Ali Kessler was 39 and living in Fort Lauderdale when she became pregnant, the result of a short-lived relationship with a man named John Stacey whom she met on a dating app in NYC. “I was going to do it on my own—have the baby. But when John found out I was pregnant … he tortured me every single day.”
It was the beginning of what would become years of abuse by Stacey—stalking, horribly violent threats to Kessler’s life, and a need for control so severe that his abuse escalated to the most heartbreaking pinnacle.
On May 19, 2021, Kessler filed for an order of protection. The judge denied the order despite proof of four years of escalating violence and abuse, including a text Stacey sent Kessler that said, “You deserve to have your head separated from your body. But I am not the violent type. God will deal with you.”
The next day, Stacey would kill her 4-year-old son, Greyson.
“He knew I was at the courthouse that day because of the tracker he put on my car,” Kessler says of Stacey. “He knew he was going to be caught.” That day, her son was with Stacey. It was his appointed custody time, but Kessler feared something was going to happen.
When Greyson didn’t show up at preschool for two days and Kessler couldn’t reach Stacey, she asked the court to remove her son from her ex’s custody. The judge denied her request. She went to Stacey’s apartment, but he lived in a gated complex and the security guard wouldn’t let her in. She called the police for an escort. They refused to help her.
“Everyone just pointed their finger at someone else. There’s no probable cause, they told me. No reason for them to break in; he is with his father,” Kessler remembers.
Even Stacey’s family tried to tell police they suspected he was going to hurt himself or his son. Authorities still didn’t budge. After five wellness checks where Kessler says police knocked on Stacey’s door and no one answered, authorities told her they couldn’t send another officer out until the following day.
Kessler looked up the owners of Stacey’s condo and got permission to hire a locksmith to break in. She received a text when the locksmith and Ft. Lauderdale police arrived at Stacey’s door at 11:50 p.m. that night. She waited anxiously at home. It took five hours to hear back.
In the end, all the red tape had protected no one. The bodies of Stacey and Greyson were found on the living room couch—Stacey had shot his son before shooting himself, killing them both.
“It’s a nightmare,” says Kessler. “Not only did he take away my child and first born … I’m no longer a mother. I no longer wake up and make lunches and take a child to school and then pick him up. My whole life just went back to the way it was six years ago almost like it didn’t even happen,” she says.
Almost like she never had a child.
But she did. She knows this because she says she misses Greyson every single minute of the day. She says it’s hard to breathe most days. She misses his smile, his laugh, and hearing him say “Ma.” He had the biggest imagination. He loved waterslides. He loved dancing. He made everyone laugh.
“He was everyone’s best friend,” says Kessler. “Everyone wanted a playdate with Grey.” When the news of his murder circulated to the community, his teacher needed to take time off to grieve. His death changed everyone, but most of all, Kessler.
“I miss being his mom and miss being a mom. I feel like I died that day as well. And I wish he [Stacey] would have just killed me instead of killing an innocent 4-year-old.”
When Kessler first found out she was pregnant, she asked for nothing from Stacey. She told him he could walk away, no strings attached. She was ready to handle motherhood on her own.
But Stacey, 47, had no intention of walking away. He sent Kessler degrading and threatening text messages almost nonstop. He told Kessler that she was ruining his life by continuing with the pregnancy. Then Greyson was born, and for the first six months of his life, Stacey left them alone. He moved to Fort Lauderdale from New Jersey and filed for shared custody. He asked that Greyson’s last name be changed to his. That request was denied, but he was allowed to see his son. Roughly every two days, Greyson would switch between her house and Stacey’s, something Kessler would continue to fight against for the length of her son’s short life.
“They’re more concerned about parental rights than child safety,” she says of family court. “They’re treating the child as a possession.”
During this time, Stacey’s abuse of Kessler continued. He was stalking Kessler, even putting a tracking device on her car. He stalked her activity online, too. He sent her hundreds of threatening text messages. Kessler says he was fixated on the idea that they should be together.
“He was obsessed with having a fantasy life of two parents living happily ever after. He wanted us to be a family but never did anything to try to make it happen, so he then decided … to fight with me about everything.”
He told Kessler his life’s mission was to make her suffer.
“I texted my lawyer daily screenshots of his madness,” says Kessler. She was under the impression something would come of it—ramification—but nothing ever did. She says she requested a psychiatric evaluation, but that never happened either. When she found the tracker on her car, she reported it to the police, but by that time, it was too late. Stacey had Greyson. And when she tried to file for the emergency order of protection, a judge told her there wasn’t enough evidence. She says they did allow an injunction to be filed for stalking, meaning only some of Stacey’s tactics were going to be thwarted. They didn’t believe Greyson was in danger, something that would be proven tragically wrong.
“It makes me sick,” says Kessler. “I can’t get one person to tell me what I could have done differently, what could have been done to prevent this. Because there is nothing.”
Since his murder, Kessler has wanted to make sure her son didn’t die in vain. Working with Florida lawmakers, she helped to create Greyson’s Law. In December of last year, SB1106 was filed in the Florida Senate and House by Senator Lori Berman, D- Palm Beach, and State Representative Michael Grieco, D- Miami. The bill proposes reforming custody court procedures that previously overlooked evidence of abuse, like Kessler’s, when determining if shared custody was in the best interests of a child.
Unfortunately, in March of 2022, the bill stalled in the Florida Senate. It won’t have a chance to be reintroduced until 2023.
Kessler isn’t giving up. She started a website, Greysonschoice.org, that she’s hoping to turn into a nonprofit to help other protective parents find solace and help. In May, she held a candlelight vigil for Greyson at his favorite park, where they just planted a tree and placed a plaque in her son’s memory. Advocates spoke out about family court injustices. Kessler is turning her pain into advocacy, even though she can’t understand why the world isn’t as mad as she is.
“This nightmare must be for something. If there isn’t change, they’re basically accepting that a person can shoot their child and get away with it. I can’t let Greyson’s life be for nothing and it’s my job to fight for him.”