Officials in Stafford County, Virginia, are looking for a woman and her four children after she left the area with them over the summer and never returned, violating a court order and raising concern for the children’s well-being.
Melody Bannister, 34, of Stafford, is wanted for a felony charge of violation of a court order, four misdemeanor charges of abduction and a misdemeanor charge of filing a false police report, the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office said Thursday.
“At this point in the investigation, we want to make sure that the children come home safe, so we are just asking anyone who might have information to contact us,” said sheriff’s office spokeswoman Amanda Vicinanzo.
It started when Bannister told the sheriff’s office in early June that her children were being abused by their paternal grandfather, Vicinanzo said. An investigation revealed the allegation was unfounded, but in the midst of the investigation, Bannister told detectives she and her children were taking a weeklong vacation to West Virginia.
At the end of that week, Vicinanzo said Bannister then told detectives she was extending the vacation, but heading to South Carolina to visit a family friend. That was the last time detectives heard from her.
In July, the father of the children was awarded custody of them, but Bannister refused the order and filed for custody in Alabama, where she was also ordered to return the children to their father in Virginia.
Bannister and her children were last seen in Moulton, Alabama, on Aug. 20.
Over the last several months, Bannister and her children — 13-year-old Genevieve Bannister, 12-year-old Janelle Bannister, 11-year-old Vivienne Bannister and 7-year-old Peter Bannister — have been seen all over the country, including in Alabama, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Kentucky, Colorado, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas.
“In September, we got the U.S. Marshals involved, and since then, we have jointly been exhausting every resource trying to track down Melody and the children,” Vicinanzo said.
She added that some family pets had also been taken on vacation with the children, and that they were likely left in one of the various places Bannister was seen.
“Recent developments in the case have led us to believe that the children may be in danger,” Vicinanzo said. “We can’t really elaborate on how so as not to compromise the integrity of the investigation.”
Anyone with information about Bannister and her children can call 1-877-WANTED2.