A 14-year-old transgender runaway from Virginia endured a six-month nightmare that saw her twice fall into the hands of sex traffickers, the second time after Baltimore bureaucrats refused to return her to her home state because they accused her adoptive parents of “misgendering” her, according to records reviewed by The Daily Wire.
The child, identified in legal documents as Sage, was adopted by her biological grandmother, Michele Blair, after the death of her father. Long troubled, Sage began identifying as a male named “Draco” and ran away from their rural home in late August of 2021, only to end up on the mean streets of Baltimore, where authorities rescued her from a convicted sex offender, according to records. But instead of returning the child to her grandmother, Maryland officials put her in an inner-city group home. The reason: They thought her adoptive, blood-relative parents didn’t seem to sufficiently recognize her transgender identity.
“It is not possible to return the child to that home,” Judge Robert B. Kershaw wrote on Sept. 3, 2021, after an impassioned plea from Baltimore Assistant Public Defender Aneesa Khan.
Instead, the judge turned Sage over to the Baltimore City Department of Juvenile Services “for placement in a hardware secure therapeutic facility which makes reasonable accommodation for Respondent’s expressed male gender and desire to live as a trans male.”
Less than a week after being placed in a foster home, Sage bolted, only to resurface in Texas, where she once again had been trafficked to pedophiles, according to court records. Unlike their counterparts in Maryland, Lone Star officials returned her to her parents, according to an ethics complaint Blair filed against Khan. Khan allegedly told the girl to lie about being abused by her parents, seemingly in order to create a legal precedent allowing states—other than where a teen lives—to refuse to return a runaway teen if transgender issues are in play.
Being the subject of an interstate tug-of-war driven by an ideological, leftist bureaucracy was a new kind of exploitation for Sage, who had become accustomed to evil men seeking to use her for profit or gratification. Her grandmother recounted for police how the cruel spiral began for the child she still hopes to raise.
“I went to wake up my daughter,” Blair said, describing the morning of Aug. 25, 2021 in an Appomattox County Sheriff’s Office report. “She was gone and the [window] screen had been cut open! I immediately looked everywhere then drove to Appomattox Sheriff to report Sage missing.”
Sage would later reveal that she sneaked out to meet someone she thought was a 16-year-old boy who liked skateboarding. But the person was a sex offender who had been grooming her online and took her to Washington and then to Baltimore. A frantic search that included the sheriff’s office, FBI, Virginia State Police, and the U.S. Marshals ended a week later, when Sage was found in Baltimore with Kenneth Fisher, a 36-year old convicted sex offender. In the week she had been missing, Sage experienced untold horror at his hands.
“When Sage was delivered to this man, he told my daughter that she was now ‘part of his family,’” Blair would later write in a victim impact statement. “Sage replied that she was only 14-years-old and to ‘please don’t rape me.’ To which Kenneth Fisher immediately took her into his bedroom and violently raped her. He enjoyed strangling her but not quite to death. This sick man trafficked her to so many men that Sage lost count.”
Fisher, who had prior arrests for sex offenses including rape, is now housed at Eastern Correctional Institution East. But he would not be the last adult to exploit Sage.
After Sage was found, Blair drove all night to pick her up. But to the city of Baltimore said she was being held in jail as a defendant, apparently for running away. Her court-appointed lawyer was Khan, whose LinkedIn page states that “Defense attorneys became the heroes of justice, as they were called to stand in the gap between the coercive power of the [State] and the relatively limited power of the indigent accused, who were and still are disproportionately [B]lack and Latin[x].”
It was Khan who persuaded Judge Kershaw not to return Sage to her home in Virginia. Ironically, Blair is a longtime court-appointed child advocate, ordinarily making her the ideal trusted parent. Yet the Maryland juvenile court maintained that her home was abusive even after a local Virginia agency’s investigation found no mistreatment. Blair believes Khan was intent on making her daughter a poster child in the fight for transgender rights above parental rights—no matter the cost.
A week after ruling that Sage could not be sent back to Virginia, Kershaw received a form asserting Blair’s right to custody of her child and of Maryland’s obligation to turn her over under the Interstate Compact on Juveniles (ICJ), an agreement dealing with runaway minors that is signed by all 50 states.
But Kershaw rejected it on a technicality related to a small-town Virginia agency’s efforts to understand the rules: The form was signed by an Appomattox Sheriff’s Office deputy instead of by Blair. Kershaw, careful to use Sage’s preferred masculine pronoun and new name, also faulted the petition for failing “to state the circumstances of Draco’s running away or his location at the time the application was made.”
Kershaw ordered Sage fitted with a GPS monitor and sent to an institution called The Children’s Home. On Sept. 21, the court received a properly-filled out ICJ form, but three days later, Maryland’s Department of Juvenile Services notified Virginia of allegations that Sage’s parents were abusive.
A frustrated and incredulous Blair was beginning to believe that an entire state bureaucracy was working against her, and that she and her 72-year-old husband needed a lawyer of their own. By an October 13 hearing, they had found one, but the judge again blocked their efforts on a technicality: Their lawyer was from Virginia, and they needed one from Maryland.
By October 28, even the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services lawyer was cautioning that the ICJ seemed clear that Sage must be returned to Virginia.
“Counsel for DJS advanced ICJ’s position that the Petitioner is entitled to custody of Draco and that the Court should grant the requisition and order Draco’s return to Virginia,” court documents said.
But Khan pledged to “contest” Maryland giving her back to Virginia unless the child was placed somewhere other than her parents’ home. Virginia officials identified an institution that had space, called Youth for Tomorrow, but Khan objected to that because its “policy would require staff to use Draco’s birth name (‘Sage’) and she/her pronouns.”
Blair said she was blindsided by the accusations of transphobia. She did not know Sage identified as transgender until hours before she ran away, because school officials had concealed it from her, she said. Once they learned Sage preferred to be addressed as a male, Blair and her husband obliged, according to emails reviewed by The Daily Wire. Instances in which Blair and her husband “misgendered” Sage in court are readily explained as verbal slip-ups due to force of habit.
By Nov. 8, 2021, however, the Appomattox County Department of Social Services had notified Baltimore that it had completed its investigation of Blair’s home and found no “abuse or neglect.”
Judge Kershaw was forced to acknowledge that Maryland must give Sage back to her originating state, regardless of what the state deemed her “best interest.”
But even after admitting that under the law, Blair was entitled to custody of her daughter, Judge Kershaw was not done.
The law says she gets to go home. ‘Nonetheless…’
“The Court will nonetheless, and in dicta, address aspects of Draco’s request for a best interest analysis,” he wrote Nov. 10, 2021. “This Court finds that Draco has more likely than not endured emotional abuse and neglect by his parents.”
As evidence, he cited the parents’ “persistent challenge with using Court-directed and legally required masculine pronouns when referring to Draco.” He also cited Blair’s attempt to get Sage a new counselor after the counselor testified against her. The parents’ proposal to enroll Sage in the “Sunshine Program” at a facility called North Spring Behavioral Health Care was also problematic for the judge. After all, he wrote, the program is a ‘gender-specific, structured and nurturing program [that] treats girls ages 9-17,” and was therefore not appropriate for a child who identified as male.
Blair, for her part, said there were no programs specifically for transgender kids suffering trauma, and treating her as a boy would mean she would be placed with troubled biological boys, and she could be raped again.
When Kershaw ruled that Sage had to go home, the Office of the Public Defender used the judge’s “in dicta” comments to mount an appeal to the Court of Special Appeals–an effective way to turn Sage’s case into binding caselaw in Maryland that would govern how other cases are treated. Sage said Khan even mentioned the Supreme Court.
The appeals court ordered Sage held in Maryland while the appeal was pending, with Chief Judge Matthew J. Fader writing “Given the serious and irreparable nature of the harm at issue to a vulnerable transgender child, the Court is granting the motion in advance of response by the parties.”
Guardianship of Sage was assigned to the Baltimore City Department of Social Services. If Sage tried to leave, she could be arrested.
The questions raised on appeal seemed to underscore that some were simply looking for a way–any way–to hold Sage in Maryland. The Maryland Department of Juvenile Services was asked to advise: “Is There Any Other Proceeding in Maryland That Would Permit the Circuit Court to Order [Sage] into the Care and Custody of the Department of Juvenile Services?”
The Maryland agency responded in the strongest possible terms, saying, “There is no other proceeding in Maryland that would permit a Maryland court to place [Sage] in the care and custody of the Department… [Sage is under the legal authority of his adoptive parents who reside in Concord, Virginia and have no ties to Maryland.”
“[Sage] has committed no juvenile offense in Maryland, is not a Maryland resident, and has no connections to Maryland… If he is located in another State there is no legal authority to return him to Maryland, much less for Maryland to assert legal custody over him.”
The Maryland agency seemed baffled by the fact that the court was trying to keep Sage from going home.
“There is no evidence that [Sage] ever committed a juvenile offense in Maryland or Virginia or that he has ever been under juvenile court supervision for any purposes unrelated to the subject Requisition for Runaway Juveniles,” it wrote.
“As a party to the ICJ Maryland is responsible for the safe return of juveniles who have run away from home and, in doing so, left their home State… Application of the ICJ is not discretionary; it is mandatory in all cases that fall within its subject matter. The ICJ Rules are built upon the premise that authorities in the home State are in the best position to evaluate and promote the best interest of the minor,” it continued.
Sage flees Maryland
If Maryland was holding Sage for her own good, she didn’t seem to feel that way. Within five days, Sage had cut off her GPS monitoring bracelet and fled the Maryland facility. On Nov. 15, 2021, the juvenile court issued a runaway warrant and revealed “efforts have been made to follow leads regarding his whereabouts in several states.”
Incredibly, the judge seemed to be contemplating essentially extraditing Sage back to Maryland for running away—a state she was only in to begin with because she had turned up there with a sex offender.
The Maryland juvenile agency again underscored to the judge that there was no legal basis for such a move.
“[Sage] has absconded from shelter care and is, presumably, no longer in Maryland,” it wrote. “[Sage] has committed no juvenile offense in Maryland, is not a Maryland resident, and has no connections to Maryland… If he is located in another State there is no legal authority to return him to Maryland, much less for Maryland to assert legal custody over him.”
On January 24, 2022, the State Police of Texas Human Trafficking Division located Sage in Texas—after she allegedly was again beaten, raped, and trafficked. Unlike Maryland, Texas authorities immediately returned the frightened girl to her parents.
On the long trip back from Texas, Sage filled Blair in on all that had happened. Days later, Blair filed a complaint against Khan.
“She shared with me on Monday, January 31, 2022, that she was told to ‘lie’ by Attorney Aneesa Khan so that ‘she could win the case,’” Blair wrote in her complaint. “Sage stated, ‘Attorney Khan told me to tell the judge my parents hit me, starved me, then made to make my own dinner since I was 8 years old.’ This lie has caused great anguish to Sage. She was relieved to admit she had lied to the judge and the court.”
“Sage was 14 years old when she suffered the evil of minor commercial sex trafficking. Instead of competent juvenile attorneys who should understand the developing adolescent brain and that brain that has been traumatized and vulnerable, Sage was manipulated and coerced once again by those in charge of her,” Blair continued.
“Maryland did not comply with the interstate compact and the juvenile court did not address the sexual trafficking crime that had taken place,” she said. Sage was now “healing from physical abuse to her face and body” by her second, Texas trafficker, she wrote in her complaint against Khan.
Khan did not return a request for comment from The Daily Wire. The Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland curtly closed the file, writing “We have determined, based on an evaluation of the information provided, that there is an insufficient basis to demonstrate misconduct or that the overall circumstances do not warrant an investigation.”
Still, Sage’s sad saga was not over.
Blair said her granddaughter was suffering from trauma that caused her to act out to begin with, and that she will now have lifelong trauma as the result of being repeatedly trafficked. She bitterly complained that Maryland, in her opinion, chose to make her daughter’s ordeal a test case on gender identity and state power over parents instead of helping a troubled child.
Blair and her husband are committed to helping Sage heal, but she also wants to make sure other parents never go through the nightmare visited upon her family. She has found allies from across the political and social spectrum.
One is Laura Hanford, a fellow Virginia mom and former Democrat Capitol Hill staffer with expertise in navigating government who helped Blair in her battle against the Maryland bureaucracy. Hanford worked tirelessly to compile court records, document evidence, and strategize about how to advocate for Sage. She first told Sage’s story in The Federalist on Thursday.
Hanford said, based on her discussions with Blair, that after Sage was rescued from Texas, she entered the Virginia treatment facility that was required by the Maryland court agreement, and the facility urged her to have a mastectomy. But, she said, when Blair visited her daughter there, Sage asked her mother to secretly buy her girls’ clothes.
She managed to raise a few dollars for legal expenses thanks to the Gavel Project, a nonprofit that is battling “wokeness” in the courts. And she secured representation from Josh Hetzler, an attorney with the Founding Freedoms Law Center.
She was released from treatment to her mother’s care in June 2021 and no longer believes she is a boy, according to discharge paperwork that shows no diagnosis of gender dysphoria.
After 20 months, Sage was finally home.
Ryan Heath, president of the Gavel Project, said “We’re going to file lawsuits as soon as practicable, against multiple parties. We’re going to hold people personally liable.” Blair said Sage has been too traumatized to return to school.
Hanford, who said she has long been an international human rights advocate, told The Daily Wire she has learned that misguided government bureaucrats are a danger to citizens, and especially children.
“My focus has always been on vulnerable minorities that are persecuted by authoritarian governments, and that’s really how I see her case,” she said. “Children are being abused by people who see themselves as compassionate but implement policies that amount to a welcome mat for predators.”
“They go into these professions because they want to help, but they’re just kind of blinded by ideology. Parents are the ones who are in the best situation to help children with their struggles,” she said.