part 2 of this series before delving into this story.and
In 2007 Landon Steele was married to a JAG attorney and living in Virginia. It was around this time that he crossed paths with Raelyn Balfour – a mother, veteran, and media specialist for VetREST, an organization that provides resources to veterans in order to prevent suicide.
Her career in the army began in 1989 and today she is currently serving overseas. But one of the first things that comes up when you search her name is a tragic story that took place on March 30, 2007, the day she met Landon Steele.
Tragedy brought them together, but a commitment to their brothers and sisters in uniform has kept them together. 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. 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, 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.”
“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.
“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.”
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.
She and her husband have five other children and live in Charlottesville.
I am not here to cast judgment on Raelyn. What happened to her was a tragedy, and a jury of her peers took less than an hour to find her not guilty of committing a crime.
Raelyn’s encounter with Landon was completely by chance. He just happened to be there at that time. However, he completely fabricated the story about riding in the ambulance with Bryce and trying to save his life. For over a decade he had told Raelyn this story, and in doing so built a bond with her. Consequently he was able to get the position at VetREST, which he likely would not have been able to do had he told the truth.
Raelyn was Jane Doe #3, who submitted an affidavit in support of a restraining order that an ex-girlfriend was attempting to take out against Landon. She personally witnessed him being abusive towards his girlfriend at the time, as well as his mother when she wouldn’t send him money.
Raelyn sent Landon $2000 in 2016 to come to her in Virginia to work for VetREST. When he showed up to see her he had a dog named Grace with him, a car filled with empty beer cans, and he reeked of booze. He initially told Raelyn that he had a friend’s place to stay at, but that turned out to be a lie.
Raelyn noticed odd behavior right away. According to her Landon began posting on Facebook, claiming to be active duty at Walter Reed Hospital. She couldn’t see the posts, because he manually blocked her from seeing certain posts, which she would know were not true. Like this one, where he showed himself messaging a woman claiming to be a SEAL Delta employee.
Raelyn found out about these posts through mutual friends who could see them.
According to Raelyn Landon got drunk every night and came back to her apartment around 2-3 AM. He slept until 1 and was always on his phone. During his first week there Raelyn came home to find his girlfriend from Rhode Island sitting on her couch watching TV. After a week and a half of doing nothing Raelyn told him it was time to get down to business and actually do some work for VetREST, or else he would have to leave. He had excuse after excuse, but she kept giving him chances.
Raelyn and Landon flew to Colorado for a meeting with the founder of VetREST, an Army General. Landon had two double shots of Jameson at the airport before getting on the plane because he was nervous about meeting the General. When he got there he smelled of booze and they realized right away that he was an alcoholic.
Raelyn also noticed several things about Landon that other victims noticed. He took socks and wrapped them around his arms to make them look bigger. He even wore makeup on his face.
Corporal Ben Kopp was killed in Afghanistan on July 18, 2009, after being shot in combat a week prior. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery, and Raelyn had been in contact with his gold star mother, who wanted her to bring beer and a coin to his grave site, since she lived close by.
Raelyn jumped at this opportunity to honor the wishes of a gold star mother, and assumed Landon would as well, since he was active in the vet community, and had previously told a gold star father that he was there when his son passed. However, he declined the invite to go with her to the gravesite because he had to go to a soft opening of a bar in DC that a friend of his was opening instead.
That day it ended up pouring out, but Raelyn went, took pictures, and sent them to Landon. He then posted them on Facebook, claiming to be at the gravesite, but blocked her from seeing the post. On another trip to the cemetery Landon had no idea where his grave was.
During his time living with Raelyn rent free, Landon spent most of his time on Facebook “crucifying people,” as she describes it. He neglected his dog Grace, which he pretended was a service dog. There is no evidence that Landon has ever been diagnosed with PTSD, and may not have ever seen real combat, which we will explore in another segment of this series. Grace was left in a kennel all day while he slept until 1. He got upset with Raelyn when she gave the dog water, because then he would have to walk her.
Meanwhile, Landon was skipping VetREST events and not contributing anything to the cause. He likes to pretend that he’s a dedicated veteran who wants to help other vets in need get through hard times, but he did almost nothing to help them.
Landon was telling friends and his mother tall tales about being part of an investigation looking into a guy who was stealing guns from the armory. His girlfriend told Raelyn that she believed he was a pathological liar, and wanted out of the relationship. Landon had told her, like many others, that he had been shot in the face while working with law enforcement on a drug raid, and when he lay there dying he imagined himself married to her. But according to her he was shot in the face while messing around with a gun at a friend’s house. Landon always has a loaded firearm on him when he’s drinking. Others have told different stories, none of which lined up with Landon’s.
The drinking continued and Raelyn decided it was time for an intervention. Landon’s mother wouldn’t do it without a professional coordinating though, so Raelyn paid $3,000 out of pocket to have it done right. The intervention happened and Landon pretended that he was taking it seriously, but lashed out at his girlfriend for participating in it. His stay in rehab lasted less than 2 weeks and he did nothing with any of the contacts Raelyn gave him.
After the intervention and failed rehab Landon started smearing Raelyn on his Facebook page. He accused her of cheating on her husband and made up vicious lies that caused her to be unfriended by over 100 people. He did all of this in order to discredit her in case Raelyn outed him and told people what Landon was really like. The most important thing to Landon is his online persona because it’s what enables him to find his next victim.
After that his girlfriend got stuck with the dog as he went off on his next “contract.” The dog was malnourished and sick from her time with Landon and died young two years later. Landon blamed his girlfriend and lashed out at her for allegedly abusing the dog. She was also pregnant with Landon’s child, but miscarried, possibly due to the stress Landon was causing for her.
Landon told his now ex-girlfriend other lies about his military service, which he still embellishes to this day. One of those lies was that he should have won a purple heart for his heroism in trying to save the lives of Captain Phillip Esposito and First Lieutenant Louis Allen, who were killed in Tikrit, Iraq in June of 2005. In reality he didn’t know either of the deceased, yet to this day he wears wrist bands honoring them, and often poses for dramatic pictures showing off the bracelets while he’s holding a gun, someone’s hand, or sipping on whiskey.
He flat out lied and said that they were his commanding officers.
And in doing so he continues to appropriate the very real pain and anguish that their loved ones go through.
While he was living with Raelyn she went on his Facebook and saw that he was talking to “at least 20-25 women,” at a time, and described the conversations as “grooming the next girl.” After seeing the way he treated his mother, his pregnant girlfriend, and the dog, as well as all the lies he had told, Raelyn decided to hire a private investigator to look into his story about her son. She found out last year that not only was it a lie, but he wasn’t on military duty when her son died, and couldn’t produce a dog training certification.
Today Landon owns another dog, and according to the woman who gave it to him she did so “under false pretenses” as Landon lied about needing one.
Today Landon works in Montana for Hoplite Armor. He was invited to live with Lymon Bishop, the owner of the company, after Landon told him that he was certified as a bomb handler – another lie.
I attempted to warn Lymon about him last week, but he doesn’t seem too concerned, even after reading the half dozen affidavits from women alleging domestic violence, manipulation, and larceny.
It’s been a week, so either he never read it or he did and he’s fine with it. If you have strong opinions about this business decision you are free to express yourself on Hoplite’s Facebook page.
Lymon is the engineer developing the armor, but Landon told me and everyone else he’s spoken to that he’s the one designing the armor for dogs.
Soon Leigha Genduso will be joining him there, and he will no doubt do to both of them what he has done to everyone else who has given him a chance.
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