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Photos of a Baby With Confederate Flags and Guns Couldn't Persuade a Court to Prevent a Kidnapping

Photos of a Baby With Confederate Flags and Guns Couldn't Persuade a Court to Prevent a Kidnapping

UPDATE: Since this story was published, the judge in charge of this custody case, Steven Feren, lost his seat in August's elections. Robert Baumann has still not seen his daughter, Lilly.

The clock reads 20 to 6 as Robert Baumann wheels his Ford Escape north. The 26-year-old is beat-tired, his wide shoulders slumped like a bent clothes hanger from another day installing air conditioners in South Florida megamansions. His nerves, though, are on red-alert. Today, he's going to pick up his daughter, Lilly.

It's taken a full year of courtroom battles with his ex, Megan Everett, to hash out this arrangement, and even though a judge finally ruled that the beaming, curly-headed 2-year-old would split time with her parents, Baumann is anxious. Concerns constantly roll around the back of his head: Megan's YouTube-ranting, gun-toting new boyfriend; her sudden obsession with the Confederacy and antigovernment activism; and worst of all, the photos Baumann found on Facebook of his daughter playing in piles of bullets.

Just thinking about those images sets him stewing again. How could a judge see his kid surrounded by a heavy-duty arsenal yet still let Lilly stay part-time with her mom and her boyfriend? He shoves the thought aside.

Instead, Baumann and his fiancé chat about what to make Lilly for dinner: mac 'n' cheese or dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets? Ten minutes later, they pull up to a manila, bunker-like house in Sunrise. It's ten to the hour. Imagining the angry email Megan would send his attorney if he knocked early, the father waits, staring out at the bumper stickers plastering the Ford F-150 truck in the garage: "Free the South," "Obama: Why Stupid People Shouldn't Vote," "Fight Crime Shoot Back."

At 6 sharp, Baumann knocks. The door inches open, and Carlos Lesters peers out. The 33-year-old with long, stringy surfer hair has been living with Megan for more than a year, but today he calmly announces: "She don't live here anymore. She moved." Then he slams the door.

A familiar anger jets through Baumann, but his Long Island-accented voice stays calm. "Is this a freaking joke?" he demands. Then he calls the cops. When they arrive and question Lesters, though, they quickly confirm his worst fears.

Megan has taken off. She left a neatly hand-scrawled note, the cops tell him, on the back of a childhood photo of herself: "I love you and Lilly loves you," she writes to Lesters. "You are a great dad. If I let them take her and vaccinate her and brainwash her, I wouldn't be doing what's right. I cannot let a judge tell me how my daughter should be raised. We will miss you. But I had to leave. Lilly will be raised right."

It was May 15, and jet-propelled by the antivaccination angle, Lilly's kidnapping shot through the news cycle, leaping from local newscasts to Gawker and the Daily Mail to Nancy Grace and Dr. Drew. A mom on the run from the law with her own daughter was tabloid drama to the nth degree.

But three months later, with Dr. Drew and his ilk long gone and Lilly and Megan still missing, key questions at the heart of the kidnapping remain unanswered.

Advocates say the case is a clear example of a broken family system in which overloaded judges show an institutional bias toward mothers in custody cases -- even when faced with clear evidence that a kid could be endangered. The saga of Megan's mad dash also cracks a window into the Sunshine State's growing right-wing fringe, a bizarro world where Lincoln and Obama are a tag team bent on destroying America, the end times are ever nigh, and the Confederacy lives on. The movement, Megan's family says, propelled her toward the decision to risk everything to defy an "unjust government."

"If people ask me if I've heard anything, I just say, 'No, but I'm sure tomorrow,' " Baumann says, the fake cheer souring in his mouth. "Tomorrow. Tomorrow. It's something to say. It avoids the deeper conversations."

For Baumann, of course, those larger issues take a back seat to a far more personal tragedy. Now, for three months and counting, the heartsick father has waited for news and wondered how the system could have failed him so badly.

 

Robert Baumann argued in court that he should have full custody of his daughter, Lilly
Robert Baumann argued in court that he should have full custody of his daughter, Lilly
Courtesy of Robert Baumann

"If people ask me if I've heard anything, I just say, 'No, but I'm sure tomorrow,' " Baumann says, the fake cheer souring in his mouth. "Tomorrow. Tomorrow. It's something to say. It avoids the deeper conversations."


Megan Everett was 18 years old, a short girl with straw-blond hair and a shy, gawky smile when she jumped into the passenger seat of Baumann's Oldsmobile and asked for a ride to the airport. Dawn had yet to break, and every house they drove past was still dark, including Megan's parents' place. Despite the fact that she was leaving behind everything she knew, Megan seemed calm and controlled.

It was July 2010, and the pair were just friends back then, coworkers at the same McDonald's in Davie where Megan caught orders at the register and Baumann, four years older, managed the night shift. They bonded over smoke breaks and after-shift dinners at Denny's, two quiet wallflowers with similar family situations. Megan would always confess she couldn't stand living at home with her mom anymore, so when she confided in Baumann that she was heading to Canada, he happily offered her a ride to the airport.

It wasn't until they reached Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International, though, that Baumann realized the teenager hadn't even let her family know she was leaving. "You know," he said before she left the car, "you should really tell your mom."

"She'll be OK," the young woman announced before walking away. Baumann had no way of knowing it then, but Megan's clandestine trip to Canada was an eerily similar test run for the disappearing act she'd pull later. Even then, though, Baumann realized she did what she wanted regardless of what anyone thought; she wasn't impulsive but calculating. Megan had been planning her run north for a year.

"Someone could be like, 'Go jump off a bridge,' and she would contemplate it for a couple of minutes and plan a way to jump off and live," Baumann says. Megan was the youngest of four kids born in Davie to Pam Everett, who worked as a teacher at Parkway Christian Church. Her dad, Tom Stern, split with Pam when Megan was still young. She spent her childhood at the church, filling pews at Sunday services, attending weekly Bible studies, singing in the choir.

As the youngest kid, Megan slipped through the family rules, cooking up elaborate excuses to avoid chores. "By the time Megan was old enough to clean, she started saying her science teacher had told her something in the cleaners would hurt her brain," Pam remembers. Megan refused to help and wouldn't even walk in the house when the cleaners were in use. "Everything about her was dramatic."

As she got older, Megan swapped one personality for the next. If one day she was declaring herself lesbian, the next she was a punk rocker and after that a skateboarder. "Whatever Megan thought was then cool," says Stephanie, her older sister by four years, "she would try to fit into that stereotype."

Megan had a special touch with foreign languages, easily grasping French and Spanish, and was naturally accepting of other cultures. When a close friend was booted from his house after coming out as gay, he ran to Megan's for support. About the only outright political statement she uttered was that she'd vote for Barack Obama.

After two years at Western High School in Davie, she opted instead for dual enrollment at Broward Community College, where she graduated with an associate's degree in psychology. While making a few extra bucks at McDonald's, she met Baumann.

He'd been born in Long Island but moved down to Coral Springs when his mom, Bonnie, left his dad and followed her own mother to the Sunshine State when he was about 5. That same year, Bonnie got sick. A doctor diagnosed the flu, but when she didn't bounce back, she scheduled a follow-up. That same night, she died. It was an undiagnosed disorder that had turned her red blood cells against her white.

The sudden death dug a deep hole in the boy. He struggled with anger for years. Luckily, though, he didn't realize his grandmother and father were warring in court for his custody. "You should always try to do things so your kids don't see it, and they sure as shit did," Baumann says. "I still don't even know the whole story till this day."

Growing up, his family drilled him with lessons about responsibility, and he sprouted into a serious kid. When he started working at McDonald's, he was on time and worked hard, so he quickly got promoted to manager at 18 years old. He was the cool boss on the night shift, keeping the atmosphere light, a Golden Arches wunderkind who always spoke in folksy phrases like "peaches and cream" and "sure as shit." After work, he'd take his coworkers out to dinner.

While she was off in Canada, Baumann put Megan out of his mind. She was living there with a guy she'd met online, but by April 2011, that was over. She moved back to Florida, heartbroken and lonely, returning to Baumann's 4-to-close shift.

He was licking his own wounds from a recent breakup, and they suddenly clicked. They both also lived the service-industry vampire hours; off at midnight, with hours to kill before bed, they crammed the time with funny movies or late-night dips in random apartment complex pools.

After only a few months dating, though, Baumann could tell the relationship didn't have legs. He had already decided to break it off when Megan told him she was pregnant.

Adoption, abortion, marriage -- they talked out the options before deciding Megan would keep the kid. Baumann wasn't scared of fatherhood. The last woman he dated had kids, so he knew what to expect. He never considered skirting the responsibility. It wasn't in his genes. "What scared me more was us not getting along," he says. "It might not be pretty."

Indeed, the pregnancy quickly snapped the relationship apart. Baumann, picturing the bills to come, began working constantly for extra money. Megan felt slighted. She broke up with him in a text message.

"She said, 'I don't want to be with you anymore,'" Baumann says. "I'm not going to cry over spilled milk. I figured we'd just raise this child together as adults."

 

Baumann's ex, Megan Everett, believed the girl should be with her and her boyfriend, Carlos Lesters.
Baumann's ex, Megan Everett, believed the girl should be with her and her boyfriend, Carlos Lesters.
Courtesy of Robert Baumann

Lilly Abigail arrived six pounds and change on March 8, 2012, by cesarean section. Holding her for the first time, he was incredibly happy and also relieved. "Until the baby's in my hands and healthy, it's a different story," he says.

When Megan went home with Pam, Baumann began handing over 25 percent of whatever he made for child support. The separated parents settled into a rhythm despite their now-frosty relationship.

Then one day in November, Baumann called Megan about picking up Lilly. She explained that she'd moved out of her mom's and was living with her boyfriend.

Baumann was furious at the thought of his kid moving in with a stranger, but he kept his feelings on ice. What else could he do? Get Lilly, then refuse to bring her back? The cops would bust down his door and charge him with kidnapping, he figured. Instead, Baumann got in his car and drove to the new boyfriend's house.

Pulling up to the address, he saw a slim, handsome guy standing in the grass. As Baumann got closer, he noticed he had at least ten years on Megan.

"I'm Carlos," he said as he handed Lilly to Baumann, then disappeared inside.


Stephanie Everett was too busy watching her baby play with Lilly to listen too closely to what Megan was saying. But finally her younger sister's weird words bulldozed through. "Abraham Lincoln started the destruction of America," Megan would ramble at the time. "And Obama is continuing it."

"She would just go on and on about how Abraham Lincoln was evil," Stephanie recalled later. "She was never interested in history before, certainly not this warped version."

It was like a ventriloquism act. When Megan opened her mouth, her family says, a completely different voice would pop out, laser-sighting angry rants at unlikely targets. Lincoln. Dora the Explorer. Medicaid.

"She would just go on and on about how Abraham Lincoln was evil," Stephanie recalled. "She was never interested in history before, certainly not this warped version."

Megan's overnight switch from Obama fan to conservative hardliner wasn't just another chameleon phase like her earlier personality flips. Her sudden antigovernment turn also put Megan on the frontline of an odd, ongoing skirmish in the larger culture war, where a radical fringe in Florida and beyond has picked a fight with the history books.

The man her family is sure is behind the sudden shift -- and ultimately to blame for her later disappearance -- came to Florida from a tiny Georgia town of 2,800 called Hahira. That's where Carlos Lesters likely picked up his die-hard love for Dixie, perhaps only seconded by his affection for the University of Georgia Bulldogs. Despite his Southern roots, online he says he spent a lot of time growing up in New Jersey.

"I used to be a wigger," he says by way of backstory on a clip on his popular YouTube account (DIXIECONFEDERATEDAWG), where his uploads regularly grab thousands of views. "I used to not like white people, I've actually never really liked white people. The majority of white people in America are like gay, little liberals that try to cater to everybody and are like, 'Sorry for slavery.' I ain't never owned a slave."

It's not clear exactly when Lesters made his way to South Florida, but public records pin him to several addresses, from Margate to Pompano Beach. He works as a maintenance man for a company that fixes the equipment at fast-food chains. When New Times sent a Facebook message asking him to speak for this article, he didn't respond and then deactivated his account.

"I don't care if anyone calls me a racist," Lesters says in a clip titled "MY 500 NEW BLACK FACEBOOK FRIENDS," lashing out against his online detractors. "In my own way, I am a racist."

Starting in 2011, Lesters found his niche as a YouTube provocateur. In regularly uploaded posts, he discusses everything from his concealed-carry permit and how to fix the recoil spring on AK-47s to current events. A few months before meeting Megan, he got particularly cranked up by the Trayvon Martin shooting.

"I don't care if anyone calls me a racist," he says in a clip titled "MY 500 NEW BLACK FACEBOOK FRIENDS," lashing out against his online detractors. "In my own way, I am a racist. I just don't really like white people either. Whatever. Being racist is not illegal."

Many of the videos focus on "SHTF" talk, survivalist lingo for when "shit hits the fan." "These people at the top, whoever they are, be them white, be them in another country, be them the New World Order or the United Nations, when the time comes and they bust our ass, it ain't gonna be if we're white or black, it's going to be us versus them," he explains. "Stock your ammo, stock your powder, stock your swords, stock whatever you think you can get your hands on, 'cause when they come banging on the door, you're going to want to fight back."

His main preoccupation, though, is with the Confederacy. "Once the South lost, the constitution was out the window," he says in one video.

Lesters' feelings aren't out of place in Florida, a hot zone of Southern radicalism. Palm Beach County is the home base for Stormfront, an online nexus of white supremacism run by former KKK leader Don Black. In May 2012, a dozen members of American Front, a skinhead militia, were arrested in St. Cloud on a compound where they'd stockpiled AK-47s and explosives for the coming race war. Just this summer, three Fruitland Park police officers were outed as secret members of the KKK.

Lesters wasn't affiliated with any groups that extreme, but he found a home in the Restore the South movement.

 

Baumann was shocked to find photos on Facebook of his daughter surrounded by ammunition and guns.
Baumann was shocked to find photos on Facebook of his daughter surrounded by ammunition and guns.
Courtesy of Robert Baumann

"The neo-Confederate movement in many ways is a coded appeal to white supremacy," says Mark Potok, an expert on radical movements at Southern Poverty Law Center. "I wouldn't say that every person involved in these groups is a Klansman or openly racist. But they operate on the complete falsehood that the Civil War was not about slavery."

The movement fell off in the Dubya years but has seen a recent resurgence. "Real hatred of Obama has definitely roiled these groups up some," Potok says.

The groups' antigovernment sentiment has found a root in their Dixie worship, experts say. "They perceive it as a fight against 'Big Government' and a fight for freedom," says Al Mackey, a Civil War history buff and blogger. "They look to the Confederacy to validate their antigovernment views."

Lesters particularly gravitated toward a group called the Virginia Flaggers, which started in 2010 to protest a Richmond museum's decision to take down the Confederate battle flag. It's since grown into a more general pro-Confederacy operation.

Sometime in fall 2012, Lesters met Megan online. Pam remembers her daughter going out only once for coffee before announcing she was moving in with him. Despite the pleas from Pam, Megan moved out in early November 2012.

She began reciting her new boyfriend's talking points right away. As an unwed mother with little means, Megan's whole pregnancy was footed by Medicaid; after Lilly came, she was getting federally funded food help from the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program. After meeting Lesters, Megan suddenly wanted nothing more to do with the aid programs.

"All of a sudden, it was, 'I'm getting my own insurance; these people are ripping off the government,'" Pam recalls. "She talked like she was 34 years old and had all these life experiences."

Then came a new hard-line rap on gun rights and regular online rants of her own. In a post under Megan's usual screen name, she wrote that her daughter could watch GI Joe cartoons but none of the "brainwashing Dora the Explorer or SpongeBob bullshit," for instance, between her regular diatribe about the need to "Free the South!" It just didn't seem like Megan to her family.

"I would kind of laugh it off, but I believe he was filling her head with it," says Stern, her dad. "But she changed completely. Like he didn't want her talking different languages, and up until they got together, that was something that she really enjoyed."

None of this was on Baumann's mind when he was invited inside Megan and Lesters' house for the first time about a month after they moved in together. Baumann had asked for a face-to-face to get to know the guy who'd be around Lilly.

Once inside, the new dad quickly noted the house wasn't babyproofed. The floors were all uncarpeted; Baumann pictured a newly walking Lilly taking headers into tile. There were no toys around. And strapped to Lesters' hip was a gun -- an ever-present Glock 26. The host was friendly enough, but Baumann was rattled. After chatting for 30 minutes, he left.

Then a few months later, Megan changed her phone number. Megan slowly hacked off her old connections. Stephanie got the message when her sister said Lesters "didn't allow Obama voters" in his house. Calls to her dad in North Carolina dropped from a couple of times a week to once a month. Pam regularly watched the baby overnight when Megan worked at a nearby Krispy Kreme, but increasingly Lilly stayed home with Lesters. By January 2013, Pam's daughter wasn't speaking to her anymore.

"It seemed like everything Carlos would say becomes law, and she would believe whatever he said," Stern says.

Baumann, who saw his daughter only for a 9-to-6 window every other Sunday, began looking online for a deeper peek into her life. That's when his concerns grew.

In pictures, Lilly played within reach of enough ammunition to take down a battalion. In one picture of Lesters and Lilly cuddling on the couch, the baby could easily have grabbed his holstered sidearm.

Lesters and Megan posted dozens of pictures from Confederate memorial events, small gatherings of middle-agers dressed in period dress. Lilly was always there, the only kid, decked in Confederate swag. "Teach 'em young!" Facebook friends would comment.

Then there were the photos of guns: They were everywhere. Shots of Megan and Lesters tearing up targets with assault rifles and shotguns. Pictures of guns simply laid out on the counter. Nothing seemed locked up. In pictures, Lilly played within reach of enough ammunition to take down a battalion. In one picture of Lesters and Lilly cuddling on the couch, the baby could easily have grabbed his holstered sidearm.

Baumann began to suspect that Lesters had even taken Lilly out of town to a Tampa Flagger event without Megan. "I don't know anybody in their right mind in this entire world that would be comfortable with a third-party man taking their less-than-a-year-old child out of the county," he says.

Worst of all, young Lilly was changing. She was afraid of loud noises and didn't like to be held much. Sometimes the girl was bruised when Baumann got her. "No" was the word she seemed to know best.

Once, Baumann's fiancé asked the toddler, "What does a cow say?" and Lilly replied, "Moo, moo."

"What does a dog say?" she asked, and the toddler answered "Woof, woof."

And then, just out of curiosity, she asked another: "What does a gun say?"

"Bang, bang," the baby cooed.


The photos sat in a stack, with the jaw-dropping glossies upfront: Lilly playing near metal lockers of rifle ammunition. Lilly's arm within reach of a Glock sitting in Lesters' waistband. Lilly sitting in a Confederate graveyard. Across the conference table, Baumann stared at Judge Steven Feren, looking for twitches of shock or surprise in the jowly, bespectacled face. Nothing dented the jurist's serious expression.

 

Lesters and Megan embraced a lifestyle of guns, government distrust, and the Confederacy.
Lesters and Megan embraced a lifestyle of guns, government distrust, and the Confederacy.
Courtesy of Robert Baumann

Those three hours this past March were the culmination of a yearlong court battle in which Baumann had cashed in all his hopes that the system would protect his daughter from what he saw as an increasingly unstable mom. But the court fumbled obvious warning signs, opting instead for the status quo.

It's a story advocates say happens far too often. Baumann's case also landed with a former politician turned judge marked by a spotty record and facing a tough reelection campaign.

"They don't want to give the father full custody unless there is something really serious," says Catherine Gibson, managing director of Family Law Advocates Initiating Reform (FLAIR), a Delaware nonprofit that works for shared custody laws. "There are still people who believe the mother's maternal instincts are still the best for raising children. It's an outdated mode of thought."

As an unmarried father, Baumann knew he had limited rights from the get-go. Florida recognizes a father's right to pay child support but doesn't automatically ensure that payment equals access to a child. Under state statute, custody automatically rests with the mother.

But by March 2013, after poring through weeks of Megan and Lesters' Facebook posts, he decided he had no choice: He was going to ask the court for full custody of Lilly.

Broward's family courts move at a glacial pace, and his first three hearings were strung out over the course of a year. In the meantime, Baumann worried every time he drove to Sunrise for his monthly visit with Lilly that something bad would have happened. Pam shared his worries.

Finally, a March 2014 date was set for trial. Baumann, who had the support of both Megan's mother and her sister in his petition, copied all the online evidence from Facebook and YouTube of Lilly's endangerment. His attorney was confident.

"He would have been the better parent," Donna Goldman, Baumann's lawyer, argues. "She had been working all night, leaving the baby with the crazy guy, and then [during court] she quit that job. But for a whole year, she left the child with the boyfriend at night."

The case was assigned to Judge Feren, a former Sunrise mayor and state representative who has been involved in several controversies. In 2010, he was moved from juvenile court and into family cases following an appeals court ruling that he'd made inappropriate comments about the probable guilt of a defendant. The next year, according to media reports, Feren was the subject of a federal investigation for allegedly using his sway in Sunrise to get back a $100,000 condo deposit. (Feren was never charged over those allegations. He didn't return calls from New Times to comment for this article.)

Overall, his record on the bench has been troubling enough that the Miami Herald recommended last month that voters go for primary challenger John Contini in an upcoming election, noting, "Feren does the minimum needed to get through the day -- neither high energy nor enterprising."

Baumann knew none of that backstory going into the trial, where Megan represented herself. When the judge questioned her about the guns she and Lesters kept around the house, she snapped back with her Second Amendment rights.

"We have a heritage; we have a tradition," Megan told Feren with steel in her voice, when the topic shifted to the Confederate paraphernalia. "If I wasn't with my boyfriend, I would continue with my tradition."

As the trial's three-hour time limit drained away, Megan remained forceful. "I don't know why she should go with the father when she's doing well with me."

When Feren laid down his decision, he seemed to purposely tiptoe around any problems hot-wired to the politics of Megan's new household.

"With regards to the mother's living arrangements, the Court is not overly thrilled with the psychology," Feren wrote. "It is... a troubling issue to the Court when the parties [sic] two-year-old child is living in a home with the mother and her boyfriend where the boyfriend carries a gun on his person throughout the day and where there are numerous other weapons and ammunition stored in the household."

Yet Feren still split custody equally on a week-by-week basis. He suggested Megan and Lesters buy gunlocks. Case closed.

Baumann was disappointed but relieved to at least have a court order guaranteeing him time with Lilly. And armed with Feren's concerns in writing about Megan's lifestyle, he knew he could come back to court to push for full custody if he found other troubling signs.

"I would have to find something more sufficient, which I knew would come when Lilly started talking," he says. "Then I would know what was going on over there."

Megan's family wasn't so confident. When Pam saw the way her daughter sat with lips tight in a slight smile in court, she flashed back to her long-ago escape to Canada.

She had a single thought: "She's going to run."


That's when they spotted Lilly, brown curls dancing around the back of her little head. They started running. Then the toddler turned around.

Pam's heart pounded as she paced the seedy motel on the outskirts of Homestead. The tip had come in earlier that day: Lilly was being held at this address, they'd said. Now, after racing the hour south to follow up, Pam and Stephanie were on foot quickly outside the crumbling building. That's when they spotted Lilly, brown curls dancing around the back of her little head. Then the toddler turned around.

It wasn't Lilly.

 

Photos of a Baby With Confederate Flags and Guns Couldn't Persuade a Court to Prevent a Kidnapping
Courtesy of Robert Baumann

The moment in June was just one of the dozens of fake leads, false hopes, and dead ends that have toyed with Baumann and the Everetts in the three months since Megan disappeared with her daughter. The family stacks its hope on each new development, only to ultimately watch everything fall to pieces again.

"The police told us they were surprised because this was so big in the media that there haven't been more leads coming in," Pam explains one day in a conference room at Parkway Church, where the family was prepping for a prayer service to mark two months since Megan left.

The authorities' search began in earnest on May 18 -- three days after Baumann tried to pick Lilly up in Sunrise only to discover his ex had disappeared. A federal arrest warrant was issued for Megan. Lesters had told police investigators that Megan and Lilly "were not coming back," according to the Sunrise Police Department's account, and that Megan "had been planning on disappearing for some time due to the fact that she did not agree with the judge's decision on custody sharing and more importantly, was disappointed that Mr. Baumann did not share her and Mr. Lester's [sic] views." Lesters added that Megan knew full well she would have to "live her life as a fugitive."

Lesters wasn't held. And a few weeks after the kidnapping, he moved out of the Sunrise house. Baumann still has no idea where he's gone.

After the initial media crush, interest dropped and tips began slowing. To keep up attention, Pam and Stephanie started a "Bring Lilly Home" Facebook page that collects tips and blasts updates.

In the weeks since, Baumann and Pam have had more time to think about the disappearance. They now doubt that -- despite Megan's note -- the kidnapping had anything to do with vaccinations. Lilly had been vaccinated all her life, they say. Her true motivation, they say, was likely keeping Lilly out of daycare. Baumann was planning to enroll her soon after Feren's ruling.

"In Megan's eyes, if she went into daycare, she would encounter these other people, ethnicities, and religions that Megan and Carlos thought were bad or less than," Stephanie explains. "They wanted to keep Lilly away from the real world."

The family has a hard time believing Megan acted alone -- or that she's surviving without help wherever she's hiding. When police searched Lesters' house, they found that Lilly's bed and toys were missing. It seems unlikely to them that a young woman with almost no money and a baby could run by herself with all those belongings.

Yet Sunrise PD spokeswoman Cindy McCue says that "we believe the child is with her biological mother" and that "there are no charges pending against" Lesters.

Baumann has work to fill his mind and time. With summer, demand for air conditioners is high. The gigs are tough, a lot of heavy hauling and intricate work. If Lilly reaches for his thoughts at the wrong time, he could get zapped with 240 volts of electricity.

Nights are hard, though, when he walks past her bedroom with its popsicle-pink walls and Hello Kitty stickers. Then it's impossible to duck the what-ifs coming in like hurled bricks.

What if he'd gotten more people as worried about those photos as he was? What if the court had taken a bold step of removing a child from a mother's primary care instead of opting for the usual?

"After this," he says sadly, "I wouldn't put too much faith in the court system."




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