Friday, September 28, 2007

Man pleaded for daughter's safe return

Calgary man vowed to become Christian & help others if young girl was returned safely!

Published: Saturday January 07, 2006 in the The Edmonton Journal & Calgary Herald

A living nightmare starts at the point where reality and nightmares merge. The victim cannot distinguish the horrors of the day from the horrors of the night. 18 years ago, my wife abducted our children. The grief of losing the children, combined with the some-times incompetent and perhaps uncaring attitudes of city, provincial, and federal officials could have potentially allowed me to descend into an abyss too great to escape. Fortunately for me, there is God and a few people in this world who held out their hands to me and kept me from drowning in a sea of despair and insanity. by Richard Abbenbroek.

Edmonton/Calgary -- Racked by fear and sick with grief over his missing child, Richard Abbenbroek made a pact with God: If he got Jessica back safely, he would become a Christian and find a way to help other parents going through the same hell.

It's been 18 years since he got down and prayed for the return of his daughter, who is now 22. Richard has kept his word -- he attends Centre Street Church in Calgary, he is a Case Manager volunteer for Child Find Alberta and a member of the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children's Team HOPE (Help Offering Parents Empowerment). This is the U.S.-based centre that was co-founded by John Walsh of America's Most Wanted after the murder of his son Adam.

Richard wanted to make sure no one "would have to go through the horror the hard way, like I did," after his former wife left their Calgary home, taking his daughter and step-son with her.
He had been with Jessica's mother and her young son for five years when she became pregnant. They married a year after Jessica was born. Until then, their relationship seemed happy and normal, he says.

Then his wife became severely depressed and started drinking. His happy relationship crumbled. She constantly threatened to leave, saying: "When I leave, you will also never see your daughter again!"

On May 30, 1989, Richard arrived home to find clothes, bedding, food, and other odd items missing. Richard’s wife and the kids were gone. Richard felt the whole house closing in on him.
Trying to explain his feelings at this point, he says, “I just sat in the kitchen and cried for myself and the kids, and the family. How could I explain this? Where have they gone? Is this the end of the relationship? As I sat, tears fell like rain, sobs loud, my head hurt. I couldn’t think; I only could cry. . .
I feel so ashamed. Not for any-thing I did, but more for what I could not prevent.”

He searched the house frantically for a note or some clue as to where they may have gone — nothing. Richard’s wife had even taken the phone books, which listed the numbers of friends and family. Once the initial shock had worn off, Richard was able to recall a few of the numbers from memory. He discovered through mutual friends that his wife and the kids were still in Calgary but were staying with relatives.

Knowing it wouldn’t do any good to try to convince her to come home, and not wanting to cause further harm to the children, Richard applied for and received an interim custody order for Jessica. He was devastated to learn that his wife had then, taken the children to British Columbia. This rendered the order useless. Richard’s wife must first be served before the order could be in effect.

How do you serve someone you can’t find? The relatives were un-cooperative when Richard inquired as to his wife’s whereabouts. He feared she would go to the United States, making his search even more difficult. He had to act fast. Child Find B.C. helped him file an interim custody order with the Supreme Court of British Columbia.

Doing much of the legwork himself, Richard constantly badgered the Calgary Police or any Police, RCMP, county sheriffs and lawyers. The stress was so great, his weight plunged from 240lbs to 150lbs. It was at that point he made his pact with God.
Richard said he was appalled at the lack of aid and information available to parents in abduction cases. Many of the agencies he dealt with were less than helpful; some were totally unresponsive. One police officer even told him with a straight face that he should be happy. "Since the old lady and kid were gone, why not go have a beer?"
His case was further complicated because he was a father looking for his daughter while battling a common -- and sometimes misguided -- perception that children are better off with their mother.

To get the system to take action, Richard was forced to get police to lay child-abduction charges against his wife. Even this charge was difficult to enforce Canada-wide. It required an order be filed with the BC Supreme Court to make all law enforcement agencies act on the warrant for his wife’s arrest.

Legal technicalities and financial difficulties hindered Richard’s search. His wife had left him thousands of dollars in debt. With no funds, no credit, and bills to be paid, Richard was left with virtually no money to use to locate his daughter.
On Aug. 10, 1989, 72 days after she disappeared with Jessica, Richard's wife was tracked down and arrested. She was charged with parental child abduction, but never showed up in court.
Richard obtained a divorce the following June, along with full custody of Jessica. His step-son returned to his biological father.

Even though he had his daughter back, Richard said he lived in fear for years afterwards, always looking over his shoulder in case someone again tried to take Jessica.
Before the 1983 abduction of six-year-old Tania Murrell of Edmonton, there were no organizations in Canada that helped parents like Richard and other families of missing children. The forerunner to Child Find Alberta was established shortly after Murrell's disappearance. It wasn't until 1987 that the RCMP began keeping statistics on the country's missing children. That year, there were 57,233 reports of missing children. In 2004, there were 67,266 children reported missing in Canada.

The majority of missing children in Canada are runaways. Of the 67,266 missing-children reports in 2004, 52,280 were runaways and 76 per cent of those were habitual runners who generated a report each time they took off (thus inflating the numbers). The majority of these runaways were located within a week of leaving home.

The next highest number of missing-children reports in 2004 -- 11,373 -- fell into the unknown category. Another 671 young children wandered off, 27 were reported missing as the result of an accident such as drowning, 31 were kidnapped, 332 were abducted by parents and the remaining 2,552 went missing for "other" reasons.

Marlene Dalley, a researcher with the RCMP's National Missing Children Services based in Ottawa, says runaway children should be a societal concern because they are vulnerable on the streets.
"They become victims of pimps who are searching for girls to work in prostitution. Many of these children have been living on the streets for some time, and are involved in criminal activities and the drug trade," she says. "I must caution not all runaways are involved in prostitution and drugs, but the influence of the street life is very compelling.

The federal government spends about $700,000 a year on the RCMP's missing children's registry. The small group of RCMP and civilian staff work out of Ottawa collating information, and linking national and international law-enforcement and child-find groups.
The registry works closely with the Immigration, National Revenue and Foreign Affairs departments, but it does not actually search for missing children. That is left to the local police forces, parents and groups like Child Find and the Missing Children Society of Canada.

Calgarian Kathy Morgenstern and a small group of volunteers founded Canada's first non-profit missing children's organization, Alberta Friends of Child Find (later shortened to Child Find Alberta), about nine months after Tania Murrell disappeared. Today, there are more than 60 Child Find organizations across the country.

Since it was incorporated, Child Find Alberta volunteers have registered 883 families looking for 1,068 missing children, who include runaways and abductees. They have located or closed the files on 833 families involving 1,001 children. At the end of 2004, the agency was working on 50 files involving 67 missing children.

In addition to providing fingerprinting services, education and prevention awareness, the agency is responsible for the poster campaigns seen on the sides of trucks and in public places. Child Find Alberta distributes 4,500 posters for every missing child registered with its group. The organization depends entirely on corporate and public donations for its funding.

Another group, Missing Children Society of Canada was founded in 1986 in Calgary by a woman who was moved to take action after watching a television show profiling missing children. She volunteered with Child Find Alberta for two years before founding MCSC in 1986.
MCSC's mandate is slightly different from Child Find's, says spokeswoman Liz Ballendine.
"We actually have a team of investigators who travel around the country helping the police and searching families looking for missing children, whether that means doing interviews, helping in a ground search, taking a dive team to search a body of water, or working with embassies to get a child back."

(Child Find Alberta also has investigators who search for missing children, but they do not travel across the country.)

Although parents fear their child will be grabbed off the street by a stranger, such abductions are rare in Canada -- about three a year, according to RCMP statistics. Most times, the predator is known to the child as a relative, friend of the family or someone who lives in the neighbourhood.

But it's the so-called stranger abductions that get media attention, because the child is almost always found sexually assaulted and murdered, which only heightens the public's hysteria, says Ballendine.

"As far as we are concerned, parental abductions are much more serious and problematic, partly because it's not always done in the best interest of the children. I know people think, 'Oh it's all right. They are with a parent. ...' Well, there have been cases where the abducting parent has killed their children or hurt them, so it is not always all right. And it certainly isn't all right for the other parent."

Abducted children often live like fugitives, and are taught not to trust anyone or talk about their past. Their appearances may be altered. Their names may be changed and they may be stripped of their true identity and roots. Their health may be medically neglected for fear of discovery. Their education may be unstable and they often have no friends because of frequent moves. Some are lied to by the abducting parent, who poisons them against the left-behind parent.

"We need the general public to realize it is not OK for one parent to take a child and leave. When you try and reunite the children with the family or the other parent, they often have a slew of emotional and psychological problems," Ballendine says.
Even if a parent is lucky enough to be reunited with a missing child, life is never the same for the family. They must start over, undergo counselling and live with the fear the child could be abducted again.

Richard says after he was granted full custody of Jessica, he thought he noticed people watching his house and the day care Jessica attended. He worried constantly that his ex-wife would exact revenge by taking his daughter again. This is after she told Jessica that she was going to steal her back from Daddy.

"For the parents like myself who have lived through this hell, they know what I am talking about. We are all members of an exclusive club (family) that has the highest entrance dues imaginable: the temporary or permanent loss of your own child!"
Posted by Sir Richard

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