Vanished Part 1: When a parent takes a child

COURTNEY BRUMMER, Staff Writer
02/05/2005
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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a two-part series about parental
abductions.

The abduction of a child can be a parent’s worst nightmare.

But what if the abductor is the other parent?

In 2004, there were 18 cases of children who were abducted by a parent,
according to James Saunders, spokesperson for the Iowa Department of
Public Safety. In 2003, 19 cases of children who experienced the same
situation were reported.

According to the Iowa Missing Person Information Clearinghouse, there are
currently three active cases in which children who were abducted by a
parent or relative are still missing in Iowa:

- Corey Angle: Reported missing April 8, 1994, in Oelwein. Date of birth,
Oct. 15, 1989. He would be 13 years old.

- Chione Brooks: Reported missing July 17, 2000, in Marshalltown. Date of
birth, March 15, 1996. She would be 8 years old.

- Kimora Wright: Reported missing Oct. 28, 2004, in Des Moines. Date of
birth, Jan. 8, 2004. She would be 1 year old.

If a parent or other family member takes, hides or keeps a child away
from a parent with custody or visitation rights, then he or she may have
committed a crime, the U.S. Department of Justice reported.

A study conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation concluded that
in 49 percent of juvenile abductions, the offender is a family member, 80
percent of which are by a parent. In those instances 43 percent of the
perpetrators are women, and in 84 percent of the cases the child or
children are taken from their home.

In Council Bluffs, the situation is rarely reported.

Council Bluffs Police Detective Shawn Landon, who investigates crimes
involving youths, said in the course of the last two years, there have
been roughly three cases of parental abduction.

He noted that in Iowa, it’s not illegal for a parent to take a child,
whether that parent has custody or not, as long as the parent tells the
custodial parent where they are with the child or where they are taking
the child.

“Usually, a call can be made, and you can convince the person to bring
the child back,” he said.

It’s a tricky call. Pottawattamie County Attorney Matt Wilber said Iowa
Code has different definitions for different situations when it comes to
the abduction of a child by a family member.

Iowa Code defines violating a custodial order as: “A relative of a child
who, acting in violation of an order of any court which fixes,
permanently or temporarily, the custody or physical care of the child in
another, takes and conceals the child, within or outside the state, from
the person having lawful custody or physical care.”

In addition, “A parent of a child living apart from the other parent who
conceals that child or causes that child’s whereabouts to be unknown to a
parent with visitation rights or parental time in violation of a court
order granting visitation rights or parental time and without the other
parent’s consent,” commits a serious misdemeanor.

“Basically, if you are a relative, it’s a felony, if you are a parent
it’s a serious misdemeanor,” Wilber said.

One resource available in Iowa and Nebraska for any type of abduction
case is the AMBER Alert System. When it comes to parental abductions,
however, the system is particularly gray.

In Iowa, the AMBER Alert plan is a “voluntary, cooperative program
between law-enforcement agencies and local broadcasters to send an
emergency alert to the public when a child has been abducted, and it is
believed that the child is in danger of serious bodily harm or death.”

Under the AMBER Alert, area radio and television stations interrupt
programming to broadcast information about the missing child using the
Emergency Alert System. While EAS is typically used for alerting the
public to severe weather emergencies, it is also the warning system for
civil and national emergencies.

The federal government requires all radio and television stations and
most cable systems to install and maintain devices that can monitor EAS
warnings and tests and relay them rapidly and reliably to their audiences.

The idea behind the AMBER Plan is a simple one: If stations can broadcast
weather warnings through EAS, why not child abductions? The AMBER Plan
provides law-enforcement agencies with another tool to help recover
abducted children and quickly apprehend the suspect.

The purpose of the system is to provide a rapid response to the most
serious child-abduction cases. When an AMBER Alert is activated,
law-enforcement agencies immediately gain the assistance of thousands of
broadcast and cable listeners and viewers throughout the area.

The plan relies on the community to safely recover the abducted child in
hopes that the system will not only coerce a kidnapper into releasing the
child for fear of being arrested but also deter the person from
committing the crime in the first place.

In order to institute an AMBER Alert in Iowa, the following criteria must
be met:

- Law enforcement confirms a child has been abducted.

- The child is under the age of 18.

- Law enforcement believes the circumstances surrounding the abduction
indicate that the child is in danger of serious bodily harm or death.

- There is enough descriptive information about the child, abductor,
and/or suspect’s vehicle to believe an immediate broadcast alert will
help.

In reference to the the third item of the criteria, the question of
danger to the child is always one that law enforcement has to look at.
Typically, people don’t always assume a child would be in danger when
they are with a parent.

However, that is not necessarily true, according to a 2001 study released
by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and
Delinquency Prevention on Risk Factors of Parental Abduction.

Among many conclusions offered in the study, it noted that such actions
can, at its minimum, result in psychological damage to the child and, at
its most horrific, could result in the child’s death.

According to the study: “Mothers and fathers were equally likely to
abduct. The abducted child’s parent, usually in his or her mid-20s or
mid-30s, almost always carried out the abduction, although the child’s
grandparent or stepparent occasionally was the abductor.”

The study found that mothers were more likely to abduct when a custody
order existed, whereas fathers were more likely to abduct when no custody
order existed.

In addition, fathers were twice as likely as mothers to abduct in the
absence of a custody order, according to the study and “it was discovered
that fathers were much more likely to use force to abduct their children
or to retain them by not returning them from a visitation, whereas
mothers rarely used force to abduct their children.

“Instead, mothers were more likely to flee with the children or to deny
the fathers visitation. These patterns of behavior reflect that mothers
usually have physical possession of their children.”

Most of the cases stem from domestic disputes. Because of this, Wilber
said his office typically refers the cases to civil court unless there is
sufficient evidence the child is in danger, a common practice in many
jurisdictions.

“Parents are oftentimes looking to retaliate against each other,” Wilber
said. “This particular charge would be one that is rife for people to
abuse. We don’t want to be used as a tool in domestic disputes. So it
really goes on a case by case basis.”

That doesn’t mean his office won’t get involved at all, but there are
many obstacles.

For example, a custodial parent takes the child from Council Bluffs to
Kansas City. The parent notifies the other parent, who has visitation
rights, that they are going to Kansas City. Rather than returning to
Council Bluffs, the parent and the child disappear and no word is left of
their whereabouts.

“You can still be the custodial parent and still be guilty of violating a
custodial order,” Wilber said. “At a certain level, it gets to a point
where it is evident they are concealing the child’s whereabouts and are
in violation of the law.”

By then, a child could be out of state and jurisdictional issues arise.

“If they get to Kansas City and decide they are not coming back, they are
in another state,” he said. “It’s outside of my jurisdiction, so I would
have to defer to their laws. However, that’s not to say I have no
resources here. Our best sanction that is always in place is contempt of
court when they have violated that custodial order.”

When that happens, an arrest warrant is issued for the abductor and
entered into the National Crime Information Center that law enforcement
agencies nationwide utilize.

Scars remain from parental abduction 30 years later

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