After 13 Years, a Phone Call Soothes a Father's Anguish
Friday, April 14, 2006
After so long, Carl Dodd was having a hard time believing that his little girl finally had been found.
For 13 years, he chased every lead that came his way, seeking any trace of the daughter he last saw when she was 4, before she vanished with her mother in a custody fight. Always, he came up empty.
So when the Metrorail worker got a message on his cellphone Wednesday telling him that Marilyn and her fugitive mother had been found in Delaware -- more than 100 miles from the home they abandoned in Southeast Washington -- Dodd was guarded, wary.
But this time it was true.
It turned out that his daughter, now 17, was living with her mother and her grandmother in Wilmington -- the little girl who loved ice cream now a young woman.
Wanted on suspicion of parental kidnapping, her mother, Mary Jane Byrd, was taken into custody by federal marshals who tracked her to Delaware, the end of her 13 years on the lam and perhaps the beginning of the end of a father's long heartache.
"I'm happy. I'm relieved," Dodd said yesterday at D.C. Superior Court, where Byrd was ordered held in a halfway house on the charge. "But I won't be satisfied until I see my daughter and pick her up and squeeze her and let her know this is what I've been waiting on."
If all goes as planned, that reunion will happen Monday, in Wilmington, where Marilyn was left with her grandmother after the marshals service brought her mother back to Washington.
"I'm scared," said Dodd, a 39-year-old track worker for Metro. "I'm wondering what she's going to think about me."
Like many such abductions, this sprang from a custody dispute, prosecutors said. But unlike most, it dragged on, hampered for years by a D.C. law that made the crime a misdemeanor and therefore difficult to pursue across state lines. It was the plight of Dodd and another parent like him that led the D.C. Council to strengthen the District's law, making the crime a potential felony.
And it was the felony charge and a new push to track down parents accused of kidnapping that put the U.S. Marshals Service's elite Capital Area Regional Fugitive Task Force on the trail of Byrd, now 35.
Dodd, who was not married to Byrd, was awarded full custody in January 1994, several months after his daughter disappeared. Marilyn was his only child. He lives in Fort Washington and has been married 13 years to Paula Dodd, who called him with the news Wednesday.