|Shannon Wilfong, accused of hiding her 6-year-old son in a crawl space, insisted yesterday that she did nothing wrong. (Steve Jahnke/The Southern Illinoisan via Associated Press)|
Found boy stays in state’s hands
Ill. judge rejects father’s request for immediate custody
BENTON, Ill. - A 6-year-old boy whose mother is accused of hiding him in a crawl space for nearly two years whenever visitors arrived will remain in state custody while he gets counseling meant to eventually reunite him with his father.
Franklin County Circuit Judge Kyle Vantrease turned away Michael Chekevdia’s request to take temporary custody of his son immediately, ruling yesterday that Richard Chekevdia needs help to gradually process his “traumatic’’ ordeal.
Ricky and his mother, 30-year-old Shannon Wilfong, vanished in November 2007. They were found Friday hiding in a small crawl space in his grandmother’s two-story home in southern Illinois.
Vantrease scheduled a Nov. 23 hearing to resolve the custody issue, suggesting that by then the boy’s progress in counseling and efforts backed by state child welfare workers to reunify him with his dad could be measured. Until then, the boy will remain with a relative of Michael Chekevdia’s in Marion.
The judge refused - with the state’s blessings - any access to him by his mother, who often sobbed during the 75-minute hearing and insisted she’d done nothing wrong.
“You’re making me sound bad. It was not like that at all,’’ she interjected at one point.
Wilfong, 30, made her first court appearance earlier yesterday on a felony abduction charge, telling a judge she planned to hire an attorney. She remained jailed on $42,500 bond and is scheduled for a preliminary hearing Sept. 23.
The grandmother, 51-year-old Diane Dobbs, is free on bond after being charged with aiding and abetting.
Dobbs has insisted Wilfong had little choice but to flee with the boy to protect him. “We were on our own and we had to do what we had to do and that was make sure our grandson was safe,’’ she told ABC’s “Good Morning America’’ on Monday.
Michael Chekevdia has rejected allegations of abuse, as did state child welfare officials, and the judge in court yesterday. “I absolutely have no concerns about the father,’’ testified Jan McGraw, a state child protection supervisor.
Chekevdia, a 48-year-old former police officer who’s an Illinois Army National Guard lieutenant colonel, won temporary custody of his son shortly before the boy and his mother - Chekevdia’s former girlfriend - disappeared.
Chekevdia said he long suspected his son was being hidden by Dobbs, although there were no signs of him when the home was searched with her consent. Wilfong was charged in December 2007 with abducting the boy, but couldn’t be found.
For much of the time since, Chekevdia said, the windows of Dobbs’s home were blocked off by drawn shades or other items.
Stacy Kinter, an Illinois State Police special agent, testified yesterday that police who stormed Dobbs’s Elkville house with a search warrant Friday found Dobbs hastily trying to close the entry to the crawl space.
Inside the plywood-floored confines - roughly 5 feet by 12 feet and about the height of a washing machine, hidden behind a wall by a dresser - searchers found Wilfong and the boy, clad only in underwear and a T-shirt.
He appeared “very pale, like he’d not been in the sun,’’ Kinter said, reinforcing the boy’s claims that during all of his seclusion he was not allowed outside. Moments after being found, Kinter said, the boy “seemed very excited to be playing in the grass and outside.’’
Angela Anderson, an investigator for the state child welfare agency, testified that a counselor who examined the boy briefly said he had a speech impediment, had limited reading skills, and was “socially lacking, socially behind.’’