Friday, September 09, 2005

9/9/05 Not Really Missing? Part I

In a special weekend series, we're going to take you into the world of one man who battled against great odds when his daughter was taken from him by her mother.

Parental abductions happen everyday, but we almost never see those an on Amber Alert, or on the evening news. A typical reaction to this type of case is as follows: "They're ok because they're with their mom/dad." Some even go as far as to say they are not really missing.

Yes, they are really missing, and no, they are not ok. Over the course of this weekend, we'll help you to understand why we need to help with awareness for these cases just the same as we would any other. We hope after reading this series, that you will never think about these cases as you may have previously.

Richard Abbenbroek has asked us to share his story in the form of an article that was originally published in the Calgary Herald newspaper and was written by Tammy Matvenko. (Permission obtained to republish it here.)

This is Richard's story:

Parental Abduction, A Father’s Story . . .
By Tammy Matvenko

What Richard wanted for his life from the very beginning and what kept him motivated throughout his ordeal was to build a strong and loving family. In 1985, when his daughter Jessica was born, Richard thought his dream was finally coming true.

Richard had been with Jessica’s mother and young son for five years before Jessica’s birth. Their life was seemingly happy and normal and they married one year after Jessica was born.

During their first year of marriage, Richard noticed his wife was becoming severely depressed and had begun drinking on a daily basis. She seemed to be going through psychological changes that affected her whole being.

Their lives began to revolve around her moods. One evening her mood swung from tired and peaceful to agitated and confrontational. The fight lasted until three in the morning. Richard noted in his diary: “The look in her eyes, you had to see her eyes. No love, only hate! I don’t even feel safe in my own house. What happens if she loses it and I end up dead in my own bed? God, someone has got to listen. It didn’t go away either. This morning the look was still there. Her kiss goodbye was just habit, devoid of all love.”

Richard’s wife had always controlled the family finances, and she began to spend and over-spend to the point of massive debt. Richard was over-whelmed. He was continually trying to keep them afloat by getting them out of debt and obtaining medical treatment for the alcohol-ism, and counseling for their marriage.

No amount of discussion or counseling could bring her back. She wanted a free-spirited life with no complications or responsibilities.

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.

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. Three 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 were 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.

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.

Richard needed to obtain another custody order, which did not re-quire his wife to be served. Child Find Alberta referred him to Richard Achtem at Child Find BC who helped him file an interim custody order with the Supreme Court in British Columbia

Doing much of the legwork him-self, Richard phoned the RCMP, county sheriffs and lawyers constantly. The stress became so great that his weight dropped from 215 to 150 pounds. His heart was struck with fear whenever the body of a child was found in British Columbia

Richard faced many problems dealing with the legal system. He was told that his wife only needed to walk a few blocks to another district and the police jurisdiction changed. As well, certain agencies would not handle domestic affairs.

To get the system to take action, Richard was forced to lay charges of child abduction. 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.

He survived with the help of a few kind souls who lent him money to get by. The rest he refinanced by taking out a loan with the help of his father. He moved back into his parent’s home.

Richard exhausted every avenue to find his daughter and stepson. He contacted: the Calgary City Police; the RCMP in both Calgary and BC; the Missing Children Society of Canada; Social Services; the Attorney General’s office; and various newspapers. Many of these organizations were less than helpful, while others were non-responsive.

He was appalled at the lack of aid and information available to parents in an abduction case. He also felt his situation was further complicated because he was a father looking for his children who were in the care of their mother. The common perception is that children are better off with their mother.

Richard's story will be continued on Saturday night.


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