Platte County, MO – Two young girls are back home, and their mother who took them overseas in a custody battle stretching from Kansas City to Europe could be sent to prison.
The young girls are finally home safe after spending six weeks on the run with their mother who took them out of the country without permission.
“This was to help my kids, not to hurt them … a lot of people won’t understand this,” said Samantha Elmer, the mother at the center of the dispute.
Elmer, 33, called KCTV5’s Angie Ricono on Saturday from Europe. Elmer sounded frantic and scared, and said her run was over.
“I don’t want a big production. I don’t want a big scene. I just want to come home. I want the girls to go to my parents,” said Elmer, who was running out of money and asked Ricono to call the FBI and her lawyer.
Elmer’s ex-husband, Justin Bush, went to police when his daughters, Taylor, age 11, and Morgan, age 10, missed six days of school. He had an upcoming custody hearing with his ex-wife. Elmer had told the school that the children were out with mono.
Elmer was also about to stand trial for four felony charges in Johnson County that include identity theft, felony theft and criminal use of credit cards. She was supposed to go to trial but never showed up.
Bush reported his concerns to Lawrence police, where the girls lived with their mother. He was seeking full custodial rights.
Police didn’t find the girls, but did find a trail. First, they found Elmer had rented a car and dropped it off in Chicago. She and the girls boarded an international flight to Turkey before continuing onto Vienna, Austria.
“It was not what I wanted for my girls, but when you feel like you are trapped in a corner and no one is listening to you, I didn’t know what else to do,” Elmer said.
Bush and Elmer were locked in a nasty custody battle. Elmer filed protection from abuse orders against Bush. She claims he mistreated both girls. Bush claims it was a legal maneuver in their bitter break up. No abuse charges were ever filed against Bush.
Elmer faces two counts of aggravated interference with parental custody, the Kansas statute for what is essentially parental abduction. Her minimum sentence would be 11 months. Her maximum sentence would be 34 months. The large gap is because her sentence would depend on a criminal record, and the identity theft charges are still pending.
However, charges have also been filed in federal court. The U.S. Attorney’s Office has charged her with one count of parental right interference. She could face three years in prison if convicted as well as a $250,000 fine. Elmer appeared in court.
In her emotional plea for help, Elmer said it was nightmare, always fearing for what was going to happen to her and her daughters.
“And no one would listen to me,” she said.
Elmer claims Bush verbally and physically abused the girls. The courts and police refused to listen, she says. Bush flatly denies those allegations and has legal custody of the children.
“I love the girls. I love Taylor and Morgan,” he said.
Bush has repeatedly told told KCTV5 how painful it is was when his kids went missing.
“I just want my girls back,” he said.
Elmer says she was a frustrated mother running out of options. And the idea to take her daughters to another country came from her current husband who was supposed to join her and the girls. However, that plan fell apart.
“We were going to start a new life over here and everything was going to be a storybook,” she said.
Elmer not only fled the nasty custody battle, she also was running away from felony criminal charges for financial crimes in Kansas City. She says behind the mugshot is her ex husband, a former Overland Park police officer with law enforcement connections.
“I think there’s a lot of spouses like me out there who have law enforcement as ex-husbands or wives … system gets manipulated, and they will make people believe whatever of you to get what they want,” Elmer said.
Elmer said the decision to surrender is heart wrenching and complicated.
“I feel like it’s the best option for the girls to come home. I’m going to be facing all kinds of stuff, and I’m willing to face it,” she said.
Elmer and her children arrived back in the United States late Tuesday night. She is now in federal custody and being held in the Platte County Jail. The girls are with their father.
The FBI was concerned travel plans could fall through, and the girls would go missing again. KCTV5 agreed to hold this story until the girls were safe back home.
By Angie Ricono