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Boy found in secret room

Mother accused of abducting him nearly two years ago

ST. LOUIS – A boy allegedly abducted in a custody dispute nearly two years ago has turned up alive, hiding with his mother in a small, specially built secret room at his grandmother’s Illinois home, investigators said.

Richard “Ricky” Chekevdia, who turns 7 on Sept. 14, was in good spirits and physically fit after being found Friday by investigators with a court order to search the two-story rural home in southern Illinois’ Franklin County, about 120 miles southeast of St. Louis.

The boy’s mother, 30-year-old Shannon Wilfong, is charged with felony child abduction. The grandmother, 51-year-old Diane Dobbs, is charged with aiding and abetting. Wilfong remained jailed Saturday on $42,500 bond in Benton, Ill., where Dobbs was being held on $1,000 bond. The women did not have attorneys listed Saturday in online court records.

The boy was staying Saturday with one of his father’s relatives while state child-welfare workers investigated claims the father abused the child before his disappearance – allegations rejected by the dad, who’s thrilled the agonizing search has ended.

“Two years? You have no idea,” Mike Chekevdia, a 48-year-old former police officer who is a lieutenant colonel in the Illinois National Guard, said Saturday. “I’ve lost sleep. I’ve lost weight. I’ve gained weight. I wouldn’t wish this on anybody.”

Chekevdia won temporary custody of his son shortly before the boy and his mother – Chekevdia’s former girlfriend – disappeared in November 2007. Chekevdia said he long suspected his son was being stowed by Dobbs, although there were no signs of the boy at her home when it was searched with her consent after his disappearance. Wilfong was charged in December 2007 with abducting the boy but couldn’t be found.

For much of the time since, Chekevdia said, the windows of Dobbs’ home were blocked by drawn shades or other items, presumably to prevent anyone from peeking inside.

“I had a firm belief he was in there, and yesterday it was confirmed,” Chekevdia said.

Investigators did not detail what led sheriff’s deputies and federal marshals with a search warrant to Dobbs’ house Friday, when they found the boy and his mother in a hideaway roughly 5 feet by 12 feet and about the height of a washing machine.

“We let him out of the (patrol) car and he ran around like he’d never seen outdoors. It was actually very sad,” Illinois State Police Master Sgt. Stan Diggs said.

Dobbs, the grandmother, told the Southern Illinoisan newspaper of Carbondale, Ill., last year that her daughter had been forced into hiding to keep the child from his father. Dobbs called the custody dispute a “nightmare for all of us.”


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