|Billy and Asher. Golden Gardens Park, Seattle WA, Aug 2014|
The post was an FBI alert from the Seattle Times. Billy had been abducted by his father.
I frantically texted Ed at work, sending him the photos I had taken of him and Asher. We know this kid! We can help him! But, it turns out, we haven't been able to help him much at all.
The weather was spectacular here in Seattle throughout August, our days were mostly free, and the beach was less than two miles from our front door. The boys and I got into a daily rhythm of heading to the beach in the mid-morning, just as the fog was lifting and before the crowds arrived. Billy approached the boys one day to play….and from that time forward they always looked for (and usually found) each other. Billy was usually alone playing on the beach. Only once did I see his dad, a fair distance away on his cell phone. He didn't approach me and I left him alone to talk.
The boys played in the water, built cool stuff in the sand, covered each other up in sand, flew kites…all the standard beach stuff. I tried to ask Billy a few personal questions, but he was not very interested in talking. I figured he was having too much fun playing to want to stop and chat with a boring adult.
He did tell us that he and his dad were sailing along the Pacific Ocean this summer on his dad's boat, which was currently moored next door to Golden Gardens. He said he was from California (perhaps he had lived there previously, but we found out later he lived with his mom in Pennsylvania). And he played Minecraft on the boat. And that was all we knew about Billy, but we were all amazed, and a little jealous, of his grand summer sea adventure!
Did I see some red flags? Of course. Honestly, one of the reasons why I brought the boys to the beach so often was that I didn't want Billy to be alone. I wouldn't personally allow my nine year old to play alone on the beach for hours on end, and I would guess most other parents would not allow that either. And, at the very least, if I was Billy's father, I would definitely want to meet the family who kept him occupied most days. But Billy looked well-cared for, and he played easily and happily with my kids. He could return back to his boat, a very short distance away, at any time.
Also factoring into this whole situation, in my mind, was a slew of news stories of parents being charged criminally for allowing their older children to be in parks, and other public places, unsupervised. Like many others, I felt this was sending a dangerous precedent of interference of parental rights, and further frightening parents out of teaching their children independence, an important life skill. I didn't want to "tattle" on a fellow parent.
And the reality is that Billy's father had broken no laws during the time we had contact with Billy. He still had legal custody of Billy during the month of August. It was not until early September, when he failed to return Billy to his mother in Pennsylvania, that he was charged with kidnapping.
I'm not self-important enough to think that I could have "saved" Billy last summer, but I do have one haunting regret. I wish I would have forced the issue and met his father. Perhaps something in my brain and my senses would have clicked that this was not a good situation for Billy, that he might be in imminent danger. Perhaps I would have tattled. And likely, it would have done no good, but perhaps it would have caused a reaction that would have sent Billy back to his mother before his father's fateful decision to disregard the law.
Immediately after my Facebook discovery, we did our due diligence and contacted the FBI, telling them everything we knew about Billy. Ed enlisted the help of his photo editors at the Times and sent the FBI one of our photos of Billy, which is now being distributed by the FBI in their efforts to find him. I reluctantly told Asher the news about his friend, in hopes that it would spark a memory of Billy revealing where he and his father were headed next on their boat. (Asher doesn't remember, and likely never had that conversation with Billy).
It took a lot of explanation for Asher to understand how a father could "kidnap" his own child. It is a strange concept, for sure. I reassure Asher constantly that even though Billy was taken away, he is not being harmed. I have to reassure myself as well, and hope it is the reality. That Billy is on his grand adventure on the high seas, having the time of his life, and oblivious to the legal fallout of his father's actions back on land.
UPDATE 10/29/2014: Billy was found on the small island of Niue in the South Pacific! His father was arrested and extradited to the US on kidnapping charges. Apparently it took a few days for travel arrangements to be made, so he got to hang out with a local island family. I hope that Billy is having a wonderful reunion with his mom in Pennsylvania and can move on from any trauma he experienced the past few months.