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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Crime/Public Safety

YouTube, TikTok and other social media help Illinois mom who gave birth at 12 in Spokane escape and track down alleged rapist

An Illinois woman who in the 1990s gave birth to two children in the Inland Northwest fathered by her mother’s abusive boyfriend credits social media with not only her escape from a life of captivity, but also his eventual arrest on a federal charge this summer.

“I know it sounds ridiculous,” said Rae, who is now 40, in a phone interview from her home earlier this month. “But yeah, 100%, I give social media so much credit for it.”

The August arrest of 62-year-old Chris Hamburg in Montana came 27 years after Rae, whom The Spokesman-Review is identifying by a pseudonym at her request because she is a victim of sexual crime, delivered the first of her two boys at Deaconess Hospital in Spokane. She was 12; Hamburg would impregnate her again within weeks, and the family fled with them across the border to Idaho. Hamburg’s decision to move the family across state lines provided the basis of a federal grand jury indictment handed down in Idaho in July charging Hamburg with transportation of a minor across state lines to commit a sexual crime, a charge that carries a mandatory 10-year prison sentence.

Hamburg pleaded not guilty to the charge before a federal judge in Boise in August, and is being held without bond pending a trial currently scheduled for the end of October. His attorney, Melissa Winberg, said via phone last week that Hamburg is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Rae described a transient childhood in which Hamburg exerted complete control over her mother, brother and eventually her two boys. They fled from Tacoma across the state, seeking assistance from local churches and charities, and Hamburg raped Rae. Eventually, she became pregnant.

“The prenatal care didn’t start until I was seven months pregnant,” Rae said. In January 1995, the preteen went into labor, and Hamburg disappeared as Rae and her mother went to Deaconess for the delivery.

Rae said she hoped that Hamburg would stay gone after the baby was delivered. But he returned, and Rae said she didn’t blame her mom, because she wasn’t fully aware of what was going on.

“Lots of our female relatives have had kids at 13, 14, 15,” Rae said.

Because of those young mothers in her family, it wasn’t crazy for her mother to think she’d conceived a child with a boy , Rae said.

Rae said Hamburg told her to say the baby’s father was a classmate in Tacoma who’d died by suicide.

“So that they couldn’t prove, obviously, whether he was or not,” Rae said.

Doctors and nurses at the hospital reported the underage birth to state officials. Case records detail a four-month investigation that was abruptly closed, even though case workers wrote that Hamburg “controlled all interaction” and “has an anger problem and possibly predatory nature.” Michael Pfau and Vincent Nappo, who have represented victims of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy and leaders in the Boy Scouts of America, took Rae’s case and said it was a tragic example of the social safety net not protecting the victim of sexual crime. Rae received a settlement in 2014 from the state of Washington for $3 million after filing a claim alleging negligence by Child Protective Services agents.

After a couple of parenting classes, the family disappeared, according to the CPS records. A case worker wrote in the notes that “their whereabouts are unknown” in March 1996.

Hamburg had moved the family to Idaho, where they were living in a trailer. Rae thinks it was somewhere near Caldwell, but she did not have access to the phone or the internet. He again impregnated the young girl, within weeks of her first delivery, and once again directed her to lie, she said, saying the child belonged to a boy in one of her parenting classes. She was also told not to say that her second son had any siblings, though Rae believes the hospital workers had to know she’d already given birth.

Rae’s second son was born in Boise. There are no Child Protective Services reports for that birth, Pfau and Nappo said.

“You can’t help but think these were people without resources, and they were prejudiced against by caregivers, particularly in Idaho,” Pfau said, referring to the lack of a CPS report from the Boise birth.

The family lived a sheltered existence after that, Rae said. She was pulled out of school at age 12, her brother at age 14.

“We weren’t allowed to talk to neighbors. We weren’t allowed to go to the park,” Rae said. “We weren’t allowed to go shopping. We were, literally, held captive in the house.”

Rae performed the job of mother, even though her children weren’t allowed to call her “mommy” in public. She lived like that for years, she said, until they visited the public library when her youngest son was about to turn 14 and started watching YouTube videos about free-running. The son asked Hamburg to get them a computer so he could watch the videos at home, and he complied.

“I had to sneak getting a YouTube page,” Rae said. She began commenting on other people’s videos, and eventually let slip what was going on in her home life. She made friends with a man in Illinois, who later became her husband. The couple has since divorced.

“I’d never been on a date, never had a first kiss, didn’t go to school after 12,” Rae said. “It was nice feeling like somebody was waiting to talk to me, that somebody was waiting to tell me how pretty I was.”

The relationship led to him sending her a phone. Her interactions online led to her story being shared publicly on the web by someone Rae referred to as “an internet stalker.” She reunited with the extended family that Hamburg had taken her from years earlier, including an older sister that she hadn’t talked to in nearly two decades. Rae also finally told her mother that Hamburg was the father of her two boys.

This time, Hamburg really did vanish, as the family moved to Illinois, where they’ve been for the past decade. Rae’s sons first experienced school when they reached high school.

“(My youngest) came home one day, and he said, ‘You don’t understand what it’s like. When the bell rings, I don’t know what it means,’ ” Rae said.

Rae found Pfau and Nappo through online contacts, and pursued the legal civil claim against Washington state. Rae used the money to buy a home for her and her children, and to help pay for their medical costs of dealing with more than a decade of abuse. But statute of limitations restrictions in both Washington and Idaho kept prosecutors from pursuing a criminal case, though those statutes of limitations in both states have since been eliminated for cases where minors are victims, Pfau and Nappo said.

Social media, once again, alerted Rae to Hamburg’s presence about a year ago. At the same time she’d been writing about her experiences online, she discovered Hamburg had been involved in a road rage incident in a town about 30 minutes away from where she lived, which was filmed and posted to the video-sharing app TikTok. Another incident was reported on local news in Indiana.

One of Rae’s friends had a daughter who saw the story and shared it with Rae with a message, “Is Hamburg the father of your kids?”

“It shows his face,” Rae said of the TikTok video. “I had an instant panic attack.”

In another unlikely coincidence, one of Rae’s online friends was another road rage victim of Hamburg’s, and the two were able to determine it was him from the photos and videos. That friend turned out to be the daughter of a U.S. attorney, and Nappo urged Rae to pursue federal charges. Rae convinced one of her sons to provide a DNA sample that could be used to identify Hamburg as his father. The indictment was handed down in July, and by August the FBI had found Hamburg at a motel in Missoula, where he was arrested.

A Congressional change to federal law in 2003 eliminated the statute of limitations for the federal crime Hamburg is now charged with, Nappo said.

“In the end it works out,” Pfau added. “It shows the long arm of the law. This guy’s been evading justice for 30 years.”

Rae said she’s been asked to provide a victim impact statement in the courtroom, when Hamburg’s case is resolved. He has waived his right to a detention hearing and a trial is set before U.S. District Court Judge Lynn B. Winmill beginning Oct. 31, according to court records.

“I can’t wait to look him in the eye. I cannot wait for that day,” Rae said. “He tortured us.”

She’s sharing her story because she wants other victims to know there is a way out of the cycle of abuse. Rae has since sat in on talks by other survivors of abduction and sexual abuse, including Elizabeth Smart.

“I want to be that for somebody else, for someone to hear this and say, ‘Maybe I can get away. Maybe I can leave a note. Maybe I can tell a teacher,’ ” Rae said.

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