Safe Again

by Sharon Zeff
California, USA

On April 26, 2002, every parent’s worst nightmare came true for me: my two step-daughters, Anna, 6, and Emily, 4, were abducted from daycare by their mother, who had recently lost custody. The police said it was not their problem — it was a “civil matter”. It took five days to get them to write a report and six days to get the girls into the missing persons computers.

At first we thought it was just their mother going off and it wouldn’t last long. But on May 8 their mother turned up without the girls. She was charged with contempt of court because she would not give up the girls’ location. Anonymous members of a “children’s advocacy” group were hiding the children.

For months nothing happened. The police wouldn’t help. HeroicStories publisher Randy Cassingham suggested we send out a press release to get the media interested. My friend Mari, who works in public relations, wrote it, and it worked: Within one week the story was in our two major local papers; the next week it was on TV.

Finally Dan Noyes, an investigative reporter at our local ABC station, picked up the story and worked on it for eight weeks. On November 4th his report aired, and he uncovered the fact that the man who heads the advocacy group hiding the girls was a convicted child molester, which led to a major uproar in the group. Some members who knew where the girls were kept rescued them and brought them to the TV station. The group leader was arrested. More than five months after the girls were taken, we finally got the phone call saying we could come get them.

Safe AgainWe went to the TV station and were brought up to the conference room where Anna and Emily were happily playing. When their father and I walked into the room Emily looked up at me with the biggest, brightest smile on her face and raced toward me. A hug never felt so good. Within minutes the girls were laughing and clamoring for our attention. They were happy and healthy and thrilled to be going home.

Parental abduction appears to only be barely a crime. The police don’t care. We spent about $50,000 on investigators and lawyers. We furnished the police with about 700 pages of worthwhile evidence. They organized it into a nice binder. With the same evidence, Dan Noyes brought down the advocacy group and gave us back the girls.

“This is True” and “HeroicStories” were the first to provide media attention, and it helped a lot. Ultimately the girls’ pictures were carried on about 12 web sites; about half were from concerned HeroicStories and TRUE readers.

We learned so much — all the hard way. The most important advice I can give parents is: make sure your kids know your full name, phone number, and how to call 911. And make sure they KNOW you would never want to be separated from them, regardless of what anyone tells them.

Originally published as HeroicStories #359 on Nov 21, 2002

19 thoughts on “Safe Again”

  1. Good morning –

    I just wanted to say that I find this statement highly offensive. I am in law enforcement and I can tell you our agency takes these crimes very seriously. Making such a broad sweeping statement that the “police don’t care” is both unfair and untrue. There may be a few bad apples in any bunch but why would you allow such a negative comment to be made about men and women in law enforcement who put their lives on the line daily to protect the public?

    “Parental abduction appears to only be barely a crime. The police don’t care. We spent about $50,000 on investigators and lawyers. We furnished the police with about 700 pages of worthwhile evidence. They organized it into a nice binder. With the same evidence, Dan Noyes brought down the advocacy group and gave us back the girls”.

    I have always enjoyed your articles but if this is the kind of thing being spread and purported I would like my name unsubscribed from your mailing list asap.

    • I’m sorry you feel that way Stacy. But I think if you put yourself in the parent’s shoes for a moment you’ll understand exactly why she might feel this way. Even if it’s not broadly true.

      That being said, there’s an unsubscribe link at the bottom of every issue. We’re sorry to see you go … I would prefer you stay and perhaps represent the other side you feel is being misrepresented – albeit in a less angry, and more compassionate way, perhaps.

        • Typically unsubscribe threats come from someone who is angry. (I see many in other venues and I can confirm there is an exceptionally high correlation.) My apologies if that didn’t apply this case.

        • Stacy – why don’t you send in some stories. My experience is that Heroic Stories publishes a wide variety of stories and I, personally, would love to hear some good stories from the law enforcement side.

    • The police were called to the day care where the girls were forcibly abducted . My husband was called and gave them court papers saying that their biological mother did not have rights to take them. The police said this is a civil affair and would not intervene, we even had them call the court to confirm my husband’s papers (they were very hostile to my husband), when the court confirmed the papers they still did nothing. We went to the jurisdiction where their biological mother lived and talked to the police there, they were actually amazingly helpful and called the police who refused to act, but couldn’t get them to do anything. Finally the DA took over the case and assigned and investigator, but it wasn’t until we got media attention that any real action was taken and that was four months after the girls had gone missing. Maybe this would not have been everyone’s experience in every place in the country, but it certainly was ours. This was also 14 years ago, so maybe things have changed. I know legislation was introduced to cause change, so hopefully it has been implemented.

    • Instead of unsubscribing, perhaps we all would be better served if you would share any opposing point of view you may have, professional or otherwise? Preferably, the actions you would take if you were in the same situation as the parents, or professional insight as to what you think the parents could do to help the police pursue a case like this from a law enforcement perspective?

      This isn’t something for you to get personally upset about, nor is it a personal attack. It is an account of something that actually happened. Yes, it is upsetting to think that your peers in law enforcement would be as callous toward the case as described, but look at it instead as a call to hold them accountable for their actions from your side in the future, instead of attacking the very people they failed to protect.

    • “There may be a few bad apples in any bunch but why would you allow such a negative comment to be made”

      The adage is “one bad apple spoils the bunch.”

      If there are any bad apples in a bunch, it means the entire batch is compromised and cannot be trusted to be what they are supposed to. The good apples are turned very quickly, no matter their efforts, simply because the bad apple is allowed to remain among them.

      If even one police department turns a blind eye to or belittles a situation like this, it can mean tragedy for an entire family. Apathy at even one level can affect an entire town, county or state for the worse. We can’t know when that will happen, or whether it will be our emergency or our child’s life at stake, and while it’s commendable that your organization is not like that, it’s small comfort.

  2. I wrote this story. 14 years later the girls are happy and healthy and doing great. Anna, now almost 20, is a second year at one of the top universities in the country and Emily, now 18, is about to graduate high school and is waiting on her acceptances from the universities she has applied to. The girls went through several years of counseling after their return and their biological mother spent over four years in jail,. At that time in California, she is the only woman to get a felony conviction for parental abduction. In the end though, I think Anna and Emily have had a happy childhood and thankfully uneventful after their return. I completed their adoption 7 years ago.

    Dan Noyes won a local Emmy for his story about the girls and ran a followup story a few years later to show how well the girls were doing. My friend Mari who was instrumental in their return unfortunately died of cancer about six years ago, leaving behind two young children. I have made sure that they are aware of what their mother did for me and my family.

    The local police, who refused to act, after the story got national attention, implemented training on how to handle parental abductions and now I know they do amber alerts here in California. Dianne Feinstein specifically mentioned the girls when bringing up a bill about parental abductions on the Senate floor.

    Odd to see this story now, but I did want people to know that for the girls this had a happy ending and they have grown up to be terrific young adults.

  3. Indeed, HOW DARE HeroicStories “allow” someone intimately involved in a story tell that story from their point of view?

    Stacy should know that the publisher at HeroicStories when this was first run was a former LEO. Do many police agencies take this sort of crime seriously? You bet. Is it better than it was when this was first published in 2002? Undoubtedly. Does that obviously mean things were WORSE back then, when this was published? Absolutely!

    Stacy’s silly foot stomping is part of the problem. It’s horribly embarrassing that the police did nothing for months, yet a reporter was able to figure it all out and do their work for them. So naturally, it’s best to shoot the messenger? Sheesh.

    • What I find particularly annoying is that because he doesn’t like what is being said, it shouldn’t be said. Not that other’s take it seriously, or that was in the past or whatever. No just ignore what actually happened and substitute their opinion….

  4. Would it be possible for you to remove the link to the document that you have posted. I know it is public record, but it is regarding the restraining order that we had to get against the girls’ biological mother for stalking. It has specific information about where we live and I don’t think it adds anything to the story. There are other links that talk about the actual legal case regarding the parental abduction and her subsequent appeal, but this specifically has a lot of personal information that I would rather not have put out to a public who may or may not be hostile.

  5. All too often the case IS that the police don’t care. Even with the judge’s order in hand directing ANY law enforcement officer in the state to enforce compliance, my niece was repeatedly told there was “nothing” they could do to facilitate her visitations.

  6. “However, comments that simply find fault or otherwise complain about some aspect of a story will not be published. There’s simply no need to find fault here – there are plenty of places on the internet for those discussions if you really feel the need to go negative.”

    Sorry to see this being violated. Stacy’s comments and the dialogue with Leo, plus Randy’s comment, are typical of what I e4xpect to se in connection with “This Is True,” not here on Heroic Stories.

    Please, even if you don’t remove the Stacy comment and dialogue, at least re-affirm “no further public dialogue with obliviots.”

  7. Stacy’s experience was not unique, nor was it unique to California. I had a similar problem when my ex took our son. I had legal custody, but the Houston, Texas, police refused to do anything. This was in the late 1980’s.


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