MONTPELIER, Vt. — Lisa Miller's path from lesbian in committed relationship to international fugitive started in 2003.
She broke up with her partner, Janet Jenkins, renounced homosexuality and became an evangelical Christian before disappearing in 2009 with the daughter she had with Jenkins.
Now, what started as a custody battle over little Isabella Miller-Jenkins has turned into a global manhunt, with indications that Mennonite pastors and other faith-based supporters may have helped hide the two in Nicaragua and are now coming to the aid of one who the FBI says helped Miller.
Eager to keep the girl away from Jenkins and what they consider a dangerous and immoral lifestyle, they liken their roles to that of underground helpers aiding runaway slaves.
"God's Holy Law never recognizes a gay marriage," said Pablo Yoder, a Mennonite pastor in Nicaragua, in an email message to The Associated Press. "Thus, the Nicaraguan Brotherhood felt it right and good to help Lisa not only free herself from the so called civil marriage and lesbian lifestyle, but especially to protect her nine year old daughter from being abducted and handed over to an active lesbian and a whole-hearted activist."
As the gay marriage movement gains momentum in the U.S. with impending legal recognition of the relationships in New York state, the case is a reminder of the obstacles and opposition that same-sex couples and their families can face.
The saga began in 2000, when Miller and Jenkins were joined in a civil union in Vermont. Two years later, Miller gave birth to the girl, through artificial insemination. The couple split in 2003, with Miller renouncing her homosexuality and becoming a Baptist, then a Mennonite.
Miller was originally granted custody of the girl, but her defiance of visitation schedules led courts in Vermont and Virginia to rule in favor of Jenkins, culminating in a judge's 2009 decision to award custody to Jenkins.
After Miller and the girl failed to show for a court-ordered custody swap on Jan. 1, 2010, to hand the girl over to Jenkins, the hunt was on. A federal arrest warrant was issued for Miller, and her daughter's name was added to the missing by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
But they were long gone: In 2009, two months before the judge ordered the custody change, Miller and the girl flew to Central America and took up residence for an unknown amount of time in Nicaragua before vanishing again.
So says the FBI, which revealed in April that it had arrested Nicaraguan missionary Timothy David "Timo" Miller and charged him with abetting an international kidnapping by helping arrange travel and lodging for the two. He is awaiting trial.
According to the FBI, Timo Miller — no relation to Lisa Miller — arranged to fly Miller and her daughter from Canada to Augusto C. Sandino International Airport in Managua.
He'd never met her until they arrived at the airport, according to Loyal Martin, a friend of Timo Miller's.
Timo Miller has pleaded not guilty and is free on $25,000 bail, awaiting trial. His attorney, federal public defender Steven Barth, won't discuss the case. Another lawyer for Timo Miller, Jeffrey Conrad, of Lancaster, Pa., didn't respond to a request for comment.
"Tim believes there is a higher law than the laws of any country that all people, including himself, are accountable to," said Martin, 40, of Philadelphia, N.Y., who attended Miller's first court appearance.
In an April 1 affidavit outlining the charge against Timo Miller, FBI agent Dana Kaegel noted the involvement of various religious groups and people involved — in some fashion — with Miller.
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