Official: Abducted Ind. boy's mother lived in car
CLARISSA, Minn. (AP) — In 2006, an 18-year-old Minnesota man legally changed his name to Michael Jeff Landers. Six years later, authorities determined Landers was really the Indiana child who had been abducted by his paternal grandparents in 1994.
Richard Wayne Landers Jr., was reportedly abducted when he was 5 years old. The 24-year-old Michael Landers now lives in the small central Minnesota town of Browerville, the Todd County Sheriff's Office said Friday.
Sheriff Peter Mikkelson said the investigation is ongoing and the case will be forwarded to federal authorities for possible charges.
It's unclear what Landers knew about his history, but authorities said he had lived with his grandparents since birth.
According to court records, Landers applied for the name change himself in November 2006, just a couple weeks after he turned 18. It wasn't immediately clear how long he had used the name Michael.
A home phone number for Landers could not be found, and he and his wife didn't respond to multiple messages sent through social networking sites.
But a posting from his Facebook account appeared Friday night on the Minneapolis television station KARE's Facebook page, saying: "For you people who jump to conclusions you should find out the whole story I was where I needed to be. My 'grandparents' were in the the right I dont care what anyone else thinks."
Landers didn't immediately respond to a follow-up message from The Associated Press seeking confirmation it was his statement. AP believes the Facebook account to be Landers' based on multiple links between it and confirmed friends and relatives.
His grandparents fled during a custody dispute with Landers' mother in July 1994 from Wolcottville, Ind., about 50 miles southeast of South Bend.
The mother and stepfather were unemployed and lived in a car, recalled John R. Russell, who spent several months investigating the disappearance with the LaGrange County Sheriff's Department in Indiana.
"These people (the grandparents) were nice people. It was wrong for them to do it, but I can understand why," Russell said. "But I also didn't think the child would be in any danger at all with them."
But an attorney for Landers' mother refuted claims that she was homeless. Attorney Richard Muntz said Landers' mother, Lisa Harter, spent only three days living in a car and it was with Landers' biological father, Richard W. Landers Sr.
She had divorced Landers' father by the time the grandparents obtained custody after Harter, who has mild developmental disabilities, moved into a group home that could not accommodate children, Muntz said.
Landers Sr. told the News-Sun in Kendalville, Ind., that Harter filed for divorce in 1990. He also said that he gave his parents temporary guardianship for one year because he didn't have a job.
After a while, Harter moved into an apartment and gained custody of her son on weekends, and she filed a petition to expand her custody rights when she remarried.
"The judge gave her custody on a trial basis, and before she could get him, that's when they left," Muntz told the AP late Friday.
He said the grandparents withdrew $5,000 out of a home equity line, went out for breakfast and left town.
"The trail on this case went cold the day they disappeared. There was no trace of them after they left the restaurant," he said.
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