Its official name is the Parental Abduction Child Recovery Team, but
perhaps Kidnap Busters is a better fit after this week.
With the help of St. Paul cops and others, a week-old Minnesota-based
group of private investigators, lawyers, retired FBI types and other
cracked its first case with the dramatic recovery of an abducted
15-year-old Texas youth following a brief police pursuit in St. Paul.
“This was nothing short of a miracle,” Adrianna Valdez said Wednesday, a
day after the 36-year-old San Antonio woman tearfully was reunited with
on the shoulder of one of the most congested intersections in the Twin
“I had almost lost hope in finding someone to help me,” she added. “They
were a godsend, and the cops and everyone else involved in St. Paul were
What happened to Valdez’s son occurs more than 203,000 times annually in
this nation at the hands of a noncustodial parent or family member,
the latest government statistics. Some children are slain or seriously
harmed, serving as sacrificial lambs of deranged spite. Those who escape
such harm are
often traumatized or psychologically scarred, according to a body of
Such cases, absent clear evidence of danger, are considered a low police
priority, partly because of other pressing crimes and partly because of a
perception that he is a civil matter and that the kid is fine as long as
he is with a parent.
It was that attitude Valdez said she encountered Oct. 12 when her
ex-husband showed up in San Antonio at precisely the same time one of her
daughters was rushed to an emergency room by school officials after
complaining of serious abdominal pains.
“He was at the house at the time I was with my daughter,” said Valdez,
who has legal custody of her son and the couple’s three other children.
Her husband, identified as Moises Vargas, 36, has limited visitation
“I told him that I would file charges if he took him, and he told me that
it would be up to my son to go with him or not. They were gone when I got
Valdez said she called 911 only to be greeted with indifference.
“The dispatcher asked me sarcastically, ‘How can someone just take your
child?’ ” she said. “She made me feel like it was my fault.”
Valdez knew her son was taken to St. Paul but did not know where, and she
was unable to leave her other three children. Of limited financial means,
she called groups like the Salvation Army but was informed they did not
have the resources to provide transportation or other assistance.
Meanwhile, her son, who requires medication for an emotional disorder,
called her cell phone at least twice in recent weeks.
“Mom, I don’t know where I am, but I’m scared. Come get me,” Valdez said
her son told her before hanging up.
She turned to the Internet and did a Google search for “parental
The nonprofit team’s Website, created just the day before, was the first
to appear on the results list.
“I saw the words, ‘We Bring Them Home,’ saw they were in the same city I
thought my son was and got excited,” she said.
She dialed the toll-free number, expecting to leave a message. Instead,
she got a live voice, that of Ed Wunsch, the team’s president, a former
Wisconsin cop and a veteran private eye.
Wunsch jotted down information and told her he would be in touch.
She figured he would get back to her, if at all, in a few days. Her phone
rang an hour later. Wunsch did not know where the boy was living but
learned he was enrolled at a St. Paul middle school.
For the first time, the boy’s name was entered into the National Crime
Information Center database, something that should have happened weeks
earlier. Wunsch asked Valdez to dig up a certified copy of the Texas
divorce decree and custody order, and footed the bill for her airfare
Tuesday morning, team member Robin Dietz-Mayfield, a St. Paul-based
family law attorney, rushed to court to get a local judge to acknowledge
the Texas custody order and authorize local law enforcement to “use
whatever force necessary” to recover the boy.
The plan was to pick up the youth Tuesday morning at the school without
much fanfare. There was one major hitch, however. The youth failed to
show up for school. School officials, unaware of the abduction, refused
to release address information until they were shown the court order.
Wunsch and Vargas staked out the home, spotted the boy entering a car
occupied by other children and a family relative and followed it.
“I think we were spotted, and that’s when I decided to call the cops,”
St. Paul Police Sgt. Paul Iovino and John Vomastek, a district senior
commander who heard the broadcast for help, responded and located the car
as it traveled on Interstate 94 near the ramp to Interstate 35E.
The car was pulled over. As the cops questioned the driver, believed to
be an uncle, and calmed the younger children, mother and abducted son
locked eyes from a distance.
“It was like a scene from a movie,” recalled Wunsch. “They ran into each
other’s arms, and they embraced for a very, very long time.”
The whereabouts of the boy’s father, who faces sentencing on a felony
drug possession charge this month in Washington County, could not be
learned Thursday. He also could face charges in Texas.
Valdez, who plans to move out of her home, is just happy she has her son
“He’s very happy, but he’s also confused about the whole thing,” she
said. “I can’t thank these people enough.”