It was with great sorrow that I learned of the death of charter member Steven Bandusky on August 27, 2008, from liver and kidney failure. When we first heard from Steve on August 10, 2000, he was a successful engineer with Boeing in Mesa, Arizona.
He had built what his boys called the "big house" for his family, wife, her two daughters, and two boys of his and his wife. With about 5000 square feet and a full basement, it truly was a big house. The boys loved to play in it. Unfortunately about a year after they moved in, things started to get a bit stressed with his wife Sylvia. Maybe it was the money, which was thin then, or maybe they grew a bit distant because of his schedule at work and trying to make ends meet.
At approximately 11:30 PM, on Monday, January 31, 2000, Steve was awoken by the sound of someone knocking on his bedroom door. It turned out to be two City of Mesa police officers informing him that he was being forced from his residence under an ex parte domestic relations restraining order.
All that he could think was that he had been woken up by the Gestapo in Germany. In utter disbelief he asked to see the court order. Yes, there it was in black and white, an order stating that he had committed an act of domestic violence against his spouse, his two stepdaughters, and two young sons pictured below.
After trying to convince the officers that this was total nonsense, he asked them if they saw any evidence of domestic violence against his family members. They said no, but reiterated that they had no choice in the matter but to follow the letter of the court order. One of the officers even mentioned that the action he was ordered to take against Steve was wrong, yet he still had to act on the direction of the court order. So after packing an overnight bag, Steve said goodbye to the house he had just built for his family. He then found himself driving around Mesa at midnight looking for a place to stay. Eventually he went to work instead.
With the house being just a year-old, Steve was still doing landscaping. When hit with the restraining order there were dangerous open trenches. Being an engineer, Steve was concerned about the danger to pedestrians and others if the trenches were left open. Thinking the legal system was just, he obtained a modification of the restraining order to return to the house and fill in the trenches. The modification expired at 5 PM but Steve was still working away at 5:30 trying to finish up. His wife then called the police and had him arrested for violating the terms of the order.
As usual, Steve was convicted of domestic violence for violating the restraining order in the kangaroo county court after some dispute between the City of Mesa and Maricopa County as to who got to put the noose around his neck for trying to be a good citizen. He vainly attempted to get a jury trial for the criminal charge but was denied.
Incidentally, a November 20, 2000, letter to Arizona Senator John McCain about his situation went unanswered. And Steve's pro se appeal through the state courts was denied and certiorari was denied by the US Supreme Court.
Meanwhile his wife's new boyfriend had moved into the house with the stepdaughters and the two boys. Within a year she had a new baby by him to add to the "family." As often happens with women looking for a little "excitement" in their lives they take up with an abusive male. Apparently Sylvia still couldn't keep her knees together, or something else set off the resident boyfriend.
On April 27, 2002, Steve visited the marital residence to discuss the re-positioning of some trees in the front yard that she had planted directly over the septic system. When he arrived approximately 10-12 police vehicles/officers/detectives were parked in front of the house.
Steve quickly got out of his car to find out what was going on. He approached one of the detectives and was told there had been a shooting. After just about passing out from fear that his sons had been injured he was told they were safe with a neighbor down the street.
Apparently Sylvia, Steve's now ex-wife, was shot in the back of the head with a 12-gauge shotgun by her resident boyfriend while the children were in another room. Fortunately for Steve the police had the perpetrator in custody. So he was not considered a suspect, as would usually have been the case.
After finding out from the detective that the boys were safe and sound with some neighbors, Steve informed the police that he was going to go get them. They informed him that he couldn't due to the fact that he did not have sole custody and couldn't take them without a court order. They also informed him that this was a criminal investigation and that they wanted to question the boys, who were in the house at the time of the shooting.
At the time Steve still naively believed he had rights as a father and made the mistake of getting mad at the police, never a good thing to do, especially when they are conducting a murder investigation. The police then ran a check on Steve and found he had an outstanding warrant for his arrest. He hadn't attended the DV treatment courses after being convicted of violating a restraining order when he attempted to finish the landscaping project. So Steve got arrested and taken to jail once again.
Steve was lucky in that, after an investigation, child "protective" services gave him custody of his two boys after his wife was murdered. My understanding is that the new baby went with its maternal grandparents. I don't know what happened with the stepdaughters. Perhaps they went back with their father but Steve did keep in touch with them.
As with everyone who goes through these injustices and traumatic events, Steve developed PTSD, severe in his case. The stress caused him to perform poorly at work and he went on medical leave until he used that all up. Eventually, though, he lost his job with Boeing and remained unemployed as he was emotionally unable to concentrate.
After cleaning his wife's brains and blood off the wall he managed to sell the "big house" and the boys certainly didn't want to go back there. That gave him money to live on but, like many, he self-medicated the PTSD with alcohol. More alcohol was required as time went on and eventually his kidneys and liver failed.
Through all the many emails from Steve he was trying to fix the problem, fight the issues and injustices in the courts, and care for his boys. There was never any violence in his marriage, only some arguments about money, and probably some estrangement due to his working too hard to try and pay for a new home and support a wife and four kids. For this, which we should admire, his life and family were destroyed.
If Sylvia had not taken out the restraining order there is a very good chance she would be alive today. And we can be reasonably certain Steve would not have crawled into a bottle to compensate for the incomprehensible injustices done him and his children.
Before he died Steve did arrange with the older of the stepdaughters to care for his now orphaned sons. We can only hope the resilience of youth allows these now young men to go on to normal lives despite the tragedies their parents endured at the hands of a society and justice system gone mad.
While Steve lived I asked him many times to write his story so that others would know what was being done to him. After buying flowers for the grave of the boy's mother on March 15, 2004, he wrote me the following message:
"People have been after me for a few years now to write this story. I don't know why it has taken so long to complete. I have started many times, but I am still in utter disbelief as to what has happened. I always seemed unable to finish. Maybe it was the pain, maybe the horror or probably just the absolute incredulity of the way our government 'protects' us.
The flowers were for the mother of my two young sons that we recently placed on her grave on what would have been her 39th birthday. This was the first time that I've taken them to view the gravesite of their mother. It was the first time that I thought that they were ready to be reminded of the horror of what had happened a few years ago in the "big house," as they fondly called it. I found it a bit ironic as I watched the tears form in their eyes, to notice that just a mile away on the horizon, stood the hospital that Johnny and Robbie were born in, some 6 and 8 years ago. They were just 3 and 5 when the nightmare began."
Go with God, Steve, for you the nightmare is finally over. I hope my few futile words provide some evidence of the horrors inflicted on you. Know that as long as I draw breath I'll continue fighting these injustices in your name.