‘Justice for Shannon Stafford”—Will Only Prevail When Toddler is Safe
Court documents prove Nathan Mitchell has history of abuse; Facebook posts raise other questions
Five years of fear forced 25-year-old Kristin Thompson to keep mum about her own abuse. While she remains terrified of her former abuser, she says she must speak up, because she’s afraid that silence may have cost Shannon Stafford her life.
After her good friend was brutally gunned down in public during a domestic-related shooting April 21, Kristin broke her silence. She formed a Facebook group called “Justice For Shannon Stafford” that now has more than 2,000 members.
At the center of the group’s concern is Stafford’s two-year-old daughter, Faith Mitchell. The child was at the Wal-Mart parking lot crime scene in Morgantown, W.Va. Nathan Mitchell took his daughter there to meet her mother, where she was shot and killed by her father-in-law before the custodial exchange could occur.
Police say Larry Mitchell, 54, opened fire on Stafford, 29, as she sat waiting for word of Faith’s arrival. The Mitchell men took separate cars to the Wal-Mart, something the police are looking into. While the investigation continues, Faith remains in her father’s custody.
Kristin, who lives just five miles from the Mitchell’s Harrison County home, spoke about Nathan’s abuse when she attended Stafford’s funeral viewing last week. “I want her to get justice. And I want that baby—” Kristin breaks off. “I don’t know how he treats that baby but I’m afraid,” she said, crying. “I don’t want them to raise her, because look how Nathan turned out.”
Several witnesses have come forward, breaking their own silence to say that how Nathan turned out is abusive. One of those men is Kristin’s father, Todd Thompson, who said his daughter barely escaped alive in 2007 from a three-year relationship with Nathan. Thompson also said the Mitchell family—or rather, Nathan and his mother, Sandra—made his daughter’s life “a living hell.”
“She told us horror stories about it. He’d be driving down the road and she’d changed the radio station and he would start choking her,” Kristin’s father said.
Thompson related an incident that occurred after Kristin invited friends to go swimming. “He drug her by the hair of the head and tried to stick her head in the toilet (because he didn’t want the friends at his home),” Thompson said Kristin told him.
That’s something Shannon could relate to. “She sent me a message on MySpace . . . asking me if he had ever been abusive . . . because she was in the pool with him and was joking around splashing him and he got mad and grabbed her by the neck.”
At the time, Kristin believed it was a trap set by Nathan, who continued to harass and stalk her after they broke up. He did this even after the courts ordered him to stop.
“I didn’t message her back because they (Sandra and Nathan) were constantly trying to slander me and get me in trouble,” Kristin said. “Now I feel like if I would have told her ‘yes,’ then she would have left and she could still be here. I was just scared.”
As she talks about Stafford, the tears start falling. “I hate myself for this now,” Kristin said.
The Thompsons aren’t the only ones talking. Two former friends who insisted on anonymity, citing fear of retaliation, related other frightening occasions spent in Nathan’s company. The first friend said he interceded once after Nathan threw a girl on the ground and began choking her. “I had to forcefully remove him from her and make him leave,” he said.
The second friend called Nathan “very unstable,” and shared a sobering story involving one of Nathan’s earlier girlfriends. “He was drunk . . . and said, ‘I want to find that bitch and I’m going to kill her,'” the friend said.
Thompson believes his daughter has repressed the memories of much of Nathan’s abuse. But what she can’t remember, her father does and together, their words paint a very dangerous picture for anyone of the opposite sex living with the younger Mitchell.
According to Harrison County court documents, Kristin ended their relationship after Nathan climbed through her bedroom window and began choking her about 1:30 a.m. Sept. 1, 2007. “I couldn’t breathe while he was choking me but he would let go before (I passed out) . . . then he would stop and ask me why I had to be this way . . . like I was making him do it,” she said.
Pictures taken the following morning show a ring of bruises around her neck. And while she was initially terrified of filing a police report, her father helped her do so the next day. Those photos and Kristin’s testimony led Harrison County Magistrate Keith Marple to grant her a six-month protective order.
“I knew if I pressed charges, it would make him mad. I didn’t want (that). I just wanted him to leave me alone,” Kristin said.
But Mitchell didn’t leave her alone: after Marple granted the final protective order, Mitchell publicly posted his wrath on his MySpace page.
“You think it is over but it’s NOT!!!!!!!” The Sept. 17, 2007 page also reads: “I just got out of a long relationship . . . I would like to meet a girl that (doesn’t) lie, cheat and make me feel like shit . . .”
Again taking to social media after Stafford’s death, Nathan posted something that appears ominously connected to this case. On April 23, according to his Facebook page, he was listening to the song “You Deserve It,” by an artist called Future, which has outraged many people. The lyrics include these lines: “Ain’t asked for this, I worked for this. I was in the dungeon, that place’s a sin . . . I’m better than you and I know it. I will show it.”
Nathan appealed the 2007 Harrison County decision, Thompson said, taking the case to circuit court. Official documents show he lost the appeal.
Nor did the protective order keep Nathan from harassing or stalking Kristin. Once, she had her parents come and get her, after she discovered Nathan, Sandra, and a Mitchell family friend were outside a restaurant taking photos of her. Kristin says that was just another attempt by Sandra to control her.
“She was scared to death,” her father said.
He also remembers how Kristin’s personality changed when she was dating Nathan. “She was drawing away from us. Our relationship was deteriorating. They wanted her away from us. They wanted her to themselves,” Thompson said, adding that Sandra tried to convince Kristin she could live with them.
That control is what has Kristin frightened for Faith. “If you loved your baby, you wouldn’t take her mother from her. Everybody needs their mom,” she said.
Because of Faith, she’s fighting to overcome her fear, as a growing group of West Virginia residents rally behind her. “I’ve lived in fear of that family for five years but this has gone too far. I’m not going to sit back and watch them get away with this,” Kristin said.
No one responded to phone calls about this story made to the Mitchell home, to Nathan’s cell phone, or to an email sent to Nathan at his Facebook page. A supervisor at the Harrison County CPS did not return a call about the story. All attorneys involved in the case declined to comment.
Editor’s note: Daleen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Berry has expertise in overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment, and can be pretty funny when she wants. She’s an award-winning author, editor and journalist who speaks at conferences around the country. Berry was one of two keynote speakers addressing a national audience at “The Many Faces of Domestic Violence,” the 18th Annual Conference of the Association of Batterers’ Intervention Programs on March 1, 2012, in Anaheim, Calif. She recently spoke to social workers from all over the country at the “Hope for the Future: Ending Domestic Violence in Families” conference at the University of California, Berkeley.
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