Parents kidnapped girl from grandmother: police

Jeff Lee
Vancouver Sun
Friday, July 23, 2004

An errant suitcase, well-honed investigative instincts and an unwavering
determination to reunite a little girl born addicted to heroin with her
Pennsylvania grandmother all helped Darren Wilson bring an end to young
Sierrah Findeison’s nomadic lifestyle.

On Thursday, Wilson, an investigator with the Missing Children Society of
Canada, recounted how he painstakingly tracked down 4 1/2-year-old
Sierrah’s drug-addicted parents in Vancouver, where the mother, Faith
Garonzik, was periodically working as a prostitute to pay for her and her
husband Harry Findeison’s heroin addiction.

The suitcase, containing Sierrah’s birth certificate, had been left at
Vancouver International Airport in December, 2001, when the parents fled
Toronto days after warrants for their arrest on kidnapping charges were
filed in Pennsylvania.

Garonzik, 27, and Findeison, 33, are now in a Vancouver jail awaiting
repatriation to Upper Darby, Penn., where they are wanted on charges of
kidnapping Sierrah from her grandmother, Katherine Garonzik, who has
legal custody.

Sierrah, who appears healthy and well-fed, has been placed in the
temporary custody of B.C.’s Ministry for Child and Family Development,
awaiting her grandmother’s arrival from the U.S. But Wilson said
Katherine Garonzik’s arrival is being delayed by the fact she had to
borrow money for the expensive, short-notice flight.

She’s expected to meet her granddaughter late today or early Saturday.

Wilson, a former Calgary police officer, said Sierrah’s life on the run
ended this week after Vancouver police used information he obtained
during a year-long investigation in which he tracked the parents to
Agassiz.

The trio had moved to the small Fraser Valley community in May after the
parents became spooked by Wilson’s questioning of neighbours in
Vancouver’s Commercial Drive neighborhood.

They’d lived in that area for the past 30 months under the assumed names
Robert and Kate Johnson. They had renamed their daughter Sarah.

When police arrested the parents, they found them in possession of heroin
and found plenty of evidence that they were still addicted to drugs.

Wilson said he was elated when police finally recovered Sierrah, whom he
described as a bright, cheerful child.

“We felt there was some serious risk here to her, and certainly the
lifestyle she was participating in was not conducive to raising
children,” Wilson said. “Some of the cases I certainly don’t feel as
strongly about, but this case I felt the real need to locate this child
and get her home.”

Vancouver police spokeswoman Const. Anne Drennan was more direct: The
constant drug and prostitution environment to which Sierrah was exposed
meant her parents “were not fit to take care of their child.” Had this
been a Canadian family, the result would have been the same, she said.

The difference here was that the parents were also being sought on
kidnapping charges, for which they could face serious jail time.

The case began Nov. 16, 2001, when Sierrah’s parents, deemed unfit by
Philadelphia’s Children and Youth Services because of their addiction,
took Sierrah from her grandmother, who had been given legal custody of
the girl and her baby sister Mykaelah.

Both girls were born with opiate addiction because of their mother’s
constant drug use, and had undergone withdrawal programs as infants.

Sierrah’s parents did not want Mykaelah, according to the Missing
Children Society. But on the day a court was to give Katherine Garonzik
permanent custody, the parents put Sierrah into a stolen car and fled.

They were later tracked to the Toronto area, where they’d arrived on a
Greyhound bus. Investigators discovered they were using methadone clinics
in the area, but before police could arrest them, Garonzik and Findeison
disappeared.

The case languished for three months until the luggage with Sierrah’s
birth certificate was recovered here.

Wilson said his gut instinct as a former police officer was that the
parents were likely enrolled in a methadone treatment program in
Vancouver. After flashing around pictures of Faith, he learned she was
still working as a prostitute.

The pair had no Canadian identification and no vehicle, and were not able
to collect welfare. They subsisted on the proceeds of Faith Garoznik’s
prostitution, as well as odd jobs Findeison took as a plumber, Wilson
explained.

“Drugs are plentiful in this area. Because that’s what they were into, I
think that’s why they gravitated here.”

In April, a streetworker in Vancouver saw a poster produced by the
Missing Children Society and recognized Faith Garonzik as an area
prostitute.

After a week of surveillance, Wilson located her on a prostitute stroll
on Kingsway between Nanaimo and Victoria Drive. He alerted Vancouver
police, who set up surveillance. Late on Tuesday night, Garonzik took a
Greyhound bus to Agassiz and attempted to hitch a ride farther down the
road.

Drennan said the undercover officers hastily converted their surveillance
car into what looked like an ordinary vehicle and offered her a ride
home. The following day, they set up surveillance on an apartment above a
business, and around noon watched as the parents and Sierrah left the
building.

At that point, the officers arrested the parents on Canada Immigration
warrants, she said.

Wilson said Sierrah was at one point registered in a childcare program.
Her parents had also taken her to a mall Santa last year. But at the same
time, he said, Sierrah was also “exposed to some things that were not
appropriate.”

He said the investigation was taxing because Sierrah’s parents were
always on the move. “We’ve certainly had a lot of ups and downs,” he said.

He described finding Sierrah as “a lot of joy, a lot of relief,” adding
that he was rewarded by being able to spend a bit of time with the little
girl.

© The Vancouver Sun 2004

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