Ramirez: ‘He said it was God’s will’
Former Victory resident claims she was abused by Palmer
February 27, 2009
By ABIGAIL McWILLIAM, Messenger news editor
When Rebecca Ramirez came forth five years ago to protest at Michael Palmer’s Victory Christian Academy in Jay, Fla., it was because she couldn’t forget what happened to her when her parents sent her to the facility.
Ramirez said she was raped by Palmer in 1992 when she was a 16-year-old student at Victory. That’s what led her back to the facility some 12 years later to speak out, she said.
Following her protest, Palmer left the facility and it was renamed Lighthouse of North West Florida.
“The first time that he actually raped me was Oct. 2. I remember this because he made a big deal out of that date. It was like an anniversary and he always reminded me. I will never forget that date,” she said in a telephone interview with The Messenger.
Ramirez, 33, said she was raped once in Palmer’s office and a second time in a trailer on the academy’s property.
From that point, Ramirez said she was taken out of all of her activities and spent all of her days in his office as he tried to brainwash her into loving him and agreeing to marry him.
“He said it was God’s will,” she said. “I felt ashamed.”
She said Palmer gave her a promise ring while at the facility and later sent her a necklace when she returned home to California.
Ramirez’s parents kept the notes and jewelry Palmer sent to their daughter when she returned home from Victory. They were turned over to Florida authorities in 2004 as evidence, but no charges could be filed because the statute of limitations had run out.
“Rape is rape and many people have to suffer with the consequences,” Ramirez said. “The issue I had to deal with is that I was basically mind raped, and emotionally and mentally tortured, with physical rape on top of that. My parents tried to sweep it under the rug. They believed he was a man of God.”
Ramirez’s mother, Bonnie Ramirez, said she turned to a local church when her daughter was having problems as a teenager. First she sent Ramirez to the Victory Christian Academy in Ramona, Calif., and then to the Jay, Fla., location.
“I thought it would be good for her to be with other girls and learn about God and do her studies, too,” Bonnie Ramirez said in a phone interview. “They told me no teacher would be alone with her; it was supposed to be the same way in Florida.”
Bonnie Ramirez said she started getting phone calls from Michael Palmer’s wife, Patty Palmer, about her daughter’s relationship with Michael Palmer.
“She told me all kinds of stuff – that he was trying to look good and wearing cologne,” she said.
Once Rebecca was sent home, Bonnie Ramirez received another call from Patty Palmer.
“She called and said he was on his way here and he had his guns,” she said. “He came to our house all cleaned up and acting like he was so great and took my husband to a restaurant. He asked to marry Rebecca, although he was already married, and wanted to pay us $25,000 to marry her – like he was going to buy her.”
Years later, Bonnie Ramirez still struggles with what happened.
“It’s just really hard because you don’t get over it. You always keep this heavy, hurtful feeling,” she said. “I feel like it’s my fault for believing this person. I’m her mother. I want to protect her from all bad things and here I send her to a place where this happens. It’s really, really hard.”
Of all the interviews and research done by Paul Lio, a detective sergeant at the Santa Rosa sheriff’s office, he said Ramirez has the most concrete case.
“She had quite a story to tell about Palmer,” he said. “The sad part for us is that many years had gone by, so we had the statute of limitations here in Florida.”
A solid case against Palmer has never materialized, Lio said.
“He has been the subject of allegations of improper conduct and sexual abuse,” Lio said in a telephone interview. “No criminal charges have ever been filed.”
Lio said, “There are some very strict laws in this state regarding child abuse, reporting child abuse, as well as for people who run residential facilities. There is an organization called FACCCA that has exceptions to all of these rules,” he said.
The Florida Association of Christian Child Caring Agencies was founded in 1982 and permits facilities in Florida to join the organization instead of obtaining a license from the state. The organization has nearly 40 members.
Palmer said he is no longer involved with FACCCA.
One FACCCA facility, Our Father’s House, in Milton, Fla., was closed in 2003 after an investigation determined that the director was sexually molesting one of the residents, Lio said.
“It’s clergymen versus wayward child,” Lio said. “They make the perfect victim.”
Allegations of abuse and brainwashing by girls who attended Palmer’s facilities are strikingly similar.
California court records and statements by Florida authorities back up many of the claims.
Contact Abigail McWilliam at (515) 573-2141 or firstname.lastname@example.org