The untold tale of family abductions: 3 girls missing, an international hunt
By Stephanie Chen, CNN
December 9, 2009 1:46 p.m. EST
Christine Belford was reunited with her three daughters, who were kidnapped by their father for 19 months.
(CNN) -- Christine Belford agreed to let her ex-husband take their three daughters to Disney World for a two-week vacation. In August 2007, the Delaware mother kissed her little blond girls goodbye.
Those two weeks were unsettling for Belford, then 34. The couple went through a bitter divorce in 2006 which resulted in joint custody of the children. Belford said when the girls were with their dad, they were always difficult to reach.
Two days into the trip, Belford connected by cell phone with her oldest daughter, Laura, then 5. Already homesick, chubby-faced Laura cried as her father checked them into a hotel room.
"I want to come home," Laura pleaded with her mother.
But Laura and her sisters wouldn't return to their Delaware home for 19 months.
Their father, David Matusiewicz, pleaded guilty to international parental kidnapping and bank fraud charges in September. He faces up to 30 years in prison and is scheduled to be sentenced on Thursday. CNN attempted to reach Matusiewichz in jail through his attorney, Heriberto "Eddie" Medrano, in Houston, Texas, but Medrano did not return the calls.
Kidnapping victims like Laura and her sisters -- Leigh, then 4, and Karen, then 2 -- often don't make national headlines the way victims of alleged abductions by strangers do, such as Jaycee Dugard and Elizabeth Smart. But each year, most child abductions are perpetrated by someone the victim knows.
The U.S. Department of Justice reports more than 200,000 children are victims of family abductions in the United States each year. Of that figure, about 56,500 cases are reported to local law enforcement authorities and require investigation, studies show. In comparison, the U.S. Department of Justice reports an average of 115 stranger abductions a year.
Family abductions commonly involve children under 6, too young to comprehend that a crime is occurring, studies show.
Over the last few decades, high divorce rates have led to custody disputes and to kidnappings, experts say. Yet the public...The untold tale of family abductions: 3 girls missing, an international hunt - CNN.com