Monday, October 6, 2008


News-Sentinel, The (Fort Wayne, IN) - January 1, 1993
On Tuesday, a 60-year-old Teamster named Lucius flew all the way from New York to Northeast Indiana because he was worried that his daughter, a student at a Kosciusko County boarding school, might be in danger.

She's since left the school. Lucius has received word that she's been spotted in Tennessee, where her mother - Lucius' ex-wife - lives.

It was Lucius' ex-wife, Mary, who sent their 15-year-old daughter, Sarah, to Hephzibah House in February.

Lucius didn't hear about it until a couple of weeks afterward. He'd lost touch with his three children after Mary remarried and moved to Tennessee in 1987.

Lucius and Mary had already been through four years of court-refereed visitation hassles by then. She asked him to leave the kids alone in Tennessee, so she and her second husband could make a "nice Christian home" for them.

Lucius agreed, figuring he would catch up with the kids when they were a little older.

Five years later - last February - Lucius got a letter from his oldest daughter, Heather.

She told him that that "nice Christian man" who'd married their mother was in prison for sexually molesting her and her sister. (The News-Sentinel is not using the family's last names because of its policy of not identifying victims of sex crimes.)

Heather, 18, had since become pregnant by her boyfriend and was planning to get married.

And Sarah - who'd recently been kicked out of her Christian school because she mistakenly feared she was pregnant - had been sent to Hephzibah House , a strict Christian boarding school recommended by the family's pastor.

Lucius wanted to call Sarah at Hephzibah House , but he was told he couldn't without a staff member and Sarah's mother listening in.

He couldn't visit her alone, either. When he called requesting information on Hephzibah House , he was told he would have to get the information from his ex-wife.

Eventually, he got a copy of the house rules, along with a 1985 Warsaw newspaper article that criticized Hephzibah House 's behavior-modification techniques.

He was furious when he learned that staff members paddled the girls for seemingly innocuous infractions. He was even more furious when Mary said she didn't disapprove of the practice.

''Spare the rod, spoil the child," she told him when he called her.

Sarah wasn't allowed to leave Hephzibah House to attend Heather's wedding in August. According to the house rules, she wouldn't be able to go home for Christmas, either.

Hephzibah House founder Ron Williams, who also runs Believers Baptist Church, preaches that Christmas is a pagan holiday, and he forbids the girls to observe it. Christmas cards and gifts are returned before the girls ever see them.

By mid-December - Sarah's 10th month at Hephzibah House - Lucius had hired an attorney to help him get custody of Sarah and her younger brother, still living with Mary in Tennessee.

On Tuesday, Lucius flew to Indiana for a court-ordered visitation with the daughter he hadn't seen in more than five years.

Their reunion was frustrating. Sarah clung to her father during the six hours they spent together. But she was ambivalent about going to live with him and his second wife in New York.

Lucius had drunk nearly 30 cups of coffee by the time they took Sarah back to Hephzibah House on Tuesday night. His emphysema had been bothering him all day, but the emotional stress was even worse.

The plan was to come back Thursday for a hearing in Kosciusko Superior Court, at which time he hoped to be awarded temporary custody of Sarah. He hopes to win permanent custody at a second hearing Jan. 29 in New York.

Lucius was changing planes in Pittsburgh on Wednesday when he heard that Sarah was back in Tennessee.

His attorney, a child-custody specialist named Anthony "Toots" LaBella, assured him that he would still get Sarah.

Mary and Sarah would have to show up in Kosciusko Superior Court next week, or they would be found in contempt of court. LaBella was compiling what he believed was a strong case against Mary for sending her daughter to a boarding school that LaBella believes is not only educationally and socially deficient but downright cruel.

Mary, contacted twice yesterday, hung up the phone both times.

Lucius hasn't tried to contact her. He wouldn't be surprised if Mary doesn't show up in court next week. He expects she will try to hide Sarah somewhere.

''Boy, this is really getting to be a big ballgame," he said. "I just want to get her home."