Toronto Star

Jan. 24, 10:21 EDT

Mother put them in car trunk, rescued triplets say

Toronto Star

STRATFORD - Stratford's Merkley triplets say that at one point during their alleged abduction by their non-custodial mother, she put them in the trunk of her car.

Craig Merkley, father of Olivia, Peter and Gray, said in an interview at his home yesterday that the eight-year-olds made the revelation earlier in the day during breakfast.

It was their second day at home since their rescue and the arrest of their mother, Carline Vandenelsen on Sunday at a shabby row house in Acapulco, Mexico, more than three months after she failed to return them from a day visit.

''They were put in the trunk of the car and had a signal,'' said Merkley, watching Peter and Olivia as they gleefully made snow tunnels in the front yard of their Stratford home.

''When she turned the radio up and down three times that meant they had to be quiet.'' He said he assumed this was when they crossed international borders.

Vandenelsen, a former drafting teacher at Waterloo-Oxford District Secondary School, near Baden, is in a Mexican jail awaiting extradition to face parental abduction charges.

All three children paid a surprise 20-minute visit to their class Tuesday at Hamlet Public School.

''I got to see my friends,'' Olivia beamed.

''They were a little bit nervous coming through the door,'' noted teacher Lois Burdett. ''But as soon as they saw their friends, they started hugging and holding very tight.''

''Gray was so happy, he had tears coming down his cheeks,'' added his father.

They'll make their official return to classes tomorrow and are looking forward to the school's winter carnival in the afternoon.

After that, the media, which have bombarded the children since their return home, will be asked to stay away from the school, said principal Fred Anderson. He said he will also instruct students not to ask the triplets potentially-upsetting questions.

Merkley. a soft-spoken conservation services specialist with the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority, said he hasn't pressured his children for information, allowing it to come out in bits and pieces as they're ready to share it.

''For now they're just really happy to play,'' he said.

Merkley said he received a few calls of concern from Vandenelsen's mother and sisters after the disappearance. But he hasn't heard anything since their return. Two of the sisters are said to have flown to Mexico.

Torstar News Service

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