Virginia mother at center of national manhunt arrested in Plainfield; children found safe

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Melody Bannister

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PLAINFIELD, Ind. – A Virginia mother on the run for months with her four children has been arrested in Indiana.

Investigators took Melody Bannister into custody early Wednesday morning in Plainfield. Bannister has been the subject of a nationwide search by U.S. Marshals. She was booked on a warrant out of Stafford County, Virginia, according to the Hendricks County Sheriff’s Office.

Sources said Bannister was found around 2:30 a.m. at a Speedway gas station on Perry Road. Her four children were found with her in her vehicle and are in DCS custody.

Police began investigating Bannister in June after she informed the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) in Virginia that her children were being abused. Police conducted a joint investigation with child protective services and determined that the allegations were unfounded.

Shortly after the investigation concluded, Bannister left for vacation to Alabama with the four kids, alleging she was saving them from sex trafficking by their father and grandfather.

In July, a Virginia court cleared the men of those allegations and granted the father custody. 

“She then petitioned in Alabama court for custody of the children. The Alabama courts ordered Melody to return the children to their father and she has not been seen since,” said SCSO Public Information officer, Amanda Vicinanzo. 

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Bannister then left Alabama and remained on the run. In December, police issued an alert and said the children may be in danger.

“They are unable to take care of themselves, they don't have any means to take care of them. melody doesn't have means,” said SCSO Detective, James Wright.

Bannister had been spotted in multiple states, including Alabama, South Carolina, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina and Texas.

"We've had sightings of them in South Carolina, we've had sightings of them in Tennessee,” said Detective Wright.

Investigators say Bannister and the kids were last seen Aug. 20,  in Moulton, Alabama.

She was wanted on a felony charge of violation of a court order, four misdemeanor abduction charges and a misdemeanor count of filing a false police report. She's now facing charges for parental kidnapping of a minor and abduction by parent.

She’s being held at the Hendricks County Jail following Wednesday morning's arrest.

"Melody basically started living as a fugitive, an American outlaw, trying to keep her children safe from what she was convinced was a human trafficking ring," said Sam McLure, Bannister's attorney. "Melody is an amazingly resilient woman and she's passionate about protecting her children and seeing her children thrive."

Bannister denied our request for an interview. Since she's facing charges out of Virginia, and not Indiana, she will be extradited. She does have the option to refuse, if so, a government warrant will be filed. 

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The case was featured on the TV show LIVE PD: Wanted. The U.S. Marshal's service said tips from viewers helped lead investigators to Bannister:

"Tips that were submitted on the night LIVE PD WANTED aired on December 12th drove the investigation into the direction which ultimately led investigators to Melody Bannister and her children's location.”

Senior Inspector William “Hank” Martin, U.S. Marshal

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