many children, I am the product of divorced parents. Fortunately, the divorce was amiable and the custody situation was relaxed. I
never dealt with being rushed around on the weekends with my sister,
trying to get time with the other parent. Both me and my twin sister
were taken out of state overnight by one or the other parent several
times. There was no need to worry, because the other would always
I had never heard of parental abductions until I read a book on the
subject. (It was briefly mentioned in a TV movie I had seen, but the
whole movie was so confusing that I didn't really understand what that
meant.) It was published in 1982, and few books have been written on
the subject since. Kidnapping is almost always by strangers, with maybe
a few words towards parental abductions. A few fiction books have been
written on the subject, but they all seemed to have the same plot -
either evil dad abducts or courageous mother saves kids.
When the book I read was written, the few underground organizations
that existed were usually run by men. There are many that still are,
but most are now run by women. The reason for their existence is the
claim that moms regularly lose out to the courts and abusive fathers get
custody of the children. Some state 70% of all abusive men get full or
partial custody. But the facts are in reality less shocking. Around 2%
of divorce cases involve allegations of abuse. 50% of those are
substantiated. No good source substantiates the 70% statistic.
Most of these people feel they are doing a good thing. Some are more
open about their actions than others. However, in reality it is
Therese Vanderheiden-Walsh at the age of six. She was kidnapped by her
mother, Merle Vanderheiden, in June of 1989. Prior to this, Merle had
made allegations of abuse against Therese's father, Fran Walsh. (I do
not know whether Therese actually said anything on the subject.) The
charges were investigated, and found baseless. Merle was not allowed
unsupervised visitation unless she agreed to a psychiatric evaluation.
She never did this. She spoke to Therese on the phone instead for two
years until the abduction. They are in the underground, as several
leaders of one organization have said. Presumably this is to "protect"
Therese from her father. But two things complicate this. One, Fran
Walsh died in 1998. Two, Therese will be 20 this year, and she has
still not emerged. Why does the underground continue to confine her?
How is she supposed to live a life at the mercy of an organization she
didn't even ask to belong to? Where is Therese? Anyone "helping" her is
now only hindering.
Thankfully, children can and will be brought back by some agencies.
Emily and Anna Nunez were abducted by their mother and placed in an
underground organization after the mother's accusations of abuse were
declared baseless. The mother was arrested, but refused to reveal the
whereabouts of the children. Then a local TV station aired their story.
The reporters had learned more about the organization, however. It was
run by a convicted child molester. In horror, group members themselves
returned the children after they realized they were endangered. Is that
protection? Would anyone trust their child to strangers? In fact, that
is what the underground does.
Those who help should ask themselves if they truly know who they are
working with. And everyone should ask "Where is Therese?" Is it worth
it to keep a child confined for their entire life just because a parent
thinks they are protecting them? Where, indeed, is Therese? Will
someone ever be brave enough to say so?
More information on Therese can be found in her case file here.
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