Tanner and Abigail Harris, along with their infant son, were kidnapped in 2015 by two men and taken to the bank where they believed Tanner could get into the safe in order to allow the men to gain access to the vault. Their story will be recounted on tonight’s two-hour episode of Dateline NBC.
The family was the second of the victims of bank robbers and kidnappers Michael Benanti and Brian Witham who went on a multi-state spree in 2015. They targeted people who worked at banks and then would force them to open the vaults, remove the money and hand it over. Many of the crimes were first investigated as inside jobs.
The episode of Dateline, which is titled “A Villainous Plan” airs tonight, Friday, April 10 at 8 p.m. on NBC. It features interviews with other victims of the kidnappers including Matthew and Valerie Yussman and investigators like Sergeant David Mocarsky and former Police Chief Jim Wardwell.
Here’s what you should know about Tanner and Abigail Harris:
1. They Were Having a Fun Morning Prior to the Home Invasion
When Abigail later testified against Benanti and Witham, she said the family was having a fun, flirty morning at home before the knock on the door. She said they’d been talking about their morning runs and said she’d been happy because she’d been “fitting into some smaller” clothes at the time.
“I remember just bounding down the steps … with this stupid smile on my face,” she said. “I went from bounding to the word nightmare flashing.”
She said she slammed the door on them and they later used a crowbar to force their way inside the home and into the bedroom.
2. Tanner Was a Loan Officer at the Bank
Like some of Benanti and Witham’s other victims, Tanner did not have access to the safe at the bank where he worked as the vice president and commercial lending officer. Even though they told the kidnappers this, they were still forced into the backseat of Abigail’s car along with their baby.
Tanner went into the bank and told a bank manager what happened; the manager brought out $195,000, and Tanner then took it out to the kidnappers who were waiting in the car with his wife and child.
“I said, ‘You got what you want. Now give me what I want,'” Tanner later testified, according to Knox News. The men drove off with Abigail and the baby still in the car.
3. Abigail and the Baby Were Let Go Unharmed
After an excruciating period of time, Abigail and the baby were left abandoned in the car after the men took off. The keys had been tossed into brush on the side of the road, and Abigail couldn’t find her keys or a phone that worked.
She said she ended up yelling to two strangers for help. When she testified against her kidnappers, she explained that she still feels fearful of them every day.
“Because of these felons, I am fearful every day,” she said. “He has no conscience. He got out of jail and basically returned to a life of crime. He has shown no recognition or remorse for the impact he’s had on the victims in this case.”
She asked that the judge give them the maximum amount of time for the crimes and said Benanti should spend it in isolation.
4. Social Media Made Them a Target
For each of their robberies and kidnappings, Michael Benanti and Brian Witham found their victims via banking websites and then used social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn to learn about them and their families.
At the time, banks and credit unions suspected this might be the case, so they began to issue warnings to employees asking them to vary their routine during the workweek.
“There’s a good possibility there was some type of surveillance done on this employee prior to the robbery,” FBI Special Agent Ed Reinhold, of the Knoxville FBI office, told NY Daily News. “Maybe vary your route to and from work so it’s harder for them to follow you.”
They hid cameras in bushes and shrubs; Benanti even hid out in the backyard of families’ homes for hours to figure out their schedules according to Witham.
5. Michael Benanti and Brian Witham Were Sentenced to Prison Time
According to Knox News, Michael Benanti was the mastermind behind the crimes, and his crime partner Witham turned on him after the U.S. Attorney’s Office agreed to cap his punishment at 42 years with the chance to shave off more time.
Witham and Benanti met in prison in 1994 when they were both serving time in federal prison for violent crimes. Benanti was freed in 2008, and Witham was freed in 2013. At that time, they met up and became partners-in-crime.
Now, Benanti has been sentenced to four consecutive life sentences for each of the four kidnappings and another 155 years for using guns to carry out his reign of terror according to USA Today. Witham was sentenced to 30 years in prison.