Two Winnipeg children who had been missing for nearly four years are back home, reunited with their mother, after a determined neighbour and pure luck led authorities to locate them in Mexico.
One of the investigators involved in locating Abby and Dominic Maryk credited the concerned neighbour with leading police to the two children.
"He's the one that made it happen. You know, neither the Canadian police, neither the Mexican police, could do anything and this just one guy — you had a neighbour who made it all happen," said Wilhelm von Mayer, a U.S.-based private investigator.
Abby and Dominic Maryk were five and seven years old, respectively, when they went missing in August 2008. They were on a two-week vacation as part of a court-approved visit with their biological father, Kevin Maryk.
Their mother, Emily Cablek, has legal custody.
The Maryk children were found Friday in Guadalajara, Mexico, Winnipeg police confirmed on Monday.
Kevin Maryk and a friend of his, Robert Groen, were arrested and Winnipeg police say they are in the process of extraditing them for prosecution in Canada.
A third man, Cody McKay, who is Kevin Maryk's nephew, is still at large and police say an outstanding Canada-wide warrant remains for his arrest.
Abby, 9, and Dominic, 11, are now with their mother and home in Winnipeg, according to Christy Dzikowicz with the Canadian Centre for Child Protection.
Dzikowicz was part of a group of people, including Cablek, who went to Mexico City to get the children over the weekend.
"They absolutely, 100 per cent, recognized their mother [and] have many memories. Dominic's looking forward to a Slurpee," she said.
In a statement, Cablek said she is the "happiest mommy" in the world right now and would like to have uninterrupted time with her children.
"I'm asking please give my family some privacy so that we can begin to heal," she said. "We have a long road ahead and I want my children to feel completely safe through all of it.
"They deserve nothing less."
Dzikowicz said the reunion between the children and their mother was not as joyous as some may expect, as the children had been isolated for years and now need time to heal.
The children are safe, but Dzikowicz said much psychological damage had been done — they had many things stolen from them, they had no schooling, no friends and no medical assistance during the entire time they were hidden by their father.
"They were robbed of everything," Dzikowicz said. "But time will heal."
"They are home. They are loved," she added. "They will receive all the help they need to heal and prosper, to have a happy childhood."
She said the children lived in poor conditions and relied on each other with very little care from anyone else.
They were never taken out during the light of day and only breathed fresh air only whenever they were taken out at night.
The children were moved at least five times to different locations in Mexico in the past four years and "we were very close a number of times" to finding them, said Winnipeg police Insp. Gord Perrier.
"But when you're thousands of kilometres away, these are difficult things to co-ordinate. And Mexico is a big place with lots of places to hide," he said.
"This was a roller-coaster ride, but we knew we were far closer than we ever were before."
Neighbour broke case
A neighbour in Guadalajara recognized the children from a news program, said von Mayer.
The person contacted local authorities but nothing was done, von Mayer said, adding the neighbour then got hold of him.
"It was … just luck that I became aware of that call from that concerned citizen, and I knew the person who could make it happen in Mexico, you know? But all the credit goes to that concerned citizen," von Mayer said.
The children were living in a fortified townhouse that had prison-like barbed wire atop a concrete wall surrounding the property, according to von Mayer.
They were taken out occasionally at night and returned at about 2 a.m. or 3 a.m., he added.
"You know, [they were] locked into the house all day … they had cameras, they had dogs in there so that nobody would come in. They had surveillance cameras pointed at all angles of the street," he said.
That's what raised the initial suspicion of the neighbour, von Mayer said.
"One person came forward to help us. One person made a difference," said Dzikowicz.
Cablek's uncle, Ivan Cablek, said the family is thrilled.
Speaking from London, Ont., he said no one thought the children would ever be found.
"Oh no, no. We were quite surprised because we thought that you just never know with parents because they could just disappear and have a new life somewhere else," he said.
Roz Prober, a spokeswoman for Beyond Borders, a children's protection advocacy group in Winnipeg, said the Maryk children still face a long road ahead.
"One part of the job is over — finding the children. The second part of the job is protecting the children and making sure the reintegration with the mother is handled correctly and that those children are supported," she said.
"The hard part, of course, is finding the children because it's a needle in a haystack. But the second part of the job is working with those kids and making sure they are fine."
Statement from Emily Cablek
The following is a statement issued by Emily Cablek, mother of Dominic and Abby Maryk, on Monday:
"I cannot put into words how grateful I am for all the wonderful support I received from the community over the past three years. I want to thank the Winnipeg police missing persons unit for their amazing persistence and to the Canadian Centre for Child Protection for standing by me and guiding me through the worst 45 months of my life.
"You all helped me stay strong for the most important moment of my life, for that you will always be in my heart and a part of my family.
"I am the happiest mommy in the world right now, and am asking PLEASE give my family some privacy so that we can begin to heal. We still have a long road ahead and I want my children to feel completely safe through it all.
"They deserve nothing less."