Kidnapped and Hiding in Mexico
Four different people have sent me the same link to a news story that broke this week about a girl who was kidnapped by her mother and found hiding in Mexico. It’s not uncommon for friends to let me know when a story like this comes up because it always reminds them of my own childhood story. I, too, was kidnapped by my mother from my custodial father and taken to Mexico with my sister, where we hid out from my dad (and the FBI and other authorities). We were on the run for seven years before the FBI found us.
My mom got sent to jail and my sister and I went back to live with our dad. The news stories that came out about us were very similar to the one that broke last week–sympathetic to the parent who had custody. The news stories never reported that the reason we went on the run in the first place was because our father was abusive.
I find it fascinating to see what actually makes it into the news sometimes. I was thinking about this just a few weeks ago after I was randomly interviewed by a news station in Topeka, Kansas. I had gone into Topeka to get some work done at Starbucks, and while I sat at the table a reporter approached and asked me if she could record me typing on my laptop, and then asked if she could interview me. It was interesting that they automatically assumed I was a Topeka resident (I am not) and that they only showed a very small sample of what I had said during the interview. Here’s the segment:
I appreciate that TV reporters must get their story into a very short segment, and this particular segment was more to make a point about protecting yourself from hackers, but I actually followed “I don’t know why they would try to hack me–I’m nobody special” with “…but I know it’s definitely something that can happen to anyone and none of us are immune” or something to that effect. Of course the second half of what I said was totally left out. This time it wasn’t a big deal, but sometimes it is. It was certainly a big deal when my mom got painted as the bad person when in fact she was protecting us from an abusive person, at great personal risk to herself.
My sister and I didn’t see much of our dad when we were small children, because he went to work in another state and only came home sporadically. He and my mom were basically separated for several years before he finally came home one day and asked if he could take us for a couple of weeks to spend time with us. My mom consented and we were whisked off to a time of fun and wonder–candy, amusement parks, ice cream, swimming pools and all the delights a kid could want. We were lavished with promises of ponies and a nice, big house, and a trip to Disneyland. He also began telling us that our mom did not want us or love us anymore. Instead of returning us to our mom at the agreed upon time, our dad filed for divorce and custody.
It was an ugly battle with many lies about my mom and a court case that seemed slanted in his favor from the very beginning. (It wasn’t until years later, while organizing some old boxes in my grandparent’s basement, that I came across some of the original court records and realized the extent of his lies and exaggerations–my mom never told me all the details of what he had said about her.) My sister and I were not getting adequate care with him, and he was also abusing my sister.
Slowly I began to realize, as best I could at age 7, that my mom really did love me and that my dad was lying. When we had visits with our mom, we would beg her to not make us go back with him. When he won full custody, we cried. My mom tried hard to find a way to get us back, but the courts wouldn’t hear the case for at least 2 years. He had custody, and that was final. So when our summer visit came up in 1987, we disappeared. Our mom made it very clear to us the whole time we were in hiding that if at any time we wished to return to our dad, we could. She would not keep us away from him against our wishes. We chose to stay with her.
We bounced around in the South for a few months before my mom decided to make the move even farther south. For the next 5 years we lived in Mexico, and it was the best experience we could have ever had. We became fluent in Spanish, got to know a new culture, and made some wonderful friends.
Meanwhile, the FBI crisscrossed the U.S. in search of us. Our story was profiled on a TV Show called “The Judge.”
Our pictures appeared on “Wanted” and “Missing” posters across the United States. The FBI followed numerous leads into Canada as well (which of course turned out to be inaccurate).
After 5 years in Mexico, my mom felt that it was time to return to the U.S. and become reacquainted with our own culture. By then my sister and I were well integrated into the Mexican culture and did not “feel” American.
Readjusting to life in the U.S. was the most difficult aspect for me during our life as fugitives. (Many years later, I learned that I was a TCK and that this was completely normal.) After nearly 2 years back in the States, one Friday afternoon we were getting ready to go watch a movie at a friend’s house. As we climbed into his car and began pulling away from our apartment, four different cars came screeching in from every direction, closing us in. At first I was confused and thought it was just a funny coincidence that four people had pulled in from four different directions at the same time. Then a man got out of each of the cars and began approaching us. We got out. One of the men approached my mom and spoke to her. I couldn’t hear what he said, but I noticed a badge on his belt. I walked over to my mom. “What’s going on?” I asked her.
“It’s the FBI, Dearie,” she said. “We’ve been caught.”
Over the next few months, during my mom’s trial and sentencing, news stories like the one about Sabrina Allen a few days ago appeared in the papers. My mom was the criminal, so of course the media sided with my dad.
Over the next year and a half we dealt with more abuse–psychological abuse toward both of us and physical abuse toward my sister (I don’t know why he picked on her physically, but never on me). I remember the day my mom was sentenced. My sister and I waited at the house with fingers crossed that she would not be in jail for long. When our dad got home, he wore a smug expression on his face. “So what happened?” we asked.
“Your mom is going to be in jail for a long, long time,” he smiled.
“How long?” we asked.
“A year.” It was the maximum sentence the judge could have possibly given since they plea bargained from a felony charge to a misdemeanor charge.
The next day, a nasty article appeared on the front page of the paper, gloating about how the judge gave this woman the “justice” she deserved, and painting my mom in a horrible light. People at my dad’s church would come up and say, “Oh, that must have been horrible, being kidnapped. You must be so thrilled to be back with your dad.” I felt like screaming. But I was a self-conscious teenager and said nothing.
Life with our dad was very difficult, and it seemed nobody would listen to us when we tried to report his abuse. Fortunately, my mom was released from jail several months early due to her good behavior (no surprise–aside from kidnapping us my mom had never done an illegal thing in her life, and hasn’t since). Once she was released, my sister and I fought to return to her. We found an attorney who agreed to represent us for free, and within a few months we were back with her. There were no news stories of this triumph, however.
About ten years ago I decided to conduct an extensive investigation of my own into our background and find out what had been happening on the other side while we hid in Mexico. Through the Freedom of Information Act, I was able to obtain the FBI records of our case (which they censored before sending to me–blocking out names and identifying information of specific individuals). It was quite the stack of papers, and very interesting.
I was able to reach the person who had been in charge of our case at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, as well as the FBI agent who had been in charge of our case. I had a long phone conversation with each of them and asked them to tell me their honest opinion of the situation and of my dad. I found it very interesting that neither one of them liked my dad. One of them said that his impression of my dad was that he had a “victim mentality.” The case manager from NCMEC described my dad’s reaction when she called to tell him that we had been found. She said the normal response of parents when they hear their kidnapped children have been located is joy and excitement. It bothered her that my dad’s response was a sour “It’s about time.”
Both of the investigators expressed that they felt there might be more to the story, but that they had to do their jobs. The woman from NCMEC explained that things were different in the 80s and early 90s and that they have changed some of their procedures in how they deal with missing children abducted by their parents, and that they have a much more cooperative relationship with FBI and other agencies than they did back then. Hearing these people talk about their dealings with my father left me with the distinct impression that he was not so excited about seeing my sister and me as about getting even with our mom.
So whenever I see stories like the one about Sabrina Allen, I find myself wondering what the real story is. What’s the mom’s side? Was the father physically and/or sexually abusive to her and/or Sabrina? Maybe the courts really were justified in awarding the father full custody. Maybe the mother really is a horrible person. But then…maybe not. Don’t believe everything you see on the news.
By the way, I have a book coming out about all this. If you’d like to read the book about our fugitive years and learn about what it was like to live in hiding and grow up in Mexico, sign up below and I’ll send periodic book updates and let you know when it comes out!
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