Just hours after he was whisked back to California from Maine, 9-year-old Kristopher Michael Siegel said Saturday that he wants his mother to change her license plate holder.
It now reads, "My Son is Missing."
He wants it to say, "My Son is Back."
Sleepy but effervescent after an all-night cross-country journey, Kristopher told reporters Saturday afternoon that he was happy to be in California and reunited with his mother, four years after he was allegedly abducted by his baby sitter in Oregon.
Flew to John Wayne
Kristopher and his mother, Janis Siegel, 28, of Riverside, had a teary reunion in Bangor, Me., late Friday night. After Siegel showed authorities documents that she said proved she should have custody of her son, the two immediately flew in a loaned, private jet to John Wayne Airport, where they arrived about 5:30 a.m. Saturday.
At a press conference, a precocious and witty Kristopher labeled his mother "pretty good company," and said he was looking forward to making friends in Riverside, visiting Disneyland and riding a present that awaited him--a new dirt bike.
Siegel said she could hardly believe that her son was back.
"I feel like crying probably forever," she said in an interview at the Adam Walsh Child Resource Center in Orange, which offers support services to abused youths and parents of missing children.
"I feel like half the battle is over. Finding a missing child is difficult. It takes everything out of you. Now the other half (of the battle) is getting to know my son again," she said, adding that they will go through therapy together to work out problems that might stem from his long absence.
Details of how the child was separated from his mother--and how the reunion took place--remained far from clear Saturday night, however. The story, as pieced together from official and unofficial sources, amounts to a convoluted tale involving allegations of abductions and a bizarre custody battle between a mother and her child's baby sitter.
The FBI issued a statement saying that before 1979, Kristopher's mother, whom the FBI identified as Janis Belanger, lived in a commune with Leslie Helen Moore in Clackamas, Ore. In 1979, according to Theodore M. Gardner, special agent in charge of the FBI's Portland, Ore., office, Belanger gave "temporary custody" of her son to Moore.
Moore subsequently left the commune, taking Kristopher with her, and lived in various locations across the nation until settling in Bangor in 1984, where she used the name "Patricia Smith," Gardner said.
About a month ago, the Bangor Daily News reported, Bangor Patrolman David Kane received a tip that a student at St. John's Elementary School might have been abducted from the West Coast. Kane found the boy's picture in a directory of missing and abducted children compiled by Child Find Inc., the newspaper said.
Attended School as Smith
The Associated Press reported that Kristopher had been attending the school for two years as "Kristopher Smith."
An investigation began involving Bangor police, the FBI and other law-enforcement agencies. On Thursday, Moore was arrested and charged with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution based on warrants issued by Oregon officials.
Moore, 38, has been living for the past 2 1/2 years at the St. Francis Community, or H.O.M.E. Inc., (Homeworkers Organized for More Employment) in the tiny community of Orland, Me., outside Bangor, the AP reported.
Moore was arraigned Friday in Bangor. She was being held at Maine's Penobscot County Jail on $50,000 bail and the FBI said she will be extradited to Oregon for "custodial interference and contempt of court."
Bangor police were assisted in identifying Kristopher by the National Hotline for Exploited/Missing Children, Childfind Inc., the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, Oregon State Police, the Union County (Ore.) Sheriff's Department, the Illinois State Police, FBI offices in Maine and Oregon, and the Hancock County (Me.) Sheriff's Department, Bangor Detective Roy McKinney said.
Conflicting accounts of the battle between the mother and Moore were offered by officials of the Adam Walsh Center and by Moore's lawyer.
Pam Harris-Oedekerk, victim services director at the Adam Walsh center, said that Siegel originally befriended Moore and asked her to be young Kristopher's baby sitter when Siegel was working as a truck driver in Oregon, seven years ago. While Siegel was gone on a 10-day trip, Moore allegedly took off with the boy, the caseworker said. Moore was given a "permission slip," signed by Siegel, intended to be used in case Kristopher needed emergency medical treatment while in Moore's care, the caseworker said.