Alberta Child Who Was Abducted Found Dead

10950859361151CDPIn a heart wrenching story out of Alberta today, we learned that nine-year-old Amber Lucius was abducted by her mother, and later found dead in a truck parked on a country road in Millet, a farming community outside of Calgary with a population of 2,000. Her mother was with her when she was discovered. How could this have happened and what can be done to prevent the violence that rears its ugly head in high-conflict custody battles between warring parents?

Amber’s parents, Laura Coward and Duane Lucius, were married in 2004 and separated three years later in 2007. In the beginning of their post-separation parenting, the parties shared joint custody and Amber lived primarily with her mother. I should clarify that joint custody does not mean equal parenting time, it means equal decision-making, a concept that is illusory where one parent refuses to collaborate with the other.

Ms. Coward was one of those mothers who made her former husband’s life a living nightmare by refusing to facilitate his parenting time with Amber, a situation that led to ten court orders intended to address Ms. Coward’s refusal to accommodate Mr. Lucius’ parenting time. It took ten court orders before the Court finally transferred custody of Amber from her mother to Mr. Lucius in June of 2013. Ms. Coward was given specified visitation time with her daughter.

In April of 2014 Ms. Coward again breached a court order and refused to return Amber to her father’s home. The RCMP intervened at that time and it appears that Ms. Coward’s parenting time was restricted until a judge made an order last week permitting Ms. Coward to have four consecutive days with Amber over the Labour Day long weekend. But Ms. Coward had planned something far more sinister than spending four lazy summer days with her daughter.

She picked up Amber on Thursday and was to return her on Sunday, however, on Sunday night there was no sign of Amber or her mother. Regrettably, there was no Amber alert for Amber Lucius either. What police have learned since finding Amber’s body and arresting Ms. Coward for child abduction is that she had given notice on her rental premises and a new family had already moved into her former home. Where she was going has not yet been determined and neither has Amber’s cause of death. No charges have yet been brought for the girl’s death pending an autopsy next week.

The community of Millet is understandably shocked by Amber’s death, the second tragedy in Millet in the last few years. In 2010 Allyson McConnell drowned her two sons, ages 2 1/2 and 10 months in a bathtub in her home and attempted to commit suicide. She was convicted of manslaughter, sentenced to six years, and spent 15 months in a psychiatric hospital until her deportation back to her home country of Australia. Shortly after returning to Australia she took her own life. Allyson McConnell was also engaged in a custody battle with her estranged husband.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Amber Alert No Hindrance to Child Abductor Crossing the Border

DSC00507 (2)A recent child abduction by a father in Colorado, who fled with his three-year-old son to Manitoba, reminded me of the angst and heartbreak these cases bring with them.

Monte Turner, of Colorado, was barred by court order from contacting his former wife and their son Luke Turner. However, as is common in abduction cases, a court order did not get in the away of Mr. Turner last month when he arrived at his former wife’s home while Luke was playing in the backyard.

Turner overpowered Brandy Turner with pepper spray and an electrical stun gun, grabbed his son, and fled on a bicycle. His escape route was planned with the assistance of Luke’s grandfather, who is also under investigation.

An Amber Alert was issued throughout Colorado and the surrounding states, but no one thought to alert the Canadian border crossings because Colorado did not share a border with Canada.

It appears that Luke’s mother was unaware that her son had a passport, thus making it so much easier to be spirited out of the United States. Fifteen hundred kilometers later, Mr. Turner with Luke, checked into a motel in Brandon, Manitoba.

Fortunately, Mr. Turner made a simple mistake by using his credit card to pay for the motel room and within minutes, the motel owner was shocked as lights and sirens converged on his motel, where Turner was arrested.

This story, unlike many others, has a good ending as Luke was returned to his mother shortly thereafter, while Turner remains in jail in Manitoba awaiting deportation to face charges of kidnapping, burglary and menacing.

So, are there steps parents can take to foil the chances of a successful abduction? Of course there are.

In cases like these, the custodial parent is usually well aware that abduction is a possibility. In the Turner case, Monte Turner had taken his son the year before when there was no custody order in favour of his wife, to stand in his way.

Counsel for Brandy Turner ought to have ensured that a copy of the court order awarding her custody and preventing her ex-husband from contacting her or Luke, together with notice of the Amber Alert, was sent to as many border crossings as possible.

One can never be too careful and the fact that Luke had his own passport, albeit without Ms. Turner’s consent, is a reminder that it is prudent in high-risk cases for a parent to contact the Passport Office to determine if a fraudulent application has been made by another person.

Nonetheless, where a parent is determined to commit the ultimate crime they will take whatever steps are necessary, including forging consent letters and travel authorizations so that border authorities have no reason to suspect foul play.

What is really needed in Canada are judges who will mete out appropriate punishment for abducting parents as a general deterrence to others and specific deterrence to the abductor. A slap on the wrist, community service, or a probation order does not cut it. Parents who steal children commit the worst form of child abuse and deserve lengthy prison terms.

I suspect that Colorado will not be shy to ensure that Turner pays for his crimes, as he awaits trial with a $500,000 bail requirement.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang