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January 24, 2001

Triplets saw story of their abduction on television show

Mother in Mexican jail: Details of months on the road emerging, father says

Anne Marie Owens and Marina Jiménez
National Post

Yvonne Berg, National Post
The eight-year-old Merkley triplets, from left, Peter, Gray and Olivia, were safe at home in Stratford, Ont., yesterday, after being reunited with their father, Craig, following their abduction.

STRATFORD - A mother who allegedly abducted her triplets spoke briefly yesterday from the detention centre for women where she is being held in Mexico City.

"I feel I am safe here," Carline Vandenelsen said from the Reclusorio Preventivo Oriente. She declined to comment further on her plight.

Ms. Vandenelsen said she has arranged an exclusive interview with a Canadian television network, and would be issuing no further statements to other media.

Back at their home, the eight-year-old triplets, Olivia, Gray and Peter, have begun to divulge details of how they spent the past four months criss-crossing Canada, the United States and Latin America with their mother.

Craig Merkley, father of the children, said their mother had them watch an episode of America's Most Wanted, which profiled the abduction. She explained to them that they were on the run, hiding from authorities.

The triplets disappeared on Oct. 14 during a supervised visit with their mother. They were found in Acapulco on Sunday, in a row house off one of the many winding roads nestled in the hills high above the tourist strip. Mexican federal police arrested Ms. Vandenelsen and transported her to the prison in Mexico City. The children were returned home with their father late Monday night.

Mr. Merkley said the triplets have not asked about their mother, but know that she was arrested and is in jail. He said he expects each of them to begin to tell their stories about these last few months in different ways. Gray is the most outgoing and talkative of the three, and has already been repeating some of his mother's comments.

"On the plane coming back, there was a lot of rehashing what happened in court, in the custody issue. He'll say something she told him and then say, 'Is that true, Dad? Is that true?' " said Mr. Merkley, who was awarded custody of the children. "It's obvious that she's spent the past three months bending their minds about everything that happened."

A consular official from the Canadian Embassy visited Ms. Vandenelsen yesterday and provided her with a list of lawyers for her extradition hearing. Canadian authorities have 60 days to complete the paperwork requesting an extradition. Two of Ms. Vandenelsen's sisters are also in Mexico City, and hope to visit her this week.

The triplets enjoyed a tearful and rambunctious reunion with their classmates yesterday and accepted their father's explanation that all the media attention was a result of a worldwide manhunt.

Peter has been quiet about the time away, and Olivia just seems happy to be home, said Mr. Merkley, in an interview at the family's large red-brick home. "She just keeps beaming and grabbing me for hugs.

"They are so excited to be home. They just started squealing and jumping around as soon as they came inside."

Yesterday, the children bounded around the house with their dog, Joshua, and cuddled their cat, Buttons. They pulled out their toys to show them, and wrestled and tickled each other on the living room floor.

Mr. Merkley said he is content to let them talk about their ordeal at their own pace, especially since he is at a loss at how to respond to queries without vilifying their mother. He has just begun to piece together what it was like for them on the run, which took them to Halifax, Corpus Christi, Tex., Panama and Acapulco.

"They knew they were on the run," he said. "Gray said she told them why they had to ditch the car and get rid of the licence plates. They knew they were always moving to different cities because they were going to get caught if they stayed."

He said she managed to avoid the attention that travelling with triplets brings by going out with one child at a time and leaving the others behind.

"They said that she told them she trusted them to stay by themselves, which leads me to believe she left them alone a lot," Mr. Merkley said.

He said he was sickened when his daughter told him that they had watched the America's Most Wanted show about their abduction.

"She said, 'Daddy, we saw you on television,' and my jaw just dropped," he said. "I said, 'So you knew that I was looking for you? How did it make you feel?' And she said, 'It made me feel really sad because I didn't get a chance to say good-bye.' "

Mr. Merkley said he always feared the children were in danger, if not intentionally, then from being placed in unsafe situations. He said he can't believe that they are finally back home, and keeps checking in on them while they are asleep.

(Each link opens a new window)

  • Rdm Technologies Inc.
    Craig Merkley's missing three triplets have been found. The numerous photographs on a Web site set up by Bob Montgomery, Mr. Merkley's neighbour, show the understandable urgency of the plight.
  • Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of Child Abduction
    The central international treaty affecting child abduction.
  • Our Missing Children
    Canada's main effort to track and rescue missing children.
  • International Child Abduction: Issues for Reform
    A Canadian Senate subcommittee's findings on international parental abductions.
  • U.S. State Department
    An excellent set of links to legislation and agreements regarding child abduction.
  • Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access
    Contains minutes of all meetings.
  • Joel Miller's Family Law Centre
    A large Canadian-based site with comprehensive links to family law guidelines and legislation.
  • Status of Women Canada
    Federal government agency mandated to promote gender equality.
  • The Children's Voice
    Advocates the dismantling of the adversarial system in Canadian family law.
  • FACT
    Fathers Are Capable Too advocacy page.
  • Children's Aid Society
  • Selected Statistics on Canadian Families and Family Law
    A November, 1997, study compiled by the Department of Justice.
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