described fleeing Virginia with the “rancid hot breath of child predators” on her back. “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,” Bannister wrote. She said her husband drained their joint bank account and cancelled her credit cards when she did not bring the children back to Virginia. Read Bannister’s entire, five-part blog here. Warning: It includes graphic details of alleged child sex abuse. Stafford County’s Juvenile, Domestic and Relations Court granted sole custody of the children to their father the following month, Stafford County authorities said. Their father, identified in court records as William Joseph Bannister, filed for divorce last month. “(Melody) Bannister refused to return the children and subsequently petitioned the courts in Alabama requesting custody be issued to her there,” a Sheriff’s Office spokesperson said. “The courts in Alabama heard the case and also ordered Bannister to return her children to their father back in Virginia. “Bannister absconded from the state of Alabama with her four children and has not been seen since.” Bannister and the children were last seen Aug. 20 in Moulton, a small city in northwest Alabama. “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,” Bannister wrote on her blog. “This was swiftly snatched away when the judge deferred to the Virginia ruling, which ordered me to return the children to him.” Bannister wrote that a family court hearing was held in Virginia without her presence Aug. 19, with a judge ruling in her husband’s favor. She claimed she was never served with a summons for the hearing. She and the children vanished from Alabama the next day. US marshals issue alert Aside from Alabama, potential sightings of the family have been reported in Wisconsin, Colorado, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and Texas. The U.S. Marshals Service and the NCMEC have been involved in the case over the past few months, the Sheriff’s Office said. The Marshals Service issued an alert this week seeking help from the public in finding Bannister and the missing children. A friend of Bannister, Julie Lampkins, shared a story on Facebook about the missing family, saying it was “with a heavy heart” that she shared the link about the mother’s alleged abduction of her children. “We all have questions, but no answers,” Lampkins wrote. “Help the authorities find her and her (four) kids.” Meanwhile, Bannister is appealing for help on the state and federal levels, according to the Change.org petition. It quoted additional portions of Bannister’s blog. “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,” Bannister wrote on her blog. “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.” Followers on her blog wrote this week that they believed her and her children. “Many people believe you and are praying and sharing the news and asking God to vindicate and protect. Praying that true justice will be served,” Carrie Brownell wrote. A friend, identified as Lana, told Bannister she was praying for her, as well as sharing her story and contacting a list of law enforcement officers listed on the blog on Bannister’s behalf. Another friend named Rachael offered similar well wishes. “Oh Melody…my heart is so broken for you and your sweet kids,” the woman wrote. “I will be keeping you in my prayers and doing what I can. Locally.” A third friend named Petra Carden wrote that Bannister and her children have a place in her home “any time, day or night, no questions asked” if Bannister has to return to Virginia. Others who read her story offered her help in other locations throughout the country, including Alabama, where she and the children were last seen. Many people who believe Bannister’s allegations of abuse urged caution in reporting the family’s whereabouts. “If the news articles released regarding Melody Bannister’s children being in danger is all people know, they will report them when they see them and put them back in danger,” one woman wrote on Twitter. A cult? Bannister’s Facebook profile lists her as manager of a website called Recovering Daughters. The description of the site on its corresponding Facebook page states it is about “healing from Vision Forum, authoritarianism and the Quiverfull Movement.” The Recovering Daughters website is no longer available because the domain has recently expired. Vision Forum was a Texas-based ministry that promoted a patriarchal lifestyle, in which the husband rules the family, and home-schooling its children. The ministry was shut down by its board in 2013 after leader Doug Phillips admitted to an extramarital affair, the Huffington Post reported. Phillips has been a friend of and influence on Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, whose TLC show “19 Kids and Counting” focused on their beliefs against birth control and that large families are a gift from God, the news site said. The Duggars, who lost their show after their eldest son, Josh Duggar, was publicly accused of sexually molesting multiple young girls, including some of his sisters, have also been associated with the Quiverfull movement, though the Huffington Post reported in 2015 that the couple does not formally consider themselves members of the movement. The Quiverfull movement gets its name from a Bible passage: “Children are a heritage from the Lord, and the fruit of the womb is His reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.” Hännah Ettinger, a young woman raised in the movement who had left that world behind, told Cosmopolitan in 2015 that her first big break from the religion came when her father told her she “didn’t have the spiritual discernment” to choose her own boyfriend, a man she met at her Christian college. “Later, I got utterly fed up with the churches I’d grown up in because I kept finding out that they’d protected child abusers, rapists, and men who’d beaten their wives, all in the name of redemption stories, ‘biblical’ male headship and complementarian theology,” Ettinger told the magazine. Vyckie Garrison, another former Quiverfull member, told Vice in 2016 that, with no central leader, the movement isn’t a cult, per se. It’s more of a mindset “in which each family becomes a cult unto itself with Daddy enshrined as the supreme patriarch,” Vice reported. Garrison founded a website called No Longer Quivering, which is designed to help other women in her situation escape the movement. In April 2015, the American Atheists Convention named her its 2014 Atheist of the Year. Anyone with information on the whereabouts of Bannister and her children is asked to call the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office at 540-658-4400, the U.S. Marshals Service at 877-WANTED2 or the NCMEC at 800-THE-LOST.
  • Money is helping put local veterans in Northeast Florida back to work. Hundreds of people filled the inside of a warehouse at a former Navy base to celebrate a milestone.  It was 20 years ago when the U.S. Navy handed over ownership of Cecil Field Naval Air Station to the city of Jacksonville and the Jacksonville Aviation Authority.  The air station is now being operated by Boeing Global Services.  Friday, Boeing made a $55,000 check presentation to Veterans Florida to help put local veterans back to work.  Samuel Leeca is a Navy veteran and was one of the first people hired by Boeing back in 1999.  “We first only had one aircraft. Then they started filtering in. It was rough at first, but then we started to get it rolling,” said Samuel Leeca.  “When I see the Blue Angels, I don’t even bother anymore because I was sharing with someone that all 6 of them, I’ve physically touched them. I’ve physically put the cell in and taken it out,” Leeca explained.  Boeing Cecil Field site leader Warren Helm says the site is one of the most successful closed bases in the country.  “We have a great mix about 70% veterans on this site. It’s a great mix between people who have been here since day one,” Helm said.  Leeca says after working here for over 20 years, he heads a team of mostly young people who disassemble and repair aircraft.  “I just look at it as, not so much someone has to do it, but someone always did it. We live in a world now where it is so dangerous, I said, ‘I can’t leave them, I have to keep going to help the newer guys keep the jets flying,’” said Leeca.

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