KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Isabelle Zehnder reporting) — No one can understand the pain a parent of a missing child goes through except other parents who’ve been through it – like Gil Abeyta who says his son was abducted from his crib in the middle of the night 25 years ago.
Baby Christopher was never found.
Abeyta arrived in Kansas City soon after Baby Lisa Irwin went missing. Her parents, Deborah Bradley and Jeremy Irwin, say she was abducted from her crib in the middle of the night while the family slept. A story eerily similar to his own.
“I had to be there,” Abeyta said during a phone call Saturday. “I had to offer my help and support to these parents.”
The story began much like his own. Abeyta said he knew Baby Lisa’s parents would welcome him with open arms, parents of missing children always do. He was in for a big surprise.
Over the past month he’s met with the family, spoken with attorneys, police, and the FBI, met with witnesses, neighbors and anyone else he could find to talk to about this missing baby.
Now he’s left wondering why these young parents have allowed others to dictate what they will do, even though the majority of people, including experts and police, are saying it’s not the right thing to do.
It’s always hard and it’s always sad meeting with parents whose children are missing. But it’s imperative, Abeyta said, that they have a support system of people who have been there and who are experienced in what they’re going through.
That’s why he made the thousand-mile drive to meet with these parents. To offer his support and help in finding Baby Lisa.
Not long after arriving, Abeyta made the journey from his new home – a hotel room in Kansas City – to Deborah and Jeremy’s relative’s home on North Waldron where they stayed shortly after Baby Lisa disappeared and until they were whisked away to a secret location by their New York-based private investigator late last month.
Abeyta said nothing he’s ever experienced in his years working with families could have prepared him for what he would encounter in the moments to follow.
He walked up the path to the front door, the same lump in his throat he has when he meets parents for the first time. He knocked on the door and was shocked at what he heard. “We have orders not to talk to anyone,” Deborah’s cousin, Mike LeRette told Abetya.
Abeyta said that of all the families of missing children he’s worked with over the past 25 years he had never encountered a stiuation like this, he had never encountered parents who were virtually silenced.
Taken aback by LeRette’s statment, Abeyta said to him, “I didn’t come 1,000 miles to walk away.” He convinced the family his intentions were good – they finally let him in.
Once inside the home, Abeyta says Lisa’s parents were like “zombies” and says Deborah didn’t even acknowledge he was there. “She was cleaning the kitchen,” Abeyta said. “She didn’t even come shake my hand or say hi.”
Abeyta tried to explain that a lack of communication will bring nothing but problems and that if they don’t talk to the police and to the public, they can expect they’ll be looked at suspiciously.
He told them he could see they had problems and that as someone who’s already been through this, he could understand what they were going through. Remember, his meeting with the family was in the early days not long after Lisa had gone missing.
Abeyta questioned why the family was allowing a New York-based attorney and private investigator to take over their case, when it appeared clear to him they were not in this to help the family.
He said they listened to him for about 30 minutes, but said very little.
It was his first, and his last face-to-face meeting with the young couple and their family. He said if only he’d arrived a day sooner, things might have been very different. Unfortunately LeRette had already arrived and had already had time to talk with the family.
Abeyta said tension, pressure, and sadness filled every square inch of the home. He said he feels the baby’s parents lost complete control over their situation once LeRette came into town from Texas with offers of big money from an anonymous wealthy benefactor.
LeRette, Abeyta said, is young and doesn’t appear to have the ability or maturity to handle a situation this complex. But, he said, “Mike’s the trail to the money so, good or bad, he stays.”
It is believed the benefactor may have had prior connections with New York-based private investigator “Wild” Bill Stanton who was hired to assist the family in finding Baby Lisa.
Locals said they quickly discovered “Wild” Bill wasn’t even licensed to practice in the State of Missouri, and that he quickly changed his title from “Private Investigator” to “Consultant.”
They said his coming into town purporting to be someone he’s not didn’t bode well with the community, local private investigators, or local media. Stanton was quickly disliked.
Also chosen to assist Deborah and Jeremy is New York-based defense attorney Joe Tacopina.It wasn’t long before the public realized Tacopina had represented Joran van der Sloot in the Natallee Holloway case, a man who later admitted to murdering another young woman. They could not understand why a couple with a missing baby would need to hire a high-profile defense attorney from New York. It just didn’t make sense.
The family, attorney, and the PI would not disclose the name of the benefactor who reportedly says she doesn’t want the attention focused on her. This has further cast a shadow of suspicion on this family and those who represent them.
Abeyta says he beleived that between LeRette, Stanton, and Tacopina, these young parents were not, and are not in control of their own situation. “In fact,” Abeyta said, “the person doing most of the talking for the family during our short meeting was LeRette.”
Abeyta says he believes that allowing the New York attorney and PI and a young, inexperienced distant cousin to take over their missing child’s case may prove to have caused them more harm than good in the long run. Only time will tell.
Abeyta said during a phone call Sunday that he can’t get Baby Lisa’s grandparents off his mind. He’s a grandfather now so he has a sense of what they must be going through. He’s reaching out to them in hopes they will accept his help and support. He said talking can’t hurt, but it sure can help.
It’s obvious Baby Lisa’s grandparents are hurting, based on an article written by the Kansas City Star Sunday: From mother hen to media villain: The life of Deborah Bradley. This article helps to shed light on some of Abeyta’s observations during his short visit with their family.
Abeyta says he understands the pain these parents are going through. When he heard that Deborah had collapsed on the floor and trembled upon learning Baby Lisa wasn’t in her crib he could relate – that’s exactly what his wife did when their baby Christopher was abducted.
Baby Lisa’s case has taken twists and turns Abeyta never expected or could have foreseen. He was as shocked as anyone else when Deborah admitted on ABC’s Good Morning America, two weeks after her baby went missing, that she’d not only been drinking the night Baby Lisa vanished but that she might have blacked out that night and didn’t remember seeing her baby after 6:40 p.m., not the original 10:30 p.m. time she’d given.
He believes public opinion is vital in missing persons’ cases and fears that because Deborah was honest about her shortcomings that night people focused on her instead of the fact that Baby Lisa is missing.
One would think that when a beautiful baby girl is missing her community would be rallying together organizing ground searches and would be printing and distributing flyers. Where were they? Where are they now? Why no massive volunteer ground searches like we see in so many other missing persons’ cases? Why are people in Lee’s Summit, a community close to Kansas Ctiy, complaining they’re not seeing missing Baby Lisa flyers in store windows?
As much as Abeyta can understand and relate to what Baby Lisa’s parents were going through in the early days after she disappeared, he hasn’t understood for some time how Deborah and Jeremy are handling their missing baby’s case.
He doesn’t understand why they’ve allowed a high-profile New York attorney to take over the case, allowed the dismissal of a local attorney who in his opinion was the best thing they had going, and why they’ve chosen to not cooperate with police.
He doesn’t understand how these parents could rely on advice of an attorney who was in Rome for over a week while local attorney Cyndy Short was on the ground working with a team of 17 professionals trying to find this baby. He doesn’t understand how these parents can rely on the assistance of a New York “private investigator” who rides in and out of town in his shiny Cadillac, leaving the family looking worst each time he comes and goes.
Abeyta questions how much experience these two men have in working on missing baby or missing children’s cases.
He also doesn’t understand how going into hiding is going to help them find their baby.
And most of all, he can’t understand why this family would not accept help and advice of people who have been there before, who have gone through what they’re going through.
He reiterated that in most missing children’s cases parents welcome him with open arms and don’t want him to leave.
In this case, he barely made it through the front door for what he called a not-very-productive 30-minute interview with the family in which the baby’s mother, Deborah Bradley, didn’t even acknowledge his presence.
Abeyta has been in Kansas City for nearly a month asking nothing of anyone and working day and night to help in the search for Baby Lisa. He believes she’s still alive. He is well aware of the skeptics who believe the baby is dead and who blame her parents for her demise.
For now, Abeyta says, he will continue on his path to the truth about what happened between the hours of 6:40 p.m. Oct. 3, and 4 a.m. Oct. 4 – the time her parents claim someone abducted her from her crib.
More on Lisa’s story:
- Additional news coverage
- Facebook: Help Find Lisa Irwin
- Slideshow: Photos of Baby Lisa
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Baby Lisa Irwin was reported missing Oct. 4, 2011, at around 4 a.m. Her parents, Deborah Bradley and Jeremy Irwin, say she was abducted from her crib. Their repeated inconsistent stories and refusal to cooperate with police have placed them under a cloud of suspicion by police and the public.
An anonymous donor has offered a $100,000 reward for the safe return of Baby Lisa or for information that leads to a conviction of her abductor.
Anyone with information about this case is asked to contact the TIP Hotline at (816) 474-TIPS.