Child abduction is a nightmare not many parents have had to deal with, but Anchorage author Lizbeth Meredith knows first hand how terrifying it is. In 1994, her former husband kidnapped their two young daughters and took them to Greece. It took two years to get them back. Meredith has written a memoir of that time called Pieces of Me. She says she tried to make her marriage work for herself and her girls but it just got worse.
MEREDITH: It had been a miserable, miserable union. But I thought, “I can do this. I can stay in this marriage”. It escalated in 1990 to the point of violence, that he strangled me. And the girls were there. One daughter was upstairs and the other one was watching. And they were very little. And I think something snapped in that moment, I had a friend who said, “You alone will know when it’s time to leave. Only you will know this.” And that was that moment where I thought, they cannot be raised like this. I don’t deserve this. They certainly don’t deserve this, and I don’t want them growing up thinking this is normal.
TOWNSEND: When you left, what kind of court battle did you have about custody and visiting?
MEREDITH: It was ugly. It was an extension of the control. I had made this bold move in ascent to get away from this kind of life and this abusive relationship. And so I was fortunate to have the assistance of Alaska Legal Services, and my husband hired an attorney and it was just very contentious. In the end, I got joint legal custody and sole physical custody. The girls were pretty tiny. Sometimes my former husband would visit during the days that he’d asked for and that was, quite honestly I needed a break, sometimes he would take the girls for visitation very regularly. I thought, well this could get better over time and then it would just change. And so he’d stop visiting or he’d start driving around the house, break into the house, look in the windows. One or two times, I got protective orders and it was just tense.
TOWNSEND: What kind of support did you have around you? How isolated did you feel in this?
MEREDITH: I by then, had been on food stamps, had finished my degree. I had a couple years of college before I got married and then got a job at a wake and abused women aid and crisis. And that was just a fabulous time for me because by then I’d made some friends back, I wasn’t isolated anymore, I had a roommate who was grandmotherly age for the girls. And she, to this day, still loves them. But I didn’t realize then was the more strong I felt, the more independent, the more I accomplished, the more at risk I would be. Even though I was no longer with my former husband, that for him was absolutely unacceptable. So when I graduated college, when I got the job, all of those things seemed to really enrage him.
TOWNSEND: He was still threatened somehow…
MEREDITH: Yes. He was still threatened and he one time did tell me, “I do these things because I think if I make you miserable enough, you’ll come back.”
TOWNSEND: 1994 arrives. You’ve had this sort of back and forth tense relationship and then one day he leaves with them. How did you first find out that he had actually left?
MEREDITH: I went to pick the children up. We just finished renegotiating that he wouldn’t come to my home to drop off the girls. That we would have to do it at the daycare. I showed up to pick the girls up on a snowy day after work and they weren’t there. And staff had not heard from him, which was kind of unusual. I thought, “Well. OK. We’ll just go figure this out.” And so I went back home, tried to make some phone calls and then it just became abundantly clear, “This is not normal.” So I went ahead and eventually called police. And I think the officer first said, “Ma’mm. He’s the dad. Why do you gotta be so hard on him? Can you just let him have extra time? Why does this have to be such a high-tone thing?” Because he didn’t know. And so when I explained it to him more clearly, he was like, “OK. I understand. So I’m going to do some digging around.” And then within a couple hours he heard conformation that two days before, the day that my kids went to be with their dad for visitation, that he had taken them and left the country.
TOWNSEND: I can’t imagine what you were feeling when you realized that he not only abducted your daughters, but had left the entire United States. What was that moment like?
MEREDITH: It was terrifying and yet almost immediately after, I realized the worst thing has happened, and if I can resolve this, if I can get the girls back, we are done. I can bring them home and this will be the end of all of these years of chaos.