Soul Survivor: A Craig woman’s journey beyond abuse |

Soul Survivor: A Craig woman’s journey beyond abuse

Joshua Roberts

Amber Hampton, a Craig resident, went through years of sexual abuse at the hands of her stepfather, Cyril Joseph Lenahan, IV. Hampton recently confronted her past in Moffat County District Court, where Lenahan was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison for his crimes. She said women who have been victimized by such crimes don't have to be victims — they can be survivors.
Mary Austin

Amber Hampton, a Craig resident, went through years of sexual abuse at the hands of her stepfather, Cyril Joseph Lenahan, IV. Hampton recently confronted her past in Moffat County District Court, where Lenahan was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison for his crimes. She said women who have been victimized by such crimes don't have to be victims — they can be survivors.Mary Austin

A survivor’s support system

Amber Hampton said she received an outpouring of support from friends and family following a Feb. 1 sentencing hearing in Moffat County District Court for her ex-stepfather, Cyril Joseph Lenahan, IV.

The 44-year-old man was sentenced to 15 years to life for sex crimes against Hampton, a pattern of abuse she said began when she was 8 years old.

A sampling of that support can be found on Hampton's Facebook page. (The posts below have been edited for spelling, punctuation and grammar.)

• "Very, very proud of you. You're a good person and very strong woman. He (Lenahan) didn't get a fraction of what he deserved."

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— Candi Noble Verplanck

• "So proud of you. So appreciate how love and strength triumphed."

— Marjorie Blackwell McGowen

• "I just wanted to let you know I am thinking about you, and I am so, so happy for you and very proud of you. … Your strength and courage will make it that much easier for women to step forward, stand up for themselves, and finally be able to move forward as well."

— Morganne C. Foster

• "I want you to know how incredibly proud I am to know you as an individual. You are so strong and a beautiful person for stepping up and being such a wonderful role model for so many others."

— Natalie Satterwhite

• "I read the article online while I was looking into what was going on back home. As Natalie puts it, your strength and resolve in doing what is right is unwavering."

— Will Schneegas

Hampton said a local resident also sent her a card following the hearing. Inscribed on the card was, "For having the courage to make the world a safe place, thank you."

— Reported by Joshua Roberts, Craig Daily Press

Wanna play a game?

The 8-year-old second-grade girl was in the living room of her Craig home, killing time watching television on a lazy day.

She was with her stepfather, "Jody." They were alone.

The girl looked up from the TV.

She didn't know certain things then.

She didn't know this moment would be a flashpoint, the beginning of eight years of emotional and physical trauma.

She didn't know this incident, and many to follow, would be the root of deep, scarring wounds, and the fallout would be random attacks of anger and depression.

She didn't know, years long from this day, lying next to her husband, young daughter nearby, she'd be shocked awake by nightmares of her abuser in the room while her family slept.

She didn't know she'd need therapy and a courtroom to heal where and what she could, that one day she'd recount the worst moments of her life to a judge, attorneys and a jury — strangers all of them — as well as friends and family, and Jody.

She didn't know people would label her victim when survivor is the reality.

She didn't know these things, and so many more.

OK, she said to Jody, who she thought was "nice and goofy" and someone who "acted like a kid most of the time."

"That was the initiation, I guess, if you want to call it that," said Amber Hampton, now 24, a mother, wife and full-time nursing student.

The world then slipped into darkness.

That's when Jody, or Cyril Joseph Lenahan, IV, as he's listed in Moffat County court records, tied the long white tube sock over her eyes, blindfolding her, asking her to touch things, his idea of a game under way.

For everything 8-year-old Amber didn't know when the abuse started, adult Amber had to learn.

The healing process, or as close to healing as she can get, hasn't been easy, a bridge not fully crossed.

Jody's "game," she said, lasted somewhere between 30 minutes and an hour the first time.

"As the 'game' progressed, I was uncomfortable and knew I didn't like it," she said. "I knew something was wrong."

She escaped the situation by telling her stepfather she needed to do her homework. Amber said she was abused two or three more times before she spoke out and told her mother what was happening.

The revelation didn't bring an end to the criminal acts, as she'd hoped.

She said her mother "didn't know what to think," and confronted her husband with Amber in the room.

Jody, Amber concedes, manipulated the situation, tearfully claiming innocence and that he'd never hurt his stepdaughter.

"The (phrase) overactive imagination was applied," Amber said. "My response then was to stop talking about it. … I was the typical abused child no one saw."

Jody's abuse, Amber said, came in patterns, fragments here and there of opportunism, through her elementary and middle school years, ending sometime when she was 16 or 17.

She said she told her mother two or three times over the years about what Jody was doing, and she was rebuffed at each turn.

Today, the relationship with her mother is solid, Amber said. Her mother testified on her behalf at Jody's trial, and the two speak and see each other frequently.

Still, there's lingering pain, Amber said, residue from telling the truth and being left unprotected.

"There will always be just a little bit of that little girl saying, 'Why didn't you believe me?'" she said.

In 2008, after struggles in her relationship with longtime boyfriend and now husband, Bryan Hampton, Amber reached out for help.

She began seeing a therapist in Craig, trying to reconcile what happened to her. She suffered from dark bouts of depression and panic attacks that sometimes lasted as long as two hours.

When the abuse surfaced in therapy, Amber said her therapist reported it to authorities. The health care professional diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Amber said she'd have flashbacks of the abuse and recurring nightmares of "waking up to (Jody) standing in the doorway," or being with her family "trapped in this home with an evil witch."

"It was just that fear of him," said Amber, who decided to speak to authorities about the abuse, confronting a past that couldn't stay buried.

Her motivation, she said, wasn't revenge.

"I'm not a spiteful person," Amber said. "I don't like seeing other people hurt. But, at the end of the day, he chose it — to be an adult and inflict that upon an 8-year-old. At the end of the day, he made that decision.

"I made the decision to stand up for myself and protect others."

Bryan, 27, is a reserved and soft-spoken mechanic at Twentymile Coal Co.

He's been with Amber since she was in high school, they married in 2006 and have a 4-year-old daughter, Brylee.

His love for wife and daughter is apparent.

"She's a caring person," he said of Amber. "She tries to make everyone happy. She'd do anything for anybody."

Of Brylee:

"(I) get home from work and her eyes light up," he said of his daughter. "That's the coolest thing in the world."

But Amber and Bryan's relationship hasn't always been storybook. The abuse his wife suffered has affected Bryan, too.

He said he's known about the abuse for years, having seen inappropriate touching and comments from Jody to Amber several times. He said he was asked to keep quiet and do nothing.

Bryan said their relationship was strained at times by Amber's anxiety and wild and unpredictable mood swings that could last for days.

After Brylee was born, he said, Amber was overprotective and panicked when she and Brylee weren't in the same room.

For a while, "we thought we could put (the abuse) behind us," he said.

But realistically, he wonders if that can ever happen.

Even today, with the trial come and gone, Lenahan in prison, and joint therapy sessions under their belt, life is better, but Bryan doesn't believe there will ever be enough distance between now and the past.

"It's over, it's done," he said. "But really, it's not. I don't know if it will ever be over."

The Lenahan prosecution was complicated for various reasons, said Jon Pfeifer, Moffat County deputy district attorney, who handled the case with 14th Judicial District Attorney Elizabeth Oldham in Moffat County District Court.

The investigation began in 2008 and passed through several investigators and prosecutors before going to trial in September 2011.

The case included 15 to 20 witnesses for the prosecution, including two expert witnesses, a week of morning-to-night preparation the week before, and numerous hours and resources leading to trial.

Lenahan maintained his innocence to the four offenses he was charged with.

A Moffat County jury found him guilty on three of four counts: sexual assault of a child, a Class 3 felony; sexual assault of a child, a Class 4 felony; and sexual assault of a child by someone in a position of trust, also a Class 4 felony.

The jury acquitted him of the third count, sexual assault of a child by someone in a position of trust, a Class 3 felony.

Lenahan, 44, was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison, and is currently at the Colorado Department of Corrections' Denver Reception and Diagnostic Center, according to DOC records.

"It's probably one of the more significant (cases) I've tried," Pfeifer said.

Amber credits Pfeifer, Oldham and Jen Kenney, an investigator with the Craig Police Department, for the successful prosecution.

Both Pfeifer and Kenney are equally complimentary of Amber for her bravery in overcoming hardships.

"She was always very sincere," said Kenney, a veteran police detective. "She wasn't vindictive. She wanted justice. She wanted to be believed."

"I think Amber has progressed a lot through the issues she's had to where she can now speak about what happened to her without being devastated by reliving it," Pfeifer said. "I think that's remarkable."

Both the prosecutor and police detective were pleased when the jury returned its' verdict. Not for themselves, they said, but for Amber.

"I was happy for her," Pfeifer said. "I felt a sense of accomplishment that we presented to the jury in a way they felt comfortable returning a guilty verdict."

"Relief for Amber," Kenney said of her reaction. "I honestly hoped that would get her over the edge, that she was no longer a victim, that she was a survivor of this."

Talk to Amber today and she'll give you an honest and straight-forward account of the past, and her hopes for the future.

She and Bryan want to have another child someday.

Things aren't always great, they said. Their marriage, like many unions, is complicated, but they're happy together and with Brylee.

Amber works part-time as a licensed practical nurse at Sandrock Ridge Care & Rehab and a certified nursing assistant at The Memorial Hospital in Craig.

She'll graduate from Colorado Northwestern Community College's nursing program in May.

Bryan said they've talked about a move to Vernal, Utah, someday, but the future is uncertain and they're willing to take things as they happen.

Earlier this month, following Lenahan's sentencing, Amber spoke to the Craig Daily Press about her reasons for coming forward.

She said facing Lenahan and what he did wasn't about him spending years of his life in prison.

"My biggest reason for doing this is so that other women will have the courage to step forward, no matter how long it has been, and that the justice system will work for them," she said.

"The sentencing was not as important to me as the fact that 12 people found him guilty because I went through my entire life without anyone believing me."

And with that, Jody's "game" came to an end, him leaving the courtroom in custody, and Amber moving another step forward as someone who overcame his acts rather than someone defined by them.

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