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Trump-backed Pa. Senate candidate suspends his campaign after losing custody battle

Sean Parnell speaks ahead of a rally with then-President Donald Trump on Sept. 22, 2020, in Moon Township, Pa.
Keith Srakocic
Sean Parnell speaks ahead of a rally with then-President Donald Trump on Sept. 22, 2020, in Moon Township, Pa.

Updated November 22, 2021 at 5:21 PM ET

Sean Parnell has suspended his campaign to represent Pennsylvania in the U.S. Senate after a court order made public on Monday granted the Republican's estranged wife sole legal custody and primary physical custody of the pair's three children.

Parnell's wife, Laurie Snell, has accused him of a litany of abuses ranging from choking her and striking one of their children, to trying to convince her to have an abortion when she was six months pregnant, according to media reports.

NPR member station WESA reports that during a custody hearing, Parnell emphatically denied those allegations. When shown a picture that purportedly showed a handprint-like welt on his son's back, Parnell responded: "That is not a picture of my son."

Both Parnell and Snell had sought sole custody of the three children. The judge found that Parnell was the "less credible" witness, according to The Washington Post.

In a statement on Monday announcing his campaign suspension, Parnell said he was "devastated" by the judge's ruling:

"I strongly disagree with the ruling today and I'm devastated by the decision. I plan on asking the court to reconsider this decision. In the order, two of the leading factors that weighed heavily in the judge's decision revolved around me being a leading U.S. Senate candidate. There is nothing more important to me than my children, and while I plan to ask the court to reconsider, I can't continue with a Senate campaign. My focus right now is 100% on my children, and I want them to know I do not have any other priorities and will never stop fighting for them. Thank you."

As part of the judge's decision, Parnell will have custody of the three children three weekends a month.

Former President Donald Trump endorsed Parnell, an Army veteran, for the crucial Pennsylvania Senate seat that will be left vacant by the retirement of Republican Pat Toomey.

Parnell was not the only Republican U.S. Senate candidate facing allegations of abuse. Former football star Herschel Walker, who's running in Georgia, allegedly threatened a former wife. In Missouri, one GOP candidate is a former governor who resigned from office after he was accused of sexual assault.

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Alana Wise joined WAMU in September 2018 as the 2018-2020 Audion Reporting Fellow for Guns & America. Selected as one of 10 recipients nationwide of the Audion Reporting Fellowship, Alana works in the WAMU newsroom as part of a national reporting project and is spending two years focusing on the impact of guns in the Washington region.
Alana Wise
Alana Wise is a politics reporter on the Washington desk at NPR.