PALMER — When 29-year-old Victoria Baldwin’s father, Robert Baldwin, last year told Indiana police he killed her 5-year-old half-brother, she was thrown into a whirlwind of emotions. But above all, she knew she must do one thing.
Step in and care for her three half-sisters.
Robert Baldwin, who is still awaiting trial and is using a mental health defense rather than plead guilty, Victoria Baldwin said, told police he first attempted to suffocate and then strangled his son Gabriel Baldwin. His three young daughters, ages 3 to 11, were picked up from school by state social service officers and immediately placed into foster care.
Victoria Baldwin, a Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson based Air Force Tech Sergeant who lives in Palmer and shares custody of her 5-year-old son with her ex-husband, immediately traveled to Indiana to be with her young half siblings.
And while the state wouldn’t let her move the girls to Alaska at the time, they have since started the process of severing the parental rights of both Robert Baldwin and the girls’ absentee mother. They are now working with Alaska to move the girls into Victoria Baldwin’s care in preparation for adoption.
That means Baldwin’s life is about to change — big time.
“This is your family and you do whatever it takes,” she said. “Is it still terrifying? Yes. Because you’re going from a family of two to a family five.”
Baldwin, who had not lived with her father since she was young and also had a traumatic childhood, said she has learned to become self-reliant, deal with whatever life throws her and pay it forward. She founded a photography non-profit, Because of the Brave, that provides veterans and families of the fallen with portraits. She works with groups that serve vulnerable youth. She volunteers with a variety of veteran organizations.
But faced with absorbing three siblings, one of whom has cystic fibrosis, she knows that she must do something that makes her uncomfortable.
Ask for help.
“It’s really hard to ask for help. I’m the one that helps people. I’m not the one that asks for help,” she said. “It’s embarrassing, too. People are curious, and you’re embarrassed to say ‘this is why I need help, because my dad did this horrible thing.’ But I’m trying to be realistic with myself and say ‘as much as you want to be Superwoman, you need help.’”
To get ready for the girls, who could be in Alaska as soon as early September, she plans to move into a bigger house on the military base and rent out the home she owns in Palmer. She’s also renting a storage unit to house the items she needs to collect in preparation for their arrival — beds, dressers, mattresses, Alaska-appropriate clothing and more. She’s hoping that friends and community members may be willing to donate some of the things. Others she knows she’ll need to buy.
But one of her biggest needs isn’t quite as simple. Although her current car, a Ford Escape, technically has enough seatbelts, it simply won’t fit the three car seats or booster seats she’ll need to place in it to transport her son and the three girls. That means she is going to have to buy a bigger car.
“I’m going to figure out a way to do it, but it’s going to be hard,” she said.
When the girls arrive, she hopes to have everything prepared for them to settle into a predictable and safe life.
“I’ve lived through trauma and overcome and … if there’s anyone who is prepared and able to be like ‘hey we can get through this,’ it’s me,” she said. “It’s sad, but it’s like I’m prepared in that way to say ‘hey, there’s something in our DNA that we don’t back down, and we figure it out a way to make it work. And you guys are just as capable of that as I am.’”
Community members who wish to donate items or other help can contact Baldwin through her Because of the Brave Facebook page or a Go Fund Me page she’s set-up for donations at GoFundMe.com/Baldwin-family-support.