New Bethany runaway still haunts a Louisiana couple 32 years later
The New Bethany School For Girls was located in Arcadia, a town about half way between Shreveport and Monroe Louisiana, off of Interstate 20. (Photo by Kathleen Flynn, Nola.com / The Times-Picayune)
Print By Rebecca Catalanello, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
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on April 04, 2014 at 11:52 AM, updated April 04, 2014 at 12:16 PM
Special multimedia presentation of the entire multi-part series
Live chat with former residents
Part 1: One woman’s journey
Part 2: 30 years of controversy
Part 3: Couple remembers a runaway
Part 4: Former resident helps victims
Timeline: New Bethany 1971-2014
Video: Former residents return
Video: Reporters question Mack Ford
Video: Sheriff remembers a runaway
Video: Former resident helps victims
Photos: Former residents return
Photos: A look back at New Bethany
Diagram: New Bethany compound
How we reported this story
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The girl rose from the ditch like an animal in headlights.
In 32 years, Ralph and Elizabeth Jordan haven’t forgotten the sight.
“We just saw a kid,” Elizabeth Jordan remembers. “I thought if she was desperate enough to come out of the ditch, something was wrong.”
Ralph slowed his green van along Highway 9 in Arcadia, La. The couple’s two young daughters were in the back seat. Elizabeth cracked her door to speak to the girl. Without asking, the girl climbed in.
“Take me to the sheriff’s office,” she begged as she crawled over Elizabeth. “Take me to the sheriff’s office!”
As the Jordans discussed what to do, a car passed them on Highway 9, then slowed and pulled across the road to block them. Four or five men jumped out, according to a story in The Times-Picayune from the time.
“Do you have a girl in there?” one man demanded. Another pulled open the passenger side door before Elizabeth jerked it back shut.
“We’re taking her to the sheriff’s office,” she said.
A second car appeared and blocked the van’s rear before the two cars guided the vehicle to the New Bethany Home for Girls and forced them to relinquish the girl back to the home.
“We’ll visit you,” Elizabeth Jordan said before watching the girl disappear into a circle of people at the home.
Then, a man she says she recognized as Mack Ford, the preacher who started New Bethany as a ministry to wayward youth, spoke up.
“No,” Ford said. “You can’t do that.”
They never saw her again.
Over the years, Elizabeth and Ralph Jordan have wondered about the girl and whether she was OK. Until that August night in 1982, they had always heard good things about New Bethany. Elizabeth’s older brother had grown up with Ford. The couple supported their own church’s efforts to raise food and money to support the home. But this strange scene left them ambivalent and worried. They went on and reported to deputies what had happened near the rural compound.
“It still weighs on my mind,” Elizabeth said. “I just always hoped that she got her life back on track and it got beyond that and whatever was troubling her, it got better.”
The Shreveport couple own a cabin in that area that they travel to on weekends. Over the years as they have passed this same stretch of highway near New Bethany, they’ve remembered the girl and the night. They have watched the girls’ home deteriorate, with vines growing over buildings, grass creeping, unmanicured.
She wonders about the preacher. She wonders more about the girl.
She can’t remember how she looked or what she wore. But there is one detail she never forgot.
The girl’s last name was Silva.
Rebecca Silva was 14 that August night she decided to run. She had been at New Bethany about a year.
She remembers walking out of church with the other girls and seeing the opening in the fence that surrounded the New Bethany Home for Girls.
Thirty-two years ago, 14-year-old Rebecca Silva tried to run away from New Bethany Home for Girls. Silva now lives in the San Antonio, Texas, area and says she is still dealing with the scars of her time at New Bethany. (handout photo)
“I don’t know what my thought process was,” she said. “But I knew I wanted to leave.”
Silva scaled the fence, tore an arrow-sized hole in the inner side of her left arm, then ran down the road, desperately hoping to find help before the New Bethany staff found her.
A big green van passed and slowed. She saw the face of a woman in the passenger seat and begged her for help.
“I remember apologizing for New Bethany,” she said, “saying it wasn’t a bad place. I just wanted to go home.”
When NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune located Silva and told her about the Jordans’ memory of her, she began to sob into the phone.
She remembers the Jordans and imagines they were scared for their safety, for their children. She doesn’t blame them. She was scared, too.
“I don’t remember what happened to me when I came back,” she said.
Silva said she has struggled hard not to relive the details of her experience at New Bethany. “I don’t think I want to remember that because if everything everybody says is true, I don’t want any more memories triggered,” she said.
Silva, who now lives in the San Antonio area, developed a 20-year career as a nurse. But she simultaneously spent a lifetime combatting an inner voice that tells her she is not a good person. “The mental abuse, the spiritual abuse, it’s embedded in me and it’s shaped who I became.”
She battled a rare type of uterine cancer, survived two suicide attempts and recently lost her job and entered treatment for alcohol dependence.
Silva, who had never sought therapy until now, said the home wounded her in ways that haunt her.
“I still struggle to this day with my belief in God,” Silva said. “And I think that was a lot of the root and cause of this. I think my time there was detrimental to my well-being.”
She said she is both happy and sad that after all this time, the Jordans still remember her. She hasn’t forgotten them, either.
“You can thank them for me please,” she said. “They must be very good people.”
Part 4: A former New Bethany resident takes on the mantle of activism.
Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at 504.717.7701 or email@example.com.