Nathan Mitchell: “Sometimes you need a divorce attorney. Sometimes you need a hitman.”

Following the very public execution of her mother at a Morgantown, W.Va., Wal-Mart parking lot, three-year-old Faith Mitchell is nowhere to be found. Her father and grandmother fled their Harrison County home months ago, taking the toddler with them. They did this not long after Shannon Stafford’s foster family fought and gained visitation rights with Faith, who is Shannon’s daughter.

I confirmed this recently, when I spoke with neighbors of the Mitchell family. In the meantime, Shannon’s friends and family have been waiting for justice for more than a year, sick with worry over what would become of the toddler who even at such a young age bears an uncanny resemblance to her mother.

I blame the authorities for letting this happen. How is it that police, prosecutors and even Child Protective Services have done nothing, all this time? They had enough evidence the day of Shannon’s murder to remove Faith from her father’s custody. To place her with good people, people like Shannon’s family.

All Shannon wanted was to be with her daughter. This is a typical Facebook post about her concerns, and show the depth of Shannon’s love for Faith.

They had more reason to do so when they found further evidence that implicated Nathan Mitchell, when he told the world he hoped Shannon, his then soon-to-be ex-wife, would die. Which, of course, she did—at the hands of Mitchell’s father, Larry, who murdered Shannon on April 21, 2012. In December, the elder Mitchell pled guilty to first-degree murder in Monongalia County Circuit Court.

That Mitchell gunned down Stafford, 29, as she sat waiting in a truck to see her daughter for what was going to be the estranged mother’s first unsupervised visit following a contentious divorce and custody battle. At the time, Stafford was doing nothing—had done nothing—that could even be remotely construed as dangerous to her daughter or anyone else in the Mitchell family.

And yet, it’s amazing how many people I’ve run into whose eyebrows go up when they comment about the murder. People who automatically assume Shannon was a bad mother, simply by virtue of the fact that she was not allowed to see Faith without supervision. Or who have heard rumors that Shannon abused her daughter, and therefore believe the supervised visits were warranted.

Except they weren’t. They were just that: unconfirmed rumors and, more important, a manipulative tactic used by the Mitchell family in a long line of abuse directed at Stafford.

I conducted weeks of interviews and tracked down numerous documents last year, and I’m convinced Stafford wasn’t just a sitting duck the day she was killed: She was an easy target the entire time Nathan forced her into battle, using their daughter as a pawn, and then manipulating the court to give him custody by falsely accusing a woman who never did anything wrong in the first place.

In fact, Judy A. Sawyer, the guardian ad litem appointed for Faith, says just that in her Nov. 23, 2011, report to Family Court Judge Cornelia Reep. “Other than documentation from his PI (private investigator), he has provided nothing . . . that has been independently corroborated. What hurts his position even more is that on two occasions he alleges Faith was returned (from a supervised visit with her mother) in a condition that directly contradicted the findings of the nurse practitioner and this guardian ad litem,” Sawyer said in the brief she filed with the court, entitled, “Supplemental Report and Recommendation of Guardian Ad Litem.”

What Sawyer’s report doesn’t say is that Nathan should be the parent the state denies custody to, and forces to have supervised visits with Faith—if he gets custody at all.

That’s because in addition to the evidence I refer to above, that of Nathan’s Facebook posts, people who have known him for years say he’s dangerous. One person, who would only speak under condition of guaranteed anonymity, says Mitchell is “a very bad person (who is at first) very funny, charming, and (easygoing). Then you get to know the real Nathan. He is very unstable, controlling, and abusive.”

Four former friends who know him well say Nathan is a drug user who has taken intravenous anabolic steroids to build muscle and enhance performance for years. These drugs are believed to cause increased aggression and bipolar mood swings in the users. A 2008 study found a connection between their use and violent acts—such as the ones Nathan is well known for.

These four people, all who request anonymity out of extreme fear of what Nathan might do in retaliation, say the same thing as the one person who would go on record said about Mitchell.

“He was very much into lifting weights and getting bigger and stronger. He also obsessed (and) followed a very tight schedule of meals,” this person said. “He had to eat a full meal every two hours, because of using steroids and trying to bulk up.”

Tyra Nestor, one of Shannon’s foster sisters and the friend whose house Shannon fled to when Nathan forced her to leave shortly after becoming pregnant with Faith, Nestor said the needles were addressed to Nathan at Nestor’s home address.

People familiar with him also say Mitchell, who receives disability income for several medical conditions, including near-blindness, drives a vehicle and works earning money under the table at various odd jobs. His Facebook page once said he was employed as a foreman at Mitchell Construction. But now that he’s on the run, it’s anybody’s guess what he’s doing for work.

“He’s legally blind but yet he doesn’t appear to be blind at all. He goes wherever he wants to go and he drives, but collects disability,” Gwenda Adkins said. “Nathan drives after dark, too.”

Adkins spent almost every Saturday with Shannon and Faith for a year, since she was the person elected to provide supervision during the visits between mother and daughter. She is also Shannon’s foster sister-in-law.

“How could he take Faith to the doctor, when she needed to go, if he’s blind?” Adkins asked. “How does he even have a driver’s license?”

Adkins adds weight to the claims about the steroids, saying that before Shannon’s death, she told Adkins that Nathan used them.

It’s possible such steroid use led to the violent behavior many people say is part and parcel of Nathan’s personality. That violence is so bad even grown men are afraid of him—just as Shannon was. That’s why she never spoke about her ex-husband’s abuse. Not at first. But her friends and family suspected she was—because Nathan was so controlling.

Shannon Stafford

Many people related how Nathan kept Shannon from seeing or talking to her friends. And Shannon’s foster family said Nathan wouldn’t even let Shannon bring Faith for visits, while the couple was still married. The biggest red flag, though, was Shannon’s unwillingness to fight harder for Faith, when she first left Nathan.

“Not that she was malicious in any way, but for Shannon not to be fighting with fists for her daughter, it was because she was scared,” Tabitha Jeffries said.

Jeffries grew up next door to Shannon, and the two girls were best friends for many years. “She was scared to death of Nathan. His mom was at the top of the list, though . . . I know that Shannon made Nick (Helms) promise that if anything happened, that he would fight for Faith. In my heart of hearts, I think Shannon knew this was coming. I don’t think she expected it that day, but I think she knew,” Jeffries said.

That just about sums up Stafford’s only sin in this entire tragedy: she failed to speak up about the abuse she was suffering herself, at the hands of the entire Mitchell family. So no one knew what she was going through, until it was too late.

The most damning evidence to date about what many people are calling a Mitchell family conspiracy to kill Stafford comes from Nathan’s own Facebook page. Using an application called Status Shuffle, which allows a user to choose from among thousands of status updates and then post it as his own, Nathan posted the following comments before Stafford was killed.

“What do you do if you see your ex wife crawling on the road with a broken arm and leg in your rear view mirror? Put it in reverse and aim better.” 

“Sometimes you need a divorce attorney. Sometimes you need a hitman.”

Many people would dismiss such updates as dumb jokes made by an angry husband who’s going through a divorce—until you stop and realize Shannon died just such a violent death as depicted by those disturbing updates. Then you realize Nathan’s Facebook updates must be taken very seriously. As evidence. Did the police, the prosecutor or the people charged with protecting children do that? Apparently not—or Nathan and Sandra would never have been allowed to keep Faith, after this evidence came to light.

Last year, Shannon Stafford was a woman who never even wanted a custody battle, and who was prepared to willingly share custody with Faith’s father—even in spite of his violent habits. Today, her family continues Shannon’s fight for Faith, although it doesn’t look like much is happening. (A call to their attorney, Cranston and Edwards, was not returned.)

I can only wonder what Shannon would think now, if she knew Nathan accomplished what he set out to do—he has total control over Faith, the little girl who will soon look exactly like the woman he once talked of running over with a truck.

How safe will Faith be then?

* * * *

My next book, Guilt by Matrimony, about the murder of Aspen socialite, Nancy Pfister, comes out November 17. My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about surviving domestic violence and how journalism helped free me; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller, with coauthor Geoff Fuller) and Pretty Little Killers (also with Fuller), released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18 issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at BenBella Books, Nellie Bly Books, Amazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

Editor’s Note: Daleen Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and a recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and her memoir, Sister of Silence, placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”

15 Comment

  1. Gwendolyn J Weeke says: Reply

    I saw Shannon’s story on tv today and it truly disturbed meI did a little research & plan to do more. If Nathan is drawing checks from the government he can be found. Is anyone really searching for this monster & the devil that spawned him? Well, that was harsh but I guess that is how I see them.

  2. Wendy Lewandowski says: Reply

    I can’t believe that the authorities let them have that little girl. I watched the story on the i.d. channel a little while ago and I was just sickened by it and brought to tears. It’s more than obvious that the mother and son used the father to commit this horrific crime because he was nothing but a patsy, he meant nothing to them. They need to rescue this child, non stop action on this case. Get that child AWAY FROM THESE LUNATICS. And the law also needs to own up to their mistakes!!!!!!!! I’ve been through hell and back, I could have ended up just like Shannon.

  3. Lisa Clark says: Reply

    Hi, Daleen. Being very interested in forensics (and having taken a few courses in Criminology and Forensic Science while I was in college) — and although I never have worked in the field, I feel very compassionate toward Shannon’s family and passionate about the cause against domestic abuse, as I was twice in my life on the receiving end of mental, emotional and physical abuse, myself. How could the officials have deliberately — and with no conscience whatsoever — overlook the evidence that Nathan AND Sandra both had to have been involved with this murder? As I watched a show on the Investigation I.D. Channel earlier today, it haunts me that although Larry is in prison, that Shannon nor her family will ever fully receive the justice that they are entitled to. Sandra ruled that house with an iron fist and it is obvious that both of the men in the home cowered to her, regardless of whether the things she demanded were right or wrong. Neither would have taken part in the murder without Sandra’s domineering disposition.

  4. Nicole says: Reply

    This whole thing makes me sick to my stomach and completely outraged. Those people were all in on that murder, and the officials did nothing to bring them to justice. That child shouldn’t be with those horrible people. What is this world coming to? May God bless Shannon’s family, and may some court system someday care enough to find that child and remove her from their custody forever. Those people need to be brought to justice, and the state of West Virginia ought to be ashamed of their complete and utter failure in this case. I’m afraid these people will go on to hurt more people in the future, and the state of West Virginia will be to blame.

  5. Oh my God!! I’ve watched this before n tonite again. Saying prayers to Shannon n God to please give custody to Shannon’s foster parents. Lil Faith. My heart is aching over this. My in laws we’re a bit this way ( mother in law) but never tried to take my children . My husband who had some of the same ,that of a mother who was wicked n evil , n gave up , sold her own children . She’s past 4 yrs. As grew softer , but never ask her children for forgiveness , yet I feelit was in her heart. Let’s hope Faith turns out as loving, as her mother n no evil from father. Please get her away from him !!!!6

  6. Pez says: Reply

    This case is an incredible example of bureaucratic failure. It’s obvious that common sense was in low supply when it came to the welfare of Ms. Stafford or her daughter, Faith. Even the guardian ad litem, who sided with Stafford in her custody fight, was tepid in her support. What a travesty…

  7. Che says: Reply

    Just another example of a legal fallacy in our INjustice system. (NATHAN) and his (REDACTED) mother have no business with that child! And since she looks so much like her own mother, how long before they make her pay for that? I can imagine Faith at a very young age (if she survives that long) taking her mother’s place as her grandmother’s slave. Her evil, spineless father will no doubt follow his mother’s lead as before. Also, isn’t it quite telling for the (REDACTED) to speak of ‘attorney vs. hit man’ the way he did. All three adults should be serving life sentences, not just the idiot, pasty grandfather!

  8. Kytriya says: Reply

    I hope and pray that the FBI kills the mother in law and the father and gets Faith into the hands she belongs. Nathan is no more blind than I am. I is NOT disabled. HE is a blatant liar who needs to have his life kicked into prison. I would also want all the people who denied Faith justice to be imprisoned for refusing to rule the truth. This would include the judge and the P.I. who blatantly lied in court! I have no respect for this country as it suppports gun in the hands of killers. If we were in England, that imbecile would not have been able to buy a gun. Shannon might be alive today. I hate USA and I hate our justice system because it denies justice all too often! I want justice and I want it now! Unfortunately there is NO legal way to get justice as they refuse to give the man power needed to find those two fools who should have been arrested in the first place! She, the mother in law is a manipulating female who put her husband up to this! She and Nathan are obviously behind the murder. I’d also fire the cops and the judge for not seeing the bloody obvious! And I have FAS and can see the truth! Maybe you have to go to school with too lying conniving imbeciles in order to recognize one when you see one. Please get justice for Faith and stop the believing of lies!

  9. Psychic One says: Reply

    I just watched the show for the second time and I’m still as sickened at the outcome of this case as the first time I watched !! If Nathan wasn’t involved in the murder why did he tell Shannon exactly where to park in the parking lot the day his father walked up on her and shot her 13 times? I’m sure there was more evidence against him and his evil mother! Why would the authorities over look their involvement? Why on earth would they give custody of the child to them over Shannon’s family? I do hope they are fighting tooth and nail for Faith!!

  10. Janie says: Reply

    I was also sickened by this and outraged that the WV justice system would think Nathan and his wicked (REDACTED) of a mother weren’t involved. I’m appalled at the WV family courts for only granting the poor mother of this precious child supervised visitations on the first place. If this country can find a nonviolent bond jumper just about anywhere there should be no problem tracking down him or his sorry excuse for a living organism of a mother and throw their (REDACTED) in prison forever and give Faith to her mother’s family. I think that is the only chance that poor little girl will ever have at a normal life. What is she learning from these psychos??? And as unstable as Sandra Mitchell is I’d not be a bit surprised if she’s mistreating poor little Faith out of hatred for her Mommy because she looks just like her; also out of jealousy over her demented son’s affections. This poor child has got no chance if her Father and (REDACTED) Grandmother arent found, apprehended & Faith immediately removed from their ‘care ‘. The state of WV should be ashamed by their total disregard for this child’s safety; well being as well as their blatant disregard for justice. Sickening.

  11. wendy says: Reply

    I am appalled at the court system. This is such a tragedy. Shannon’s family should sue the authorities for this injustice.

    1. The family court system needs a complete overhaul. It is broken, perhaps beyond repair.

  12. anneli says: Reply

    I just saw this episode on TV. I live in Finland. I got so furious to the court and this so called “father” and also the mother-in law who just continue living! Very seldom I react so strongly about these cases but this was so unfair and terrible murder!
    Shame on you, guilty ones! I am not religious but now I hope there really is hell for you!

  13. Mark Zschiegner says: Reply

    You know what really pisses me off about this. Is that if they had done a psyche evaluation on Nathan they would have seen that he is unfit to be a father. They would have placed Faith in Shannon’s home and this whole mess would have been prevented. But they chose to ignore the warning signs of the worst things to come and that’s exactly what happened.

    We need to fix our child services program it’s outdated and it needs to be fixed or replaced.

  14. Dou says: Reply

    It hurt me so much to see this happen to a innocent mother. Can’t believe that this happened only 4 years ago and I just saw on Investigation I.D. tonight. It’s horrible and sad, I was crying too. She was so happy to finally get to see her daughter and it didn’t happen. Seeing her in-laws and husband mistreated her, it really remind me how my ex husband and his family mistreated me in the past too. I’m culturally married and culturally divorced. My kids are with me; I got full custody. My ex husband still mommy’s little boy, his mother are the one who paid money to get an attorney to fight for custody. His mother say lots of bad things and make lots of rumors about me being a bad mother, wife, and daughter-n-law to him and his family. In my culture, as a wife and daughter-n-law, I have to cook and clean for his family; I have to obey my husband too, if I don’t and he beat me up then it’s my fault because I asks for it. My past marriage was very similar to Shannon”s marriage too. I was being control by my ex husband; he’s very aggressive and abusive. He cheated on me, but he and his family accused me cheating. He’s a mommy little boy and his older sister’s little brother. He allowed his family to take advantage of me and he blamed me that it’s my fault for being a bad wife. I lived in a life style like that too. I can’t go to the police or for help. Not too long, I finally got some help at the college that I attended. Butte college is the most beautiful and biggest community college that I know. I got helps from friends and the Safe place at Butte College. I was far away from my family that time too. Let’s get to the point, the judge granted me with full custody of my kids and he only got 5% of legal custody and some visitation. He was very upset and he did try to get back with me as well. I have to take the kids to see him and his family next month, but after I watched the t.v. show about Shannon’s murder; I’m worry and scare. I don’t want to be a victim. I don’t want to die yet. I want to see my kids grow up. I still want to be with my kids. My ex husband threatened me in the past too, that’s why for the safety of my kids and I, I decided to move back to my family. Shannon got killed in public where there’s lots of witnesses. Can anyone please tell me if it’s possible for me to go meet up my ex husband inside a police station where I can feel safe for him to pick up and drop off the kids?

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