When I was about 14, I traveled to Charleston, South Carolina for the first time with my skating coaches and about 12 other ice skaters/my best friends. That trip changed the course of my life and after just 14 days, I knew I'd one day pack up and head south. And I did for 16 years.
On that first trip, I had the pleasure of meeting two special people. They were a mother and daughter duo, Lee and Savanna, who were living in Charleston and were family friends of my skating coach and her family. Upon our arrival to Charleston, our very first stop was to a home where we'd meet the sweet and southern duo. We all took turns holding baby Savanna and she was as precious as she could be. Her mother, Lee, was so welcoming and excited to see all of us, which was a lovely feeling after 2 days of being crammed in the car as we traveled from Illinois to SC. On that first trip to Charleston, we were unaware of any issues brewing in the lives of Lee and Savanna, although behind the scenes, a storm was brewing. That knowledge came later. What I did know though was that Lee appeared to be a wonderful mother who loved her beautiful daughter oh so much. I still stand by that statement over 20 years later.
Fast forward a bit and we're now all back in Rockford. The Charleston tans have faded from our sun kissed cheeks and we're all back on the ice. I can still remember the afternoon skating session when my coach was paged for having a phone call. She left the ice briefly to take the call only to return with the knowledge that Lee had left. She had vanished and had taken Savanna with her. After a nasty custody case, which I will not go into as I'm no expert and have only about 1% of the details, Lee's ex had been granted full custody, so she did what she felt was her only option to protect her baby. She vanished without a trace. And she stayed gone for a LONG time. Twenty years long.
It's pretty surreal to sit on your couch and watch an episode of Unsolved Mysteries and actually know the person on the screen. There's two sides to every story and with Lee being the "abductor", the side of the episode was that of her ex-husband. The light in which Lee was portrayed left out many key elements that would make anyone watching want her to take that sweet girl away as well. Now as a mother myself, I know that I would do anything in the world to protect my son, even if it meant fleeing with him. I also know that for me to abandon EVERYTHING in my life, all of my family and friends, all of my accomplishments and hopes and dreams, I would have to feel as though I had ZERO other options available. Knowing that is how Lee felt kept me praying over the last two decades that she would remain hidden and unfound. Sadly, that changed in November of 2013. I can still remember the pit in my stomach when my skating shared the news with us in 2013 that they had been found. It felt about the same as when she had said they had vanished.
If you'd like to see a bit more into one of the longest, family man hunts out there, you can watch a few clips of the TV special on the case and their story here. "Sam" or Savanna as we met her, is an incredibly mature and well adjusted 20' something woman. It's abundantly clear to me that her mom, Lee, raised her well and gave Sam the life she had always dreamed her baby would have. Even if meant leaving behind all she knew to keep her little girl safe from a desperate situation. Lee is now serving jail time in Charleston, but I know quite a few people who will be anxiously awaiting her release. Especially Sam. The one whom she loved enough to potentially face jail time for.