Saturday, September 10, 2005

9/10/05 Not Really Missing? Part II

We continue from yesterday's post with Richard's story. Not only did he have to deal with losing his entire family, but with a society which didn't seem to realize that a man can be a better parent than a woman. It should not be automatic that children are always placed with the mother.

Ultimately, it was Child Find Alberta that offered support and information. Richard phoned Child Find every day for news — it made him feel better, even though he thought he was probably driving them crazy. Child Find also ran Jessica’s picture on television and used other Child Find agencies to check out potential locations of his wife and the kids.

On August 10, 1989, 72 days after she disappeared with Jessica, Richard’s wife was finally tracked down and arrested. The RCMP traced her when she began receiving social assistance checks. She was charged with parental child abduction and held for a brief period, but never appeared in court for the second hearing.

In June 1990, Richard and his wife’s divorce were finalized. Richard was given full custody of Jessica. His ex-wife did not petition for custody. His stepson was returned to his biological father.

Richard believes that his persistence and his efforts to keep his marriage and family together caused his ex-wife to resent him, and ultimately to hurt him by taking the children. It has been as of 2005 16 years now, and neither Jessica nor Richard have seen or spoken to his ex-wife. They have no idea where she is but she continues to affect their lives.

Since he was granted custody, Richard has received prank phone calls. He has noticed people watching his home and one time, people were spotted stalking Jessica from daycare. Her caregivers were always instructed that Jessica is not to be visited or taken by anyone other than himself. For years Richard to lived in fear, always looking over his shoulder in case someone tried to take Jessica again.

Now Richard is keeping a promise he made: "I had made a promise that if my prayers were answered and my daughter was returned to me safe and sound, then I would make sure that no one I ever came across would have to go through this horror the hard way, like I did."

That sounds so familiar to me. I also vowed that if I could help it, no one would ever have to go through what I went through alone.

In his own words, Richard tell us about those first steps as a volunteer, and how things have progressed since the return of his daughter.

It’s hard to decide where I should start and at the same time very easy for it’s all there. All the memories - pain, fear, stress etc. - are just a recalled flashback away!

My story started simply enough: a failing marriage with a spouse who threatened to leave at any moment and with the spoken and unspoken threat of, “when I leave you will also never see your daughter again!”

Boom! It happened and as I was too close to see, or I did not want to believe, I was taken by surprise!

I shall not go into the reasons or the mental avalanche that I went through. It was hard 15 years ago, for as a male I was told by one police officer to be happy that since the old lady and kid were gone, why don’t I go have a beer? At the same time I am a male and the stigma of my gender and at that time, people thought I must have done something wrong to bring this about. Hey, you’re a male, just for that alone you probably deserve it!

The fact is that I did not deserve it and no one, female or male deserves it, ever!!

My main concern was for my child. Remember the issues that I did not go into? Well they were many and safety of my daughter was paramount. This person did not take and deny me my daughter because she wanted exclusivity. She took her to extract some sort of warped infliction of pain on me. The proof of this is that in the 15 years plus since I got my child back, she has never tried once to see our daughter. Not that you cannot find me either, as I am not that hard to find or that she was denied.

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 that has the highest entrance dues imaginable: the temporary or permanent loss of your own child. Your own flesh and blood taken due to whatever horror that you can come up with.

After my daughter was returned to me I wanted to repay those who helped me!

Eric Sommerfeldt at Child Find Alberta listened to all my rants, frustrations and pain. During all hours, many days and through many tears.
Even through hard work and a steep learning curve for myself, in a system that at that time had all the odds stacked against me.

I was blessed with the return of my daughter Jessica.
I also had help from my co-workers, family, friends, lawyers, judges, police and many people who I would never have met if not for this tragedy.

I had made a promise that if my prayers were answered and my daughter was returned to me safe and sound, then I would make sure that no one I ever came across would have to go through this horror the hard way, like I did.

From 1989 to 1991, I helped out with finger printing other people’s kids for Child Find Alberta. That was nice and my daughter had fun helping out as well. It was not really what I wanted to do though and it did not fill the parameters of my self –made promise.

I nagged and nagged the office and In 1991 I became a card carrying volunteer of Child Find Alberta.

I was trained by Dave Credland to be a Volunteer Intake Worker for parents of all missing children. I am on call 24 hours a day and seven days a week (as I still do), for Alberta & British Columbia.

While I assist these parents in exploring their options, I also give them emotional support while taking information, for essentially I am just a good listener.

Though I am not a trained social worker/psychiatrist or lawyer, what I do let them know is that I am a parent. Who like them, has already gone through the same fog of despair of a missing child. I give them my hand and together, we walk as far as we can.

After I gather the necessary information I send it to the case managers and investigative unit via whatever means possible. From that point the case managers then set up appointments and start the process to hopefully recover the Child.

Since then, I have taken 300 plus calls all hours of the day and night and in some of the strangest places.

Once, I was out of town and on a power pole assisting in the installation of a new power line to a new garage. I was passed up a cell phone with a distressed parent of a missing child on the other end. I relied on my memory of the conversation to write my report. At that time of Child Find Alberta’s operations I was afraid that I would lose the call, if I moved or hung up for a moment. So I stayed on my pole and the bonus was that I also had a great view of the Rockies!

One of my scariest calls and we all have one, is a call that I received at 3 AM from a young man who informed me that he had run away from out of province and he had just arrived in Calgary. He went on to inform me that he was getting no help from anyone even though he was a reported “runaway”. The Police and drop in centres would not help him and I was his last resort.
With help from my current wife I was able to contact the Calgary City Police Services and they were going to send a car around to this young man.

He threatened suicide if I did not come down to where he was and help him out. I explained that I could not come down to where he was and that the Police would soon be there to help him out. Then he abruptly said well, “That’s it!” “Thanks for nothing!” “My death will be on your hands” and he hung up.

I sat there in the dark enveloped in the chilling silence and just did not know what to do. The Police dispatch said that a car was to be dispatched but how long would that take and was this young man still at that location??

Both my wife and I just stared at each other and I was torn about going but that was not in my training, as I had done all that I could do. I did not sleep much that night and the next day I was informed by Dave Credland that when the Police arrived at that young man’s location. That there were not just one young person but also several others. Who, if I ignored my training and went down to assist him, they would have promptly robbed me for my efforts. This young man not only was a runaway from out of province but one with a long list of warrants for his arrest.

These are again just two of my bizarre stories that we, who do this kind of volunteer work sometimes, come across.

Through all of these calls and experiences I was lucky enough to keep my promise. Which again, was to make sure that no one that I ever came across would have to go through this horror the hard way, like I did.

I then had the honour to be chosen to attend training and become a member of an organization called Team H.O.P.E. (Help Offering Parents Empowerment) this organization is just one part of the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, which was co-founded by John Walsh of “America’s Most Wanted”, after the murder of his son Adam.

I take all calls related to missing children. I am able to handle these through the extensive training that I received. Also I am now proudly part of the team called the “Grief Busters”, which is Team H.O.P.E.’s most western group of volunteers. Within this organization I have worked on missing children calls all over North America.

I have brought these new skills to Child Find Alberta and I use them regularly. For I now have more knowledge to offer and I am making great headway to keeping my self made promise. For my promise continues and will probably continue till I do not.

Also recently, I became a voting member within Child Find Alberta and I have since been voted into the position of a Child Find Alberta Board Member.
I am very proud of this and I am in awe at how far that I have come since I was the very distraught parent of 15 plus years ago.

When I met Richard at our recent TEAM Hope retreat, I asked him to tell me what happened to him that resulted in his being a volunteer. In hearing his story, I continued my education in what the left behind parent in a parental abduction case goes through.

On Sunday, Richard will share with us his tips for parents and we'll also discuss what happens to the abducted child that makes these situations not "ok".


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