It is true that children suffer the most when it comes to their parents' divorce. But this story takes suffering to a whole different level.
Michael Chekevdia and Shannon Wilfong had a falling out in 2007. Their son Richard was four at the time. The custody battle was fierce and it changed little Richard's life forever. His father was granted full custody but his mother had different plans.
Wrestling to come to agreeable terms with her husband, Richard's mother Wilfong took him and fled from their home in southern Illinois. The duo just disappeared after Michael was granted custody and police spent over two years looking for them. They were even listed as officially missing persons. It was as though they had vanished into thin air and Chekevdia was unsure if he would ever see his son again.
Wilfong alleged that Chekevdia was an abusive father and had tortured their son on several occasions, but numerous investigations into the allegations said otherwise. Out of options and since she had no custody, Wilfong took the highway.
The obvious and suspected hideout was the house of her mother, Dianne Dobbs. But after several searches of her home, the police found no evidence that Wilfong and her son were there.
Two years passed by and the trail ran cold. Police knew the mother fled with her son, but they just couldn’t figure out where. That's when the anonymous tip came through. In 2009, the police were tipped back to Dobbs’ house. What they found this time was Wilfong and Richard, tucked away in a secret hiding place behind a wall.
Shocked, police found Richard hiding in a secret crawlspace behind a wall. He and his mother were curled up in the room, unable to even stand because of the low ceilings. Police authorities also revealed how Wilfong managed to stay hidden so far. She began hiding her son at her mother's house in late 2007 and whenever any visitor came she would stash him in the crawl space. They let him out only at night.
The police also found the house had heavy shades or that the windows were blocked out and the judge also found that the boy had little or no contact with children his age or even an education, leave alone medical attention.
The policemen narrated that he was incredibly pale like he hadn't seen sunlight in a few years. It seemed as if he rarely, if ever, went outside. “We let him out of the car and he ran around like he’d never seen the outdoors,” Sergeant Stan Diggs told ABC News. “It was actually very sad.”
Wilfong and Dobbs were both arrested. Richard was taken into protective services and had to undergo therapy before being reunited with his father.
When they notified me that they had found him, you could’ve knocked me over with a feather,” he told ABC News.
Wilfong and Dobbs each faced a judge in 2011. They both pleaded guilty to the charges brought against them and received lesser sentences as a result. Wilfong, Richard's mother, served one month in jail and paid $1,500 in fines and was sentenced to two years of probation. Grandma Dobbs was credited for the 12 days she’d already spent in jail and had to pay $1,000 in fines.
In an edition of Good Morning America, Diane Dobbs had defended her daughter. saying that since 2007 the boy may have only spent 5 minutes in that crawl space. It was Diane who put the mother and son duo in the crawl space when she saw the police coming to search the house.
She also added that they would go outside on fishing trips and that her grandson was free to run around the house. Police said that on investigation they found the house had numerous amounts of secret hiding spaces.
Dianne also went on to add how they had taken care of her grandson and that he was homeschooled by his mother and was a very bright child. However, an investigator of the state child welfare agency found that Richard had a speech impediment, had limited reading skills and was socially behind.
When Michael came to know his son was alive, it was like a breath of fresh air. He waited for the system to do its formalities and also until Richard could be with him again. The child had to be counseled to be brought back to normal life. He kept monitoring his son's progress when he was with the authorities and since then has been actively supporting his son in whatever cause it may be.
Meanwhile, dad Michael Chekevdia who was accused of sexually abusing son Richard by Wilfong categorically denied the accusations. The State child welfare officials found no truth in the charges against Michael. But Diane was insistent that the father had to be kept away from the son and even challenged authorities to get Michael to do a polygraph test.
At present, Richard has competed in swimming, rock climbing trials, and has adjusted well to life outside of his grandmother’s wall. The focus continues to be that a life after such trauma is also precious and should always be treated as a gift - by letting go of the past and living well.
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