A Child Abduction and a Grandmother's Aching Heart

My grandson, Kieran Dall, now 10-years old, was abducted by his mother, Johanna Bayley, on Sept. 24, 2010, and taken to Johannesburg, South Africa, where she later married a much older, very wealthy businessman.

Just a few weeks earlier, I’d driven Kieran to New Haven to deliver him to his father, Chris Dall, and his step-mom, Chelse (my step-daughter.) He had spent almost every weekday at our farm that summer, riding horses and hanging with the “barn kids,” asking questions and soaking up answers, then asking more. He was in love with our horses and our many other animals, and he and I became almost inseparable – I had found the grandchild of my dreams, someone who loved animals as much as I did.

At the time I was so oblivious, so trusting. I knew his mother was considering moving to South Africa to live with her then boyfriend, now husband - a man named Ramey Barnes. I understood Johanna and Chris were discussing whether or not she would be allowed to take him out of the country, and if she did, the joint custody arrangement would have stipulated he spend several months at a time in the States with his father. I was brutally unhappy that I would lose him for so much of the year, but resigned to make the most of when he was home. Meanwhile, the Internet, email and Youtube would keep us close.

So, on that very last day we had together, I’d given Kieran a riding lesson, answered his dozens of questions and autographed several copies of my children’s books about the farm to take with him. I don’t remember what I’d written in them, maybe something about how he’d be able to read about the animals he adored until he returned for his visit at Christmas. Then, I loaded him into the farm truck and we drove to the city.

“I don’t want to go,” Kieran said. “Can I stay with you?”

“I wish,” I replied.

“Please don’t make me go,” he begged. “I want to live with you, on the farm.”

He asked if I could hide him in the back seat of the truck and drive away, but I explained about jail time for grandmas who kidnapped their grandkids.

“It’s not kidnapping if I want to go!” he pleaded. “I want to be with you!”

I’ve asked myself a thousand times . . . if I knew then what I know now, would I still have brought him to New Haven and delivered him to his father, who would then send him on a plane to his mother in Florida, supposedly to begin the school year? The longer Kieran is away from me, the harder it becomes to answer with a “yes,” and the more I think about his words that day, the more I believe he knew he was going to be taken away from his U.S. family for good.

You might find it hard to believe that Kieran and I had a rough start. In fact, I didn’t even know he existed for a long time. He’s my step-daughter Chelse’s step-son, and when she first became involved with Kieran’s father, Chris, she was estranged from my husband, as often happens when there is divorce and remarriage and harsh words. While there are a lot of “steps” in between us, when Kieran and I finally met early in the summer of 2010, after Chelse and my husband, David, reconciled over the birth of her son, Finley, the bond between us was immediate. Who would have thought the stepson of a woman who had disliked me for years would become one of the true loves of my life? What a quirky twist of fate, that through this child whom we both love with all our hearts, Chelse and I would actually become friends, and oddly bonded in a common sense of grief and loss.

Our son-in-law Chris flew down to Florida after the holidays where a court granted him permanent custody of his son, whom he has not seen in well over a year. He also hasn’t spoken to him in months as Johanna and Ramey deny his requests for phone time. Johanna is now an international felon, and should she ever try to leave South Africa, she will be arrested and extradited to the U.S. where she will be prosecuted. The F.B.I. now has the ability to take Kieran from his mother and bring him back to us, should they opt to do so (please!) Because of what his mother has done, Kieran will always end up the greatest loser – as things are now, he is cut off from his father, an excellent daddy who loves his son with all his heart and soul (not to mention the rest of his family in the U.S. who adores him.) If he is returned to his father, Kieran will never be with his mother again. That a woman would choose life with an aging sugar daddy over the long-term health and welfare of her only child defies all logic to me and leaves me no choice but to believe she is one of the most selfish women alive. But hey, I am bitter – very, very bitter.

Chris created a Facebook page for Kieran in case one day he decides to try and find himself online. At the age of 10, I find it impossible to believe he hasn’t. All of us post messages to him, hoping maybe he will read them. I post pictures of the animals on the farm, and notes about how they’re doing, but in this age when anyone can communicate with everyone at any moment of the day, I have no idea if he’s seen it; with all the technology in the world at my fingertips I can’t find a way to reach my grandson. But I will keep posting, hoping that maybe he occasionally checks in, on the sly, to see pictures of the new foals or the newborn lambs.

In our living room we have kept a candle burning in front of the fireplace for over a year, and attached to it is a prayer that Kieran will be returned soon. In a corner stands the Christmas tree, for almost 15 months now, that we put up after Kieran was abducted, and will keep up until he comes home and we finally celebrate the holiday as a reunited family.

On the day Kieran left, when we held each other on the sidewalk in New Haven, sobbing, the only thing that kept me from completely falling apart was the thought of Kieran coming back to us at the holidays. That thought is what still sustains me, and I will never give up hope that one day Kieran will be here to blow out his candle and help us pack up the ornaments after our Christmas celebration.

Meanwhile, one of my happiest dreams, the one that always wakes me up with a smile, is the one in which I say, “You know what, Kieran? Climb into the backseat of the truck and cover yourself with a horse blanket. We’re outta here . . .”

Kathleen Schurman owns Locket’s Meadow Farm in Bethany where she lives a life filled with “glamour” which is her cute little euphemism for “manure/mud/slime, etc.” When she is not writing for the Bethwood Patch she is shoveling glamour, teaching therapeutic riding and occasionally writing a book. But mostly, she’s shoveling glamour . . .



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