Va. military mom breaks silence about rape, PTSD prior to son’s hot car death

Posted at 11:15 PM, Jul 25, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-25 23:58:02-04

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Tragedy brought them together, but a commitment to their brothers and sisters in uniform has kept them together.

Lyn and Landon

Lyn and Landon

In order to understand the bond between Lyn Balfour and Landon Steele, you must first understand the battles they faced.

"We share pain coming from one event and you can tell your story, but we feel each other’s story," VetREST National Event Director Landon Steele said.

The one event Steele referenced was the death of Balfour's son Bryce on March 30, 2007.

"He could always put you in a good mood because he would just giggle," VetREST Chapter Director Lyn Balfour said about her baby boy Bryce.

But on March 30, Lyn left her son in her car when she went to work.

"In my mind, I was thinking I already dropped him off, when actually I had dropped my husband, off not the baby," she said.

Lyn, who was dealing with a military crisis as a transportation officer at the JAG school at the University of Virginia, would not learn of her mistake until 3 p.m. when Bryce’s worried babysitter was finally able to reach her.

"She said to me, 'no Lyn you didn’t drop him off,' and I immediately just my heart stopped," Balfour recalled. "I ran to the car and I opened the door and that’s where I found him and he was not breathing."

Bryce, who was bundled tightly that cool March morning, was exactly where Lyn left him seven hours earlier. In his car seat, in the parking lot outside his mother’s office.

Baby Bryce

Baby Bryce

She performed CPR on her lifeless son until help arrived.

"The one thing I remember was that a gentleman got out of the back and he was in uniform, in army uniform, and I thought to myself everything was going to be okay,"Lyn said.

That gentleman was fellow Army reservist and medic Landon Steele.

"I rode on top of Bryce’s chest. I continued compressions on him all the way into the ER bay," Landon said. "We were having trouble intubating him. I believe I used a couple expletives and said 'how old is your child?' When she turned around to say nine months I looked at her and that’s when I realized I knew her and I knew the child."

Landon had met Bryce days earlier when he was visiting the JAG school.

"It was no longer just a patient, it was no longer just a child, it was a military child," Landon said. "This was the first time I was ever scared, it was the first time that I ever actually prayed to myself over this small baby. I was begging God at that time, I would do anything to save him."

Doctors soon informed Lyn they could not save Bryce.

"My son was gone and he was lost because I forgot him," she said. "How can you forget your own child? I thought to myself of all the things I did in Iraq and all of the accomplishments, how can I forget my own child?"

Lyn faced a trial for second-degree murder and was acquitted, in part thanks to the man in uniform who tried to save her baby's life.

Landon flew from Iraq to testify on Lyn’s behalf.

"Not everybody can have a happy ending, but it reestablished my faith in the person who is supposed to have my back always," Lyn said.

Lyn said her faith had been destroyed a year before Bryce was born, while she served in Hawaii.

"Someone broke into my room and in the middle of the night it was pitch black and he assaulted me, he raped me," Lyn said. "I just remember waking up and I couldn’t breathe. This happened from someone who was on my team. This happened from somebody who was supposed to be able to protect my back and they didn’t."

It was a secret she kept for more than a decade. A secret she is now sharing publicly, for the first time.

"I became very suicidal," Lyn said. "If I committed suicide, that was the ultimate sin that you can’t ask for forgiveness for and I would never see him again. I would never have the ability to see Bryce again and I was not willing to give that up."

Lyn, like Landon , was diagnosed with severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.

"You come back half of who you were, but there’s this dirty, other person 50 percent as well and it doesn’t fit in here and the only people who understand are people who have been through it,” Landon said. "You get on a plane and go over and half of you stays there; there is a desert there right now with a lot of ghosts walking around in it."

Lyn and Landon share their story, and work with vets suffering from PTSD.

Lyn and Landon share their story, and work with vets suffering from PTSD.

“From going through the counseling now to see the way that things are connected and that is very possibly the cause of why I forgot (Bryce) that day. It’s very hard to deal with,” Lyn added.

Lyn said she believed her son's death could have been prevented had she been in treatment. 

She credited Major General Daniel York for the courage to seek treatment at Walter Reed hospital and continue healing through his non-profit VetREST.

"We belong to a club that nobody wants to be a part of, but it’s reality, and we need to look at other options and avenues in order to support ourselves to heal ourselves and that’s what VetREST’s goal is," Lyn said.

“I’d do anything to see things happen differently that day, but the facts being what they are, I’m glad Raelyn and I have come together at this point and help heal each other and allow us to help heal other veterans,” Landon said.

Although these reunited soldiers can’t erase the hurt from on or off the battlefield, they have made it their mission through VetREST to help their fellow brothers and sisters heal for as long as it takes.

“The positive side of the story is that’s why we are here that’s why we love and support each other that’s what we are supposed to do to heal,” said Balfour. “I think this was the plan, tragedy can bore miracles."

Lyn and her family

Lyn and her family

When Balfour was named the Washington D.C. Director of VetREST, her first hire was Steele.

The organization plans to open 24 chapters around the country to aid vets long term through mentors and coaches.

VetREST is actively raising funds to purchase a retreat in Colorado for vets to heal.

The non-profit also has other fundraising events planned.

Stats show more than 20 veterans take their lives every day. VetREST wants to get to these vets before it’s too late.

The military is actively investigating Lyn’s 2004 sexual assault claim. She is in the process of medically retiring.

She and her husband have five other children and live in Charlottesville.



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