Thursday, July 17, 2014
Murder and Death: Dangers Left Behind Parents Face Attempting To Reunite With Victims Of International Child Abduction
Left behind parents of international child abduction face extreme and at times deadly risks when they attempt to reunite with their internationally kidnapped child under the auspices of a court order or when a legal arm of justice has no reach due to diluted, contradictory, or non-existent international law dealing with international child abduction. In less than one month's time, the community of left behind parents lost two more parents (fathers) who were in the process of reuniting with their abducted children. The I CARE Foundation would like to express our deepest sympathies to families and friends of both fathers after such terrible tragedies.
The deaths of these fathers - one a murder and one an accident - should not have happened and would not have occurred if their children had not been abducted. Responsibility in great part of these two tragic events undeniably falls on the international legal community at large that does not expedite the severity of international child abduction, and as demonstrated in the tragedy of Mr. Mattoni - countries such as the Philippines still have not acted responsibly and joined the 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention. Let me make this clear - the deaths of Mr. Exposito Moreno and Mr. Mattoni should not have occurred. But there is more - the reality is that so many left behind parents who have their children kidnapped abroad have their lives threatened. These threats are not rare but are actually the norm. As a society we must not accept either a child's international abduction or the very real threats aimed at targeted parents of abduction. This is an outrage!
The gravity of the hardships chasing parents face in the wake of their child's parental abduction are far from isolated incidences. Left behind parents are at often victims of murder, death threats (including threats to family members), tragic accidents, assaults, false allegations of abuse and/or assault, identity theft, slander, financial theft, and anything else that will assist the parental child kidnapper in getting away with their act of kidnapping. The reality is left behind parents not only have to deal with the fact that their child has been internationally kidnapped, but that their life is under attack by their child's other parent - the child's kidnapper.
The I CARE Foundation has repeatedly stated there are typically two victims when it comes to international parental child abduction: the victimized, kidnapped child and the left behind parent.
Rightfully, society's primary attention focuses on the kidnapped child; however, for too long we have not addressed the real dangers that left behind parents, chasing into the darkest storms face in the wake of their child's abduction.
Make no mistake, the journey that chasing parents, left in the wake of their son's or daughter's international child kidnapping face, are extreme in every possible sense.
On June 25, 2014 Domingo Exposito Moreno, age 32 and a resident of Spain's Andalusian town of Fuengirola was shot five times by a hooded gunman while sitting in a car awaiting his attorney's arrival in the southern Argentina's Patagonian City of Comodoro. Domingo Exposito Moreno was a left-behind parent who endured a prolonged four years international child abduction litigation case under the 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention.
The Argentinian court had ordered he would be able to bring his six-year old daughter home after she had been abducted by her mother and taken from Spain to Argentina. Previous to his murder, Domingo Exposito Moreno had made complained to Argentinian authorities that he had been receiving death threats via social media forums. Tragically, local law enforcement failed to act on his complaints. More than likely law enforcement did not take his concerns seriously and more than likely wrongfully viewed his concerns as a banter commonly associated with divorce and child custody cases as opposed to the reality that his case was in fact a child kidnapping case. An expected march is scheduled for July 25th, 2014 in Comodoro to commemorate Domingo's murder and remind the world that international parental child abduction is a dangerous crime against both child and targeted parent.
July 12, 2014 New York City resident Frank Mattoni died after being involved in a motorcycle accident while in the Philippines while attempting to reunite with his internationally kidnapped daughter Kayla. Having seen numerous court documents and exhibits that were presented to the New York State Supreme Court, Frank Mattoni claimed the child's mother Sheila Digon Castillo had taken the child to the Philippines right after the child's birth nearly 10 years ago. The court documents Frank Mattoni presented to the New York State court stated that once he ended the relationship with Sheila Digon Castillo, Ms. Castillo never informed him that she was pregnant, nor, did she inform him until several years later that he was a father.
Instead of sharing with Frank Mattoni that she was pregnant, Ms. Castillo decided it would be better for the child not to have a relationship with her father (Frank), and as Ms. Castillo was focused on advancing her career as a nurse in New York City, she decided to bring the child to the Philippines so she could be raised by her relatives. These details were unknown to Frank as he did not know he had a daughter born and raised for the first three months of her life on Manhattan's Upper East Side. According to Frank Mattoni (and extensive court documents and evidence presented into New York State's Supreme Court), Sheila Digon Castillo contacted Frank on his birthday several years ago after not contacting him since Frank ended his relationship with Sheila (in court documents presented by both parties, there were no claims of abuse made against Frank) and told him that she and his daughter wish him a happy birthday. He was told that his daughter's name was Kayla (who looks so much like Frank), and that she was living in the Philippines.
That day was the first time Frank ever knew he had a daughter. Frank was a wonderful man and this news, about having a daughter, clearly brought such incredible joy to his life.
Soon after, Frank arranged for Sheila to travel to the Philippines and pick up Kayla in order to bring her back to the United States. So Frank eventually got to meet his beautiful daughter, and with that he quickly stepped into the role of being a proud father, which was evidenced by the hours and hours of videos and pictures I personally viewed.
Obviously and rightfully so, Frank had serious trust issues concerning Sheila - how could he not when this was a person who would deny their child the love of their father, especially since Frank was a good man. So one day, and unknown to Sheila, Frank took Kayla to the hospital to have both of their DNA tested. Sure enough, Kayla was indeed Frank's daughter. And as he told me, "It was one of the greatest days of my life ... just knowing. The greatest day was when I looked at my daughter for the first time: I knew she was my daughter."
During the near month that Kayla was in the United States, Frank welcomed Sheila and Kayla into his extended family. The pictures and videos I have witnessed showed a young girl ... finally coming home ... and a father who simply loved her and was willing to do anything possible in a cooperative, co-parenting way for Kayla's sake.
In order to have a voice in Kayla's life, Frank knew that he needed to seek the assistance of the courts. As he told me, he had some real concerns that Sheila was perhaps not telling him the truth when it came to co-parenting Kayla. So he sought relief and assistance from the New York State Supreme Court which at the time had jurisdiction over Kayla while she was in New York.
Unfortunately, Frank was unable to serve Sheila with his court papers before she whisked the child back to the Philippines and out of the reach of the New York State Supreme Court. New York state no longer had jurisdiction because Kayla was no longer living in New York, nor had she been there for the required period of time that would have allowed the state's courts long-arm reach regarding jurisdiction... all this despite the fact that Ms. Castillo lived in New York and only one mile away from Frank!
Even with the DNA evidence that Frank had, proving that Kayla was his daughter, this evidence meant nothing in New York. Frank put forth real efforts, which revolved solely around the best interest of his daughter in a co-parenting light, to resolve this matter. However, I witnessed on many occasions the telephone calls, emails, etc from Frank that went unanswered. Eventually, Frank left New York and went to the Philippines in an effort to reunite with his daughter, Kayla, who truly meant everything in the world to him. And I do mean, everything.
Tragically, during his efforts to reunite with his daughter, he passed away after being involved in a motorcycle accident. His death will be felt by so many individuals that knew and cared for Frank. Sadly, his daughter Kayla will only know a part of the loving father he was.
And should one day Kayla Castillo Mattoni ever read this, Kayla I hope you know just how much your father loved you. You brought such joy and happiness to his life. One day I hope you are able to obtain the United States of America flag that was flown over the United States Capitol in your father's honor, along with the accompanying citation in your name, that I presented to him.
Once again, the hard reality that the Philippines is not a member of the 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention further demonstrates, as in Frank Mattoni's case, how a loving parent has limited options available to them outside of traveling to the foreign country and attempting to reunite with the child overseas. The challenges Frank faced trying to reunite with his daughter are not uncommon.
Sadly, even the best of efforts to reunite a child with their left behind parent can often fail. The hard truth is that international parental child abduction law is complex - and growing more complicated with each day as exemplified by a widened acceptance of Article 13(1) defenses under the 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention.
To put it as simple as possible - the vast majority of children around the world do not come home because the systems we use do not work effectively, or the systems we expect to exist to help children and parents of abduction simply do not exist.
The tragic deaths of Domingo Exposito Moreno and Frank Mattoni - though different - exemplify the risks left behind parents face. These tragedies are not uncommon, nor are the real death threats and other formidable acts left behind parents have to face.
Today, I am happy to share that the U.S. Senate passed Senate Resolution 2509. This is a very big deal in the fight to protect American children and their targeted parents from abduction.
With approximately 20% of American children abducted to Hague signatory countries being court ordered to be returned home, and approximately 11% of American children abducted to non-Hague signatory countries being court ordered by a foreign court to be returned to the United States, it is imperative that judges everywhere realize that the reality is that the most left behind parents will never reunite with their abducted child. In the meantime, the risks and peril they face are extreme.
The key to protecting children from international parental child abduction is to prevent it from happening. Since the I CARE Foundation's inception, the U.S. child abduction rate has declined over the past four years by 38.06%.