March 9, 2010— -- After a 14-year search for his daughter, Dean Click finally knows that she is alive and safe. That her mother, Wendy Hill, is the sole suspect in their daughter's alleged abduction came as little surprise to Click.
"We had a brutal divorce back in 1991," Click said of his former wife, who was arrested last week before making bail from the Contra Costa County Jail in Martinez, Calif. "And a brutal custody battle ensued. When I was given more custody, my wife took off. The feds got involved and issued a warrant."
Jessica Click-Hill, who is now 22, was reported missing in 1995 when she was 8. Her father, who had shared custody, said that when he arrived for a visit, Jessica and her mother had vanished. Walnut Creek, Calif., police called him Wednesday to say that she had been found.
Alleged Parental Abduction
The warrant for Hill's arrest for alleged parental abduction was issued in 1996, but she managed to escape detection until recently, when a tip to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reinvigorated Click's hopes.
Click said he believes his former wife and his daughter led a life on the run, eschewing traditional schools and moving constantly to escape law enforcement.
"The truth I learned is that when someone wants to go missing in the United States for that long, they can," Click said. "You go underground. You change your name, your hairstyle, your hair color."
Charges have yet to be filed against suspect Hill, who could not be reached for comment. The Contra Costa Sheriff's Office confirmed that she was held on one count of Deprivation of Custody of a Child.
Click said he believes his daughter "has been brainwashed."
"For 14 years, she has only been under the influence of her mother," Click said. "Everything she knows has been from her mother."
'Alive and Well'
Click credits the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and detectives at the Walnut Creek Police Department for finding his daughter.
Det. Shawn Wallace, who interviewed Hill, said her bail, which was set at $50,000, was controversial because many people believed she could be a flight risk.
Meanwhile, plans for a father-daughter reunion are unclear.
"The FBI has spoken to her and she is alive and well," Wallace said. "She is an adult now, so the decision on reunification is up to her. We provided her with all of her dad's communication.
"The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has reunification tools and we have given them to her. It is up to her to see what she wants to do with them."
'Hope Is the Key Word'
For now, Click said he is praying every day to see his daughter, his only child.
"I have not been able to see her or contact her," Click said. "She is 22 now. Jessica has privacy rights."
Click's best hope is that she will reach out to him.
"Jessica doesn't have to hide anymore," he said. "For those 14 or 15 years, she has tried to be another person and not be discovered. My best option now is to write her a letter and have it given to her through the police. I am in the process of saying, 'I love you, Jessica, and I miss you terribly and I thought of you every day. My family and I prayed for you every day.'"
Click said he is excited to introduce Jessica to his new family.
"I have a brother and I have nephews," Click said, "I have two stepdaughters with my wife of 14 years now. It has been a long time. I want to see her."
His daughter was apparently one of about 800,000 children under 18 who are missing each year, according to the U.S. Department of Justice's National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children, The 2002 report concluded that 200,000 of those, or 25 percent, are abducted by family members.
Click said other families should never give up hope on a missing child.
"I would encourage those who are in a similar situation as myself -- where a parent has taken custody into their own hands -- to keep faith and keep to your truth and to your core. Sometimes, I wonder how I haven't broken down in despair. Hope is the key word."