Father Rejoices After Police Find Missing Son Alive, Hidden at Grandmother's Home

Mother hid Ricky Chekevdia, 6, in hidden compartment space for two years.

BySheila Marikar
September 06, 2009, 12:00 PM

Sept. 6, 2009 — -- For two long years, a two-story rural house in southern Illinois' Franklin County held a secret: A 6-year-old boy and his mother on the run.

Richard "Ricky" Chekevdia and his mom, Shannon Wilfong, disappeared in November 2007 in the middle of a heated custody battle with the boy's father. They were found alive Friday, hiding together in a small, specially built secret room at his grandmother's home, according to investigators.

Thirty-year-old Wilfong is charged with felony child abduction and could face at least a year in prison. The grandmother, 51-year-old Diane Dobbs, is charged with aiding and abetting. Wilfong remained jailed Saturday on $42,500 bond in Benton, Ill., where Dobbs was being held on $1,000 bond.

Acting on a tip, police found the boy and his mother Friday, huddled in a secret crawl space.

"Basically it was a hidden compartment," said Illinois State Police Master Sgt. Stan Diggs. "You move a panel and it was inside the wall."

Investigators found the house riddled with secret hiding places, including a hole in the floor and another hole carved into the wall behind a dresser. It was clear that Ricky Chekevdia had rarely, if ever, ventured outside.

"We let him out of the car, and he ran around like he'd never seen the outdoors," Diggs said. "It was actually very sad."

But Diggs added, "Ricky is in very good spirits for someone who's been isolated in that house with no other outside interaction. He's very polite, social, talkative little boy. "

Ricky's father, who lived three miles away, was blown away by the discovery. Michael Chekevdia and Wilfong had a difficult relationship. After he won temporary child custody rights, Wilfong accused him of sexually abusing the boy. When child welfare workers found no evidence and awarded Michael Chekevdia custody, Wilfong took off with the boy.

Ricky Chekevdia is staying with family members while state child-welfare workers investigate the abuse claims against his father. Michael Chekevdia rejects those allegations and has yet to reunite with his son. But he is overjoyed that the two-year-long search is over.

Next Up: Reuniting With 'Missing' Son

"I was skeptical at best that something might happen," Michael Chekevdia told "Good Morning America Weekend." "When they notified me that they had found him, you could've knocked me over with a feather."

For the time being, Chekevdia is happy to abide by the system and wait until child welfare workers determine that his son is ready to see him again.

"I have seen him at a distance and he looks well. ... He could look better. He's eating, he's sleeping, he's socializing very well," Chekevdia said. "And when they tell me that it's time, I'll go."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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