Sorry to be out of touch. I have a lot of news to catch you up on! But I’ll do it in several posts . . . and in a logical order.
By request, I’ll tell the Costa Rican Rescue story first—the one where I ended up in real danger while stuck in a foreign country.
The mugger left quite a bruise!
My new husband and I traveled to Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica on our honeymoon. We chose that spot so we could check on Dave’s three grandkids, all under the age of seven, because we were worried about them. And rightfully so. We found them living in a squalid tree house filled with mosquitoes and spiders and zombie-like, cult-member roommates. (No toys, books, or beds!) They also seemed to be starving, and their little bodies were covered with staph infections. Their mother’s mental illness had clearly escalated, and she refused to take the children to the clinic for antibiotics.
Sick with an infection myself (and recovering from an assault!), I decided as soon as I was able to get up I would find a translator and a cab driver and head for the Costa Rican Children’s Service office (PANI) in a nearby town to get help for the kids. Even knowing it would alienate his daughter, Dave decided to go with me. So the next morning we headed out, not knowing what to expect.
At first, the administrator seemed angry with us. “Why didn’t you pick up the niños and take them to the doctor?” she shouted. “You’re familia!” Even in Spanish, I understood the accusation. We had to explain that in the United States, grandparents have no rights.
But the mother had been reported months earlier for the same health-neglect issue, and the PANI office was already looking for her. After hours of back-and-forth translation, they agreed to call the federal police and go out to pick up the children.
Dave and I had been to the home only once, with her driving. It was near the top of a long, winding mountain road that required many turns. Also, we’d come back down in the dark. But we were determined to find it again. Our cab driver stopped at the base of the hill and wouldn’t go any further, so Dave and I climbed in the back of a police truck, doing our best to communicate with officers who didn’t speak English.
We finally found the house again, and relief washed over us. But we quickly realized the mother and kids weren’t there. A devastating moment. Even worse, her roommate grabbed his phone and started texting. I yelled at an officer to stop him because I knew he was alerting the mother. But it was too late. Dave’s daughter started sending hateful, threatening messages, then went into hiding and never returned to that location.
We couldn’t give up though. The police had put out alerts for the mother, but we knew she had gone deeper into the jungle and that her cult friends would help her. More determined than ever to rescue the children—before they disappeared from us forever—Dave and I went into detective mode. We biked all over Puerto Viejo and the small neighboring towns, asking everyone if they had seen the mother or knew anything about where she might go. I searched the group’s website, looking for details about who they were and what property they owned.
We eventually discovered two pieces of information that made us able to map out an area of the jungle called Carbon 2 where we thought we could find them. Dave spent an hour at a local police station, trying to communicate our findings. Finally he and four officers loaded into two trucks and set off into the jungle again.
I would have gone with them, but I had to find a place to stay that evening. We had to move from our B&B rental because the owner knew the kids had staph infections and wouldn’t allow them there. So on Christmas Eve, I was biking around in the rain, talking to hotel clerks and locals, desperate to find a place for all of us to sleep—hoping against the odds that Dave would get lucky and locate the kids.
The kids in San Jose
And he did! After hours of driving up gravel roads, only to have to turn around and try a different route, he finally spotted his daughter’s car in some bushes. The police raided the primitive shack and called for an ambulance to take the children to the clinic.
By that time, I’d secured a rental , so I biked out to the clinic to join Dave as he waited outside. After two long hours of negotiation, the sick children were released into our custody. And we got our first taste of what was in store for us. Two of the mother’s cult friends were parked nearby in a silver van, watching and waiting. The police had to block them so we could leave without being followed.
That evening, she posted a Biblical verse on her Facebook page about a child killing her father, and her friends posted that they intended to find us and hurt us, then take the kids back. So for the next eighteen days, we moved from one cramped rental to the next, constantly looking over our shoulders.
At one point, we were staying with a French couple deep in the jungle. On a walk one morning, I spotted a silver van parked at the end of the gated road. I turned and ran, fearful that I would lead the men back to the kids. We later learned that they had been searching for us at nearby vacation rentals, and that one of them had a gun.
It was the most stressful three weeks of my life. But it was also incredibly rewarding to watch the kids blossom as we fed them real food, gave them love and attention, and treated them with antibiotics. (We also had to teach them how to take showers and brush their teeth!) Eventually, we were allowed to travel to San Jose—for our safety—and we enlisted the help of the American Embassy.
Finally, we got word that the custody paperwork was ready. We picked up the kids’ passport and bought tickets for Oregon for the next morning. After one last nerve-racking moment at the airport immigration office, we boarded a plane for home.
The kids are with their aunt and uncle and are doing really well. But they have a lot of catching up to do. And one of my motivations in writing about this is to encourage people to report neglect and abuse when they suspect it. Several people came to us after the rescue and said they’d witnessed how bad it was (even before Costa Rica) and wished they had reported it. It’s always better to err on the side of children.
On a completely different note: After many interruptions (see above), Detective Jackson #13 is finally done and will release on May 29. You can pre-order it now.