Missing boy found in secret cell
ST. LOUIS –A boy allegedly abducted nearly two years ago in a custody dispute has turned up alive, hiding with his mother in a small, specially built secret room at his grandmother’s Illinois home.
Richard “Ricky” Chekevdia, who turns 7 on Sept. 14, was in good spirits and physically fit after he was found Friday by investigators with a court order to search the two-storey rural home about 200 kilometres southeast of St. Louis.
The boy’s mother, Shannon Wilfong, 30, is charged with felony child abduction. The grandmother, Diane Dobbs, 50, is charged with aiding and abetting. Wilfong remained jailed yesterday on $42,500 bond. Dobbs was being held on $1,000 bond.
The boy was staying yesterday with one of his father’s relatives while child welfare workers investigated claims the father abused the boy before his disappearance – allegations rejected by the dad, who’s thrilled the search has ended.
“Two years? You have no idea,” Mike Chekevdia, 48, a lieutenant colonel in the Illinois National Guard, said yesterday from his house, five kilometres from where his son turned up.
“I’ve lost sleep. I’ve lost weight. I’ve gained weight. I wouldn’t wish this on anybody,” he said.
Chekevdia won temporary custody of his son shortly before the boy and his mother – Chekevdia’s former girlfriend – disappeared in November 2007. A month later Wilfong was charged in absentia with abducting the boy.
Chekevdia said he long suspected his son was being stowed by Dobbs, although there were no signs of the boy when her home was searched with her consent. “I had a firm belief he was in there, and yesterday it was confirmed,” he said.
Investigators, at a news conference Friday, did not detail what led sheriff’s deputies and federal marshals with a search warrant to Dobbs’ house, where they found the boy and his mother in a cubbyhole roughly the size of three washing machines side by side.
“We let him out of the (patrol) car and he ran around like he’d never seen outdoors. It was actually very sad,” state police Master Sgt. Stan Diggs said. “He was very happy to be outside. He said he never goes outside.”
Last year, Dobbs, the grandmother, told the Southern Illinoisan newspaper her daughter had been forced into hiding to keep the boy from his father.
She called the custody dispute a “nightmare for all of us.”
Chekevdia said waiting for Ricky to resurface took patience.
“It’s hard to sit back and watch things happen when you’re used to making things happen,” said Chekevdia, a one-time police officer who served in Iraq with the military earlier this decade.
“But I just bided my time and let the system work.”
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