This is a story about predatory alienation and a mother’s fight for her daughter. Unfortunately the story is true. While this is an abrupt break from my usual (and long-ago) posting about lighter and happier topics, it’s an important story and one I felt I needed to share. If all you do is skim the story and look at some of the pictures, all I ask is that you follow along at http://www.sampateam.com, http://www.sampateam.wordpress.com, and their related social media handles (facebook, twitter).
Warning: Some of the language that follows is not suitable for young audiences and may act as a trigger to survivors of sexual assault and rape.
From the quiet streets of small town Connecticut, to the World Wide Web, one mother is waist-deep in a fight to bring her daughter home, or at least to the table. Kathryn Cannon is a mother to triplets—one son and two daughters—who has endured her fair share of heartbreak and tragedy. Shortly after the birth of her three children in August 1992, the love her life and the father of her newly born babies, John Cannon, lost his battle with cancer.
Tasked with raising three young ones, Kathi (as many of her friends and family know her) spared no expense or time in an effort to give her children the best they deserve, as any loving and capable mother hopes to do. As her premature babies grew into toddlers and then teenagers, new hopes, opportunities, and challenges quickly emerged. For these three children—the best of friends since birth—the loss of a father they never knew pales in comparison to the more recent loss of a sister they have always known and loved.
To be a teenager is to “know” love and heartbreak, wrestle with poor choices and personal victories, and ultimately accept frustrations and family drama—it’s all part of the process. The Cannon family is no different. In March of 2009, Samantha Cannon reached the same milestone faced by millions of young women and men worldwide: she started dating. Her first date was to a horror movie, which was atypical of Samantha, who—according to her family—hated scary movies. Unbeknownst to them at the time this was the start of some very abnormal behavior. Only the clarity of hindsight allows Samantha’s family to appreciate how much Samantha changed while trapped in the throes of unbridled teenage love.
It isn’t particularly groundbreaking that teenagers reinvent themselves to impress a love interest. Anna Breslaw at Cosmopolitan Magazine has written extensively (and humorously) about the perils of being a “cool girl.” The struggle between being your authentic self versus projecting an artificial persona for the sake of the people you start to date. The “cool girl” is so characteristic of young women (and “cool guy” for young men) going through the trials and tribulations of teenage-years, that it takes self-exploration, development, and ultimately acceptance, before one can come to terms with their authentic self and also find a love that treasures and nurtures our individual authenticity. This battle between what we are, and what we think we should be, plagues so many people, and ultimately separates healthy maturity from damaging insecurity down the road in life.
So perhaps Samantha’s willingness to see a scary movie was just a mild case of cool-girl syndrome. Perhaps it was just one more girl trying to impress one more boy. Perhaps this would have been the end of Samantha and Jeffrey’s story, a high school happily ever after. The rest of their story makes it abundantly clear that a neat and textbook ending for Samantha and Jeffrey would be wishful thinking. Instead, their romance has become one family’s lived horror movie, played out before them daily on nearby streets and far-flung screens.
Jeffrey and Samantha continued their teenage dream—as so many of us do—far longer any casual observer could understand. Admittedly, Samantha’s family did not have any opinions about Jeffrey as possible “forever” material at the time: few parents start speculating on their child’s romantic future when the subject in question is all of sixteen. But the Cannon family accepted that Samantha’s happiness was worth supporting, including her youthful relationship. Kathi played the role of awkward mom-turned-chauffeur for the two lovebirds—driving them to and from dates, welcoming Jeffrey to family dinners, cookouts, and small celebratory parties. Jeffrey came to events at Samantha’s grandparents house in New Hampshire, and Kathi even bought him some dress shoes to spruce up his outfit for senior prom. He helped with yard work at the Cannon house and refused payment for his work, so Kathi compensated him with a new jacket as a thank-you gift. As far as first loves go, things were progressing smoothly and pleasantly, and neither family had any objection to their young romance.
In August of 2010, Samantha began her freshman year at Ursinus College in Pennsylvania, her late father’s alma mater and her only school application after visiting twenty-three schools. The long-distance, massive changes, and life decisions that accompany college are rarely a recipe for lasting love. Nonetheless, Samantha slowly adjusted to the new distance between her and Jeffrey, and gradually began to isolate herself. The first change was her decision to give up her favorite sporting passions—field hockey and lacrosse— to insure that she would have time to go home and see Jeffrey.
Despite a successful first and second semester, and frequent declarations of love for the school and students alike, Samantha suddenly said she was unhappy at Ursinus. In fact, Samantha suggested to her mother that she might transfer to her boyfriend’s school, Springfield College, to be closer to him as he started his freshman year that fall. As most mom’s would, Kathi suggested that her daughter could find a school nearby—still close to Jeffrey and to home—with a better academic reputation – one that more closely aligned with Sam’s interests and abilities. Unfortunately, Samantha had absolutely no interest in exploring other options. Being at school with her boyfriend took precedence over her academic potential.
As summer 2011 began, Samantha’s relationships beyond Jeffrey began to unravel. Unbeknownst to Samantha’s siblings, mother, grandparents, friends, or extended family, she was baptized secretly in Jeffrey’s family church. Living Rock Church in Killingworth, CT is a fringe “non-denominational” Christian church that practices a more obscure and cultic brand of Christianity than most would feel comfortable with. Samantha’s secret baptism happened the first week she was home on summer vacation. Her family did not become aware of this secret baptism until a year later, when they discovered an audio recording of this covert-baptism. In the audio recording, the Living Rock Church pastor announces that the ceremony was not really a baptism, not truly a “re-birth” but “rather a funeral—a funeral for all in [her] life that has come before.” Under clandestine measures, Samantha’s boyfriend’s family was beginning to separate Samantha from the Cannon family, literally baptizing her into their fold. Samantha’s baptism-turned-funeral marks the death of her identity: her family, her experiences, and her authentic self.
Samantha’s 2011 summer at home was a worrying one for her family. She spent increasingly less time at home—using every free moment to spend time with Jeffrey and his family. Kathi pleaded with her daughter to bring Jeffrey over for a dinner, swim, or canoe in the river, barbeque—“just spend some time at home with your family too, please.” On the rare occasion, Samantha did bring Jeffrey over, she no longer acted like her independent, fun-loving, self. She was subservient to Jeffrey in her own home—taking orders from him and alertly waiting for a new demand. Jeffrey would constantly tease her—saying they would have to break up because he “guessed” she didn’t “love” him anymore. “I guess we’ll have to break up.” Samantha would throw herself at him and shower him in kisses to prove her love. He would maintain the charade far beyond the realm of amusing. The balance of power in their relationship had shifted, and onlookers were concerned for Samantha’s wellbeing.
Fortunately, the summer ended and Samantha returned to Ursinus while Jeffrey began his freshman year at Springfield. As Samantha settled into a residential dorm amongst good friends, with her triplet sister nearby, Kathi felt at ease. This mom’s respite from parental worrying was short lived, as an acceptance letter from Springfield College arrived in the mail shortly after. Samantha had repeatedly dismissed Kathi’s concern about the application to a less academically rigorous school, and walking away from her generous scholarship from Ursinus. However, Samantha then went behind her mother’s back to apply to Springfield all the same. Sam spent the summer seemingly reluctant with each step of the application process – “forgetting” the application fee, then “forgetting” her high school transcripts. When the acceptance letter from Springfield finally arrived in the mail back at home in Connecticut, it was already two weeks into the fall semester at both schools. Samantha then continued to dismiss her mother’s concerns and insisted that she was staying at Ursinus.
Later that fall, while Samantha was at her Uncle’s house for Thanksgiving amongst family, Kathi entered into another realm fraught with friction for parents of teenagers: texting. After examining the phone bill one day, Kathi discovered that Samantha was texting. A lot. Making matters even more alarming, Samantha’s 6,000+ texts per month were almost exclusively to one number: her boyfriend’s. In an attempt to regain her daughter and bring everyone to the table, Kathi asked Sam not to text for the Thanksgiving weekend and Samantha agreed. Unsurprisingly, when Kathi checked the online phone records the next day, she found dozens of texts from that morning alone. Kathi turned off the texting for the duration of the family holiday weekend. Samantha was allowed to make phone calls, and had the use of her laptop for messaging, but text messages could no longer be sent nor received until Monday.
At some point during the holiday weekend, Kathi discovered that Jeffrey’s mother had launched into a Facebook diatribe insulting Kathi for “horrible” offenses (without naming Kathi directly), but nevertheless making it quite clear to whom she was referring. His mother never did actually say in her post what these extreme offenses were and painted a blurry picture to her Facebook friends of some unidentified “evil” meddling in her son’s life. A few months later, during a Cannon family vacation, Samantha’s siblings would persuade her to turn her phone off and spend time with them instead of texting her boyfriend nonstop. This attempt at family bonding brought threats from Jeffrey’s parents directly to Kathi, accusing her of theft because the phone Samantha was using was a second cell phone purchased by the family to prevent Kathi from interfering in Samantha’s relationship. Other than those carrying a work cell phone, a secretive second mobile phone is generally limited to the use by drug dealers, people caught in scandalous affairs, and intelligence agents.
Increasingly aware that her daughter was mixed up with an unhealthy and unstable family, Kathi brought in an expert on dangerous religions to talk to Samantha: Marlene Winnell from Berkeley, California. Marlene cautioned Samantha against making any major decisions without considering her family and the ramifications—not least among them avoiding any secret baptisms. Of course, Samantha had already partaken in the mysterious ceremony seven months earlier.
The Cannon family struggled with Samantha’s relationship and the fallout that continued to rain down upon their heads. Samantha’s friends reached out to Kathi with expressing extreme concern, and asking her to come down to Ursinus and see the letters and messages Jeffrey was sending to Samantha. Like any mother in that situation, Kathi immediately did and what she stumbled upon was enough to shock any mother into action. Below is a small sampling from the pile of many hundreds of letters she found on Samantha’s desk: [Caution: Graphic Language]
It is necessary to make an important point about BDSM at this juncture. There is a distinct and important difference between what constitutes a “kink” and what constitutes a dangerous relationship. The insistence upon blackmail-ready pornographic material, thinly-veiled threats of bodily harm, manipulative and abusive language do not indicate that this is a situation of mutual respect, love, and appreciation for one another. This is not about sexual proclivities. This type of behavior is about control and manipulation with the risk of mental and physical harm. The fact that these letters are, in fact, coupled with a young woman’s isolation from her family and friends, indicate that this relationship is something far more sinister.
A short while later, in May of 2012 Samantha disappeared from her college campus, ran away with her boyfriend for the summer to his grandmother’s house in Virginia, and ceased all communication with her family. She enrolled in her boyfriend’s sub-par college and to add injury to insult, Kathi came home one day to notice that a restraining order had been filed against her. The court summarily threw the filing out. The Judge declared that the case had no merit whatsoever and the situation was absolutely unsettling. The Judge made it abundantly clear that in her opinion, it was apparent that the Cannon family was reasonably concerned about Samantha’s welfare and personally cautioned Samantha. 2012 was not a good year for the Cannon family, and unfortunately things have not improved.
Three years later, Samantha has effectively and repeatedly backed out of multiple promises to speak to her family, or engage in major family milestones—weddings, graduations, family crises—and the police have been repeatedly called when Kathi tried to contact her daughter, despite the absence of any restraining order. In three years, Kathi has knocked on Jeffrey’s family’s door to talk to Samantha a grand total of four times. On a good day, the officer on call will know the story and leave Kathi in peace, fully acknowledging the baseless nature of Jeffrey’s family antics. In the event that a new officer gets a call, Kathi must once again repeat this long and exhausting story.
Meanwhile, the Cannon family is pursuing new and creative routes to speak with Samantha, and try to establish some form of a relationship again. Springfield College president, Mary Beth Cooper, was asked to be an asset to this family crisis. Instead, she has repeatedly shirked her duties to protect the students she leads—going as far as to congratulate Samantha and Jeffrey on another milestone—their engagement, in October of 2014 despite being well informed about the situation. To make matters worse, she has continued a frivolous “no-trespass” order issued against Kathi on the Springfield College campus. President Cooper hugged Jeffrey at graduation. If a person responsible for overseeing the success and mission of an academic institution can hug a man that writes rape fantasies and collects blackmail-worthy material, this mother should be allowed to hug her daughter.
It does not take an expert to see the perilous road that lies ahead for Samantha. Marriage is a commitment, and for many couples, a beautiful union of two people in love. For the less fortunate, it can be a commitment to a life of misery, abuse, control, manipulation, isolation, and danger. Not all families are perfect—in fact, few are—but rape fantasies, revenge porn, controlling abusive behavior, and forced familial estrangement are not the best building blocks for a loving and successful marriage.
Kathi has not demanded that Samantha move home. Kathi has not asked for anything more than a meeting, with a certified counselor, to share the concerns of the people who love Samantha—her mother, brother, sister, grandparents, cousins, and friends—and to listen to what Samantha herself has to say. The goal is simply to talk and see if a basis can be found for a relationship to move forward. The constant failure to communicate has left Kathi exhausted, exasperated and hurt. In an attempt to reach Samantha, her fight and this story is now posted and updated regularly on the web. Please lend your support by following “SampaTeam” on twitter, #SampaTeam on Facebook , and their website www.sampateam.com or www.sampateam.wordpress.com