Broward News

Lilly Baumann Kidnapping: Father Reunites with 3-Year-Old

Robert Baumann was slugging through the workday on a recent Monday, installing an air-conditioning unit in the slamming August heat, when his cell phone shook around 1 p.m. with an incoming call. He didn’t recognize the number.

“I used to never answer random numbers,” the 27-year-old told New Times last week. “But ever since she went missing, I always pick up the phone. I’ve waited by that phone for the last year and a half hoping for that phone call.”

On the other end of the line this time was a detective from the Sunrise Police Department. The cop told Baumann that his ex-girlfriend, Megan Everett — who had run away from a boyfriend’s home in Sunrise in May 2014 with the couple’s 2-year-old daughter, Lilly — had been arrested in North Florida. A little girl had been found as well. Authorities were still trying to confirm it was Baumann’s lost daughter. The Sunrise cop said he’d call back with more news.

Baumann settled in for what was probably the longest 20 minutes of his life. “I was excited and nervous,” he says. “I didn’t want them to be like, ‘Sorry, it’s not her.’”

Only the night before, CNN had shown an episode of The Hunt With John Walsh featuring the kidnapping. In May 2014, Everett had kidnapped the little girl after a Broward judge awarded the parents joint custody. As New Times reported that summer, the court had ignored warning signs that Everett had swallowed a dangerous ideology — a right-wing cocktail including gun obsession, Obama-hate, white supremacy, and love for the Confederacy. Much of this seemed to have been spoon-fed to Everett by her new boyfriend, a right-wing YouTube personality named Carlos Lesters. After Everett went underground with Lilly, breaking a court order, suspicion fell on Lesters, who claimed he had no idea where Everett and the baby were. Since then, Baumann had been waiting.

When the Sunrise detective called Baumann back, he had good news: It was Lilly. The officer told Baumann he could pick her up at the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office. Baumann rushed to his car for the 320-mile reunion trip.

In Putnam County, Baumann had to wait another hour while police confirmed his identity and updated him on the situation. A local landlord had seen the John Walsh episode the night before, noted the similarities between the descriptions of Megan and Lilly and a pair of new tenants — and subsequently contacted authorities.

Lilly, Baumann learned, had been affected by her life on the run. She thought her name was Mary. She referred to Lesters as her father. And when Baumann was finally taken to see his daughter, the little girl didn’t remember or recognize him. On the drive back home, Lilly cried that she wanted to go home and see her mother.

“It was really an emotional and hard time,” Baumann admits. “I had waited all this time to get her back and she doesn’t know who I am. They did a pretty good job of trying to brainwash a 3-year-old.”

But over the past few weeks, Lilly has improved dramatically, Baumann says. She no longer answers to Mary and, of her mother, says only that she wouldn’t allow TV shows like Dora the Explorer and Doc McStuffins — which feature nonwhite main characters.

“I don’t say anything bad about her mom because I don’t want to hurt the child,” Baumann says. “Carlos, I don’t give a crap about. I told her that Carlos is a bad man and he lied and he’s a fake papa. She understands now that he’s not her father.

“If you didn’t know what she went through, you would think she’s a normal 3-and-a-half-year-old.”

Everett and Lesters are currently in the custody of the Broward Sheriff’s Office. Unfortunately, late last week, Baumann got word that the Broward State Attorney had decided to drop the kidnapping charge against Everett. 

"ThekKidnapping charge was declined because case law in Florida says basically that you cannot be charged with kidnapping your own child," the State Attorney office's Kim Fontana explained in an email to New Times. However, Everett is still facing criminal action. "The appropriate charges of Interference with Custody and Removing Minor from State were filed." 

Fontana would not comment on whether the kidnapping charge would be dropped against Lesters as well. Both still remain in custody. 

Baumann was understandably upset about the dropped charge. "You can't tell me any which was to Monday it shouldn't be kidnapping," he said. "If I would have done this, I would have been locked up." 
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Kyle Swenson
Contact: Kyle Swenson