Waiting is almost over for mother of abducted children

Now that Priscilla Seto’s children have been found, she hopes they’ll
return soon

Petti Fong
Vancouver Sun
Monday, May 10, 2004

Mila and Michon Dopham were abducted by their father in California in
1999. They have since been found living in Victoria.

GARDEN GROVE, CA . – Priscilla Seto spent Mother’s Day waiting by the
phone for the call that her children will be coming home soon.

Every Mother’s Day for years, Seto has been hoping that her former
husband would phone and let her know that Mila and Michon were safe.

“I waited by the phone all the time,” Seto said. “Just in case. At
Christmas. On Thanksgiving. On their birthdays.”

This Mother’s Day, Seto again waited, but this time with the hope that
the B.C. Ministry of Children and Families would call with the news that
her children were on a plane home to California.

Mila, now 12, and Michon, 10, have not seen their mother since leaving a
parking lot on Christmas Day, 1999.

Their father, Mignon Dopham, Seto’s ex-husband, took them to Canada. For
the past four and a half years, Dopham and his children have been living
under assumed names as the Le Qui family, conventional refugees who had
fled Vietnam.

“The last time I saw them was at a parking lot at Sam’s Club in Stanton,”
Seto said. “I thought they would be back soon. Their Christmas presents
were waiting for them to come back and play with.”

It’s been a long wait. But Seto is so thrilled that her children have
been found, she doesn’t mind waiting a bit longer.

“I know it will be very upsetting for them. But when Canada thinks it’s
the right time, we will be ready for them to come home,” she said.

The family always believed Mila and Michon would come home one day.
Photographs of the kids are on display in the house. The couple’s
two-and-a-half-year-old son Nathan has always known he had a brother and
sister somewhere out there.

Seto’s husband Jim Coker, who has known Mila and Michon almost their
entire lives, kept paying medical insurance for his two stepchildren, in
preparation for the day they return.

“We knew when they came back they were going to need counseling,” Seto
said. “Even when we didn’t know they would be returning, we wanted to be
ready.”

Since March, when the district attorney office in Orange County called
Seto with news of a tip that Dopham and the children were living in
Victoria, the family has waited constantly by the phone for the call that
finally came last Wednesday.

Family vacation plans in April were changed just in case Mila and Michon
came back in time so they could all go together. The family is thinking
about renovating so the children will have their own bedrooms. Two months
ago, when Seto and Coker looked at purchasing a new vehicle, they picked
a van that could hold eight passengers in expectation of Mila and
Michon’s return.

“We are waiting for the day when we can take the van to go get the kids,”
Coker said.

In the days since news of Dopham’s arrest, the family made sure someone
was always at home just in case the call comes.

Last Tuesday, Canadian immigration officers arrested Dopham after a
two-month investigation by the FBI, Citizenship and Immigration Canada
and the Orange County district attorney office.

Dopham is wanted for child abduction in California, where he could face
up to 10 years in prison, and is now also under investigation for
Canadian immigration offences.

Canadian authorities allege Dopham lied on his refugee application when
he claimed he was a Vietnamese refugee. His wife, Dopham stated, was too
sick to travel from Vietnam to Canada, where he and his children were
seeking refuge.

In fact, Dopham is a naturalized U.S. citizen who arrived from Vietnam in
1985.

He worked previously for the Immigration and Naturalization Service,
which Canadian immigration authorities claim gave him the knowledge to
work the system to his advantage.

Dopham is now in detention pending a decision on whether he’ll be charged
in Canada or sent back to the United States to face the child abduction
charges.

At his last known address in Garden Grove, Calif., an uncle of the
fugitive said Sunday the family thought Dopham was in Holland.

“We didn’t know where. We thought maybe Holland,” said Leo Lam. “He
hasn’t lived here, maybe five years now.”

When the children disappeared, investigators with the Orange County
district attorney office believed Dopham might have fled to Holland,
where his partner had lived, or to Vietnam, where Dopham was born.

Before leaving the U.S., Dopham lived with his sister in Garden Grove, a
Los Angeles suburb where the Korean and Vietnamese communities thrive.

Neighbour Kevin Cox, who did not know Dopham, said many Vietnamese
families have moved into the area over the past 10 years.

“There is a church here where many of them go on Sunday. There are stores
and restaurants where they shop and eat,” Cox said. “They feel
comfortable here.”

Twenty years ago, when Thans Vo first arrived in Garden Grove, there was
just one Vietnamese restaurant.

Now on streets with names like Newland and Newhope, shopping centres
catering specifically to the Vietnamese population have been built in the
past decade.

Vo said while many in the community have been able to find jobs and buy
homes, others have had a more difficult transition.

“It’s a good life for a lot of people,” Vo said Sunday. “But others still
have trouble. For some, it has been easy. Some have had hard times.”

Dopham appeared to have had a difficult time in the U.S.

Seto, his former wife, had a restraining order against Dopham, and the
couple had to meet at a public parking lot to arrange for the transfer of
the children for visits. Although Dopham had part-time custody of Mila
and Michon, Seto was the primary caregiver.

“He was always saying I would take the kids to Hong Kong and disappear,”
Seto said. “I would have never done that. But now I know he was the one
who planned to disappear.”

© The Vancouver Sun 2004

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