Police track down a missing child after 19 years

Sometimes a person’s life can change 180 degrees from one moment to the next and everything you thought was true is called into question. Maybe it’s happened to you. It’s exactly what happened to 24-year-old Michael Jeff Landers of Minnesota one recent winter day when someone knocked at his door. 

He opened it to find police officers looking back at him. They weren’t there to arrest him though, they had come to tell him who he really was. 19 years previously, five-year-old Richard Landers Jr. had been reported missing. And now, with another name and no idea he’d ever been kidnapped, he was found.

Youtube/ABC News

To understand the story, you have to go back in time to 1994: Richard’s parents were getting a very acrimonious divorce. Because of the fighting and his mother’s dire circumstances (she was living in a car at the time), the custody battle was particularly difficult to resolve. So his grandparents decided to intervene. They picked up the child and disappeared without a trace. 

Now it turns out they actually drove nearly 700 miles from Indiana to Minnesota, changed all their names, and started a new life. We have to assume they didn’t get along with their own child, Richard’s parent, very well to be willing to do that! But the one thing they forgot to change was the child’s social security number. And 19 years later, that’s how police were able to track him down.

Youtube/ABC News

In the meantime, Richard — now Michael — had grown up, gotten married, and was expecting a child of his own. You can only imagine his confusion at learning that his grandparents, who had always treated him well, had kidnapped him. Not to mention that his real parents were out there, suffering and wondering what had happened to their little boy.

Youtube/ABC News

Now his parents are apparently overwhelmed with emotion and shock to find out that their son had been discovered alive, and not all that far away. 

Michael has defended his grandparents and police have been unsure whether to bring charges against them.

Youtube/ABC News

A case like this asks more questions than it answers. Could it ever be the right thing to do, for grandparents to separate a child from his parents? Do they have the right to make a decision like that?

Should they be punished for the anguish they caused the parents (not to mention the enormous hassle they inflicted on law enforcement)? 

Given that we don’t know what life was like for little five-year-old Richard, and how things would have turned out differently if he’d stayed with one or the other of his parents, we can’t ever know. Perhaps the grandparents could have tried to persuade authorities to hand the child over to them, until the parents were more stable and peaceful. Then at least he would have grown up with all of them. As it is, he was deprived of the two most important people of all.

Yet as you can see from the news report, he turned out all right and is living a “normal” life. It will be fascinating to see what happens when he meets his parents again after nearly two decades… One 180 degree turn is enough for now though!

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