In a divorce, it’s the kids who suffer the most. It’s a well known cliche— but cliches exist for a reason.
In a bitter divorce between Michael Chekevdia and Shannon Wilfong, their son Richard suffered more than most.
Richard was four when his parents divorce and custody battle changed his life forever. Grappling to come to agreeable terms with her husband, Wilfong took her child and fled.
For two years, they were officially listed as missing persons. They vanished without a trace, and Chekevdia was unsure if he would ever see his son again.
In 2007, amidst a contentious custody battle, Shannon Wilfong and her son Richard disappeared from their home in southern Illinois.
The two disappeared shortly after Chekevdia was awarded full custody of their son.
Wilfong alleged that Chekevdia abused their son on several occasions, but numerous investigations into the allegations said otherwise. Out of options, Wilfong fled.
The obvious destination was the house of her mother, Dianne Dobbs. But after several top-to-bottom searches of her home, police found no evidence that Wilfong and her son were there.
Two years passed and the trail had run cold. Police knew the mother fled with her son, but they couldn’t figure out where.
An anonymous tip in 2009 sent police back to Dobbs’ house. They found Wilfong and Richard tucked away in a secret hiding place behind a wall.
A subsequent police raid of grandmother Dianne Dobbs’ home uncovered a number of hiding spots.
Police were shocked to find Richard hiding in a secret crawlspace behind a wall. He and his mother were curled up in the room, unable to stand because of the low ceilings.
They said he was incredibly pale, and it seemed as if he rarely, if ever, went outside.
“We let him out of the car and he ran around like he’d never seen the outdoors,” Sergeant Stan Diggs told ABC News. “It was actually very sad.”
Wilfong and Dobbs were both arrested. Richard was taken into protective services where he underwent therapy before being reunited with his father.
Chekevdia struggled to express the joy he felt when he learned that they’d found his son.
“When they notified me that they had found him, you could’ve knocked me over with a feather,” he told ABC News.
Wilfong and Dobbs each faced a judge in 2011. They both pleaded guilty to the charges brought against them and received lesser sentences as a result.
Wilfong served one month in jail and paid $1,500 in fines. Her sentence also included two years of probation.
Meanwhile, Dobbs was credited for the 12 days she’d already spent in jail, and had to pay $1,000 in fines.
When the father and son were finally reunited, Chekevdia did well to get Richard active and out of the house.
Richard has competed in swimming, rock climbing trials, and has adjusted well to life outside of his grandmother’s home.
The focus continues to be to give him the best life possible after his traumatic ordeal. In a photo posted to his Facebook page, Chekevdia said that his son’s confidence had grown “leaps and bounds.”