L. A. Times

August 29 2002

2 Armed Men Seize Boy, 9, in Violent Abduction

Kidnapping: Child was at center of a bitter custody fight. Father is beaten by Palm Desert intruders.

Los Angeles Times

Boy's Mother Sought
Boy's Mother Sought

Nicholas Farber
Nicholas Farber

Debra Rose
Debra Rose

PALM DESERT -- Adding to what suddenly seems a long list of children plucked from their homes, two armed men burst into a house early Wednesday, grabbed a 9-year-old boy who is the subject of a bitter custody dispute, beat his father and fled in an SUV, authorities said.

Officials were searching Wednesday night for the boy's mother--and pleading with her through the media to come forward.

Nicholas Michael Farber was wearing only his briefs when he was taken just after 2 a.m. from the home he shares with his father in Palm Desert, near Palm Springs.

The father, Michael Farber, was beaten in the face and body by the two men before the boy was taken, officials said. Farber was able to call 911 on his cellular telephone before he was taken to a hospital, where he was treated and released.

Officials said the kidnapping had been carried out with alarming precision.

"There was some thought that went into this," said Riverside County Sheriff-elect Bob Doyle. "The suspects came in with a mission and they accomplished their mission. They took care of their business as they saw it and then got out."

Nicholas' parents married in 1991 and underwent an unpleasant divorce in 1995, according to authorities and court documents.

The boy's mother, Debra Rose, 38, of Colorado Springs, Colo., could not be reached Wednesday, nor could she be located by authorities.

Rose has been married and divorced five times, according to court records. Michael Farber was her third husband.

Rose recently landed in a Colorado detention center after violating a restraining order, according to Sheriff's Lt. Melissa Hartman in El Paso County, Colo. The restraining order was related to a dispute with another former husband, officials said.

She was arrested by Colorado Springs police on Aug. 15 and was released the next day after posting an $800 bail bond. Officials said she missed a scheduled court appointment in an unrelated civil matter Wednesday morning.

Farber only recently obtained temporary custody of Nicholas, who had been living with his mother in Colorado.

After Rose's arrest, Farber had received a telephone call from another of her ex-husbands advising him to pick up the child, acquaintances said.

Farber then went to Colorado and was unhappy with the boy's living conditions, said his San Pedro attorney, Terry Ponchak. A judge granted Farber temporary custody and the two returned to California, the attorney said. Farber and Rose were scheduled to appear in court to debate permanent custody of Nicholas on Sept. 5.

"The boy's only been with him a couple weeks," said Ralph Pierce, 72, whose niece owns the home Michael Farber rents. Pierce came to the one-story white stucco house Wednesday to drop off some granite for a kitchen remodeling, learning of the abduction from reporters.

"Somebody called him in the middle of the night and said, 'You'd better come get the kid, because she's in jail,' " Pierce said. "He's just a super nice guy. He's the kind of guy who wouldn't hurt a soul. He doesn't have a mean bone in his body."

According to documents filed in Orange County, where Rose lived before moving to Colorado, Michael Farber accused his ex-wife during the custody dispute of being a drug addict and said she suffers from migraines so severe that she is unable to care for Nicholas.

"She's been disruptive in my child's school, where she was ordered not to appear unless she limits her visit to the school office," Farber said in court papers.

After another trip to Colorado, court records say, Farber could not locate Nicholas. He eventually found him, he wrote in court documents, in a storage facility, "tired, dirty ... and hungry."

"I firmly believe that my son is in danger if he is allowed to remain with his mother," Farber wrote in the court documents. "I can provide my son a safe environment."

Another of Rose's ex-husbands filed an affidavit supporting Farber's petition for custody of the boy, also alleging that Rose is addicted to prescription drugs, including morphine.

Barbara Fritz, the Newport Beach attorney who represented Rose during her divorce from Farber, said she is no longer in touch with the boy's mother. "But I can't believe she has anything to do with this," Fritz said. "It doesn't fit her at all."

Despite suggestions that domestic troubles might be behind the kidnapping, officials continued to call it a "stranger abduction."

"The bottom line is, two [men] came in and abducted the boy," said FBI Special Agent Matt McLaughlin. "Now we are simply in attack mode, trying to get a missing child home."

Authorities tried to appeal to Rose through a series of news conferences Wednesday.

"Debra, please contact us," Sheriff-elect Doyle said. "We need to talk to you."

Riverside County Sheriff's Capt. Patrick McManus also had a message for the two kidnappers: "We will find you."

The case follows highly publicized child abductions around the country, including the kidnapping and murder of 7-year-old Danielle van Dam near San Diego and the slaying of 5-year-old Samantha Runnion near Lake Elsinore.

Doyle said that the number of child abductions is not actually on the rise. Instead, he said, a coincidental series of dramatic and shocking cases has grabbed the nation's attention.

"The public is more attentive right now because of the more horrific cases lately," he said.

Authorities did not issue a so-called Amber alert for the sport utility vehicle used in Wednesday's kidnapping because, officials said, they did not have enough information about the vehicle, other than that it was white.

Officials said they were also searching for a second vehicle, a gray 2002 GMC pickup truck with the temporary plate H12197. They stressed that the pickup was a "witness vehicle" and had not been used in the abduction. But they said that Rose had access to that truck.

A composite sketch of one of the kidnappers was released late Wednesday. He is described as 5 feet 8, 175 pounds with black hair. He is between 20 and 30 years old and has a goatee, officials said. The other man was wearing a stocking over his face, officials said.

Anyone with information about the case was asked to call a hotline at (760) 836-1632.

Copyright 2002 Los Angeles Times