For four days, Kienan Hebert's parents prayed for a miracle and on Sunday, against grim odds, it appeared.
The three-year-old boy, abducted from the second-floor bedroom of his unlocked home sometime after he fell asleep Tuesday night, was returned early Sunday morning just as mysteriously as he disappeared. Not only was Kienan alive, he was not physically harmed.
After an anonymous 911 call at 3:07 a.m., police found the boy in the family's house, closed as a crime scene. Moments later, the Heberts rushed to their home and saw their son, sitting on a couch amid the three blankets that had disappeared along with him. Kienan rushed to his mother, throwing his arms around her, holding her tight.
Within hours of his return, Kienan was cavorting barefoot with his family in gorgeous sunshine, merrily spraying Silly String at his siblings, as if he had never been away at all. It was an astonishingly happy ending, coming just 12 hours after police and Kienan's parents made an emotional appeal to the suspected kidnapper, 46-year-old Randall Hopley, a known sex offender with a history of preying on children.
Speaking Sunday afternoon, Kienan's father, Paul Hebert, expressed gratitude, not anger, at the person who snatched his son – but then brought him back. "It was the right thing to do. I thank God that Kienan was returned unharmed," he said tearfully.
"Kienan is happily home and is playing with his brothers and sisters. Thank you, thank you."
He and his wife, Tammy Hebert, thanked the hundreds of police and civilians who had scoured the Sparwood area looking for their son.
At the Hebert family's church, the Sparwood Fellowship Baptist, members rejoiced and cried with news of Kienan's safe return. Pastor Ron Rutley said Mr. Hebert called him at 3:25 this morning and said simply, "Kienan's back!"
The community is pointing to his return as nothing short of a blessing. "Here we have a miracle in the valley," said acting Sparwood mayor Sharon Fraser, after visiting with the family. "Whatever the child weathered, he's certainly back to being a normal little boy," she said.
Kienan is safe at home, but his suspected abductor remains at large as the manhunt continues. RCMP Corporal Dan Moskaluk said it is a "chilling prospect" that Mr. Hopley was able to kidnap, and return, the boy without being detected. While no one saw Mr. Hopley, police believe he responded to their plea to return Kienan. However, police are refusing to discuss how Mr. Hopley managed to make his way into Sparwood, then into the Hebert home, and then to slip away again without police intercepting him. The Heberts moved out of the family home – on an unfenced suburban spread – after Kienan's abduction, so the building was uninhabited when the toddler was left there.
Mr. Hopley's conviction in 1985 for sexual assault was in "matters relating to children," according to reports by local media. He was given a two-year federal prison sentence for that crime.
He has since targeted children, including, police allege, an attempted abduction of another child on the evening Kienan went missing. Cpl. Moskaluk wouldn't say when investigators discovered the other attempted abduction or the age or sex of the child involved.
An incident in November, 2007, led to charges of breaking and entering, unlawful confinement and attempted abduction. Crown spokesman Neil MacKenzie told The Canadian Press that Mr. Hopley admitted at trial that he attempted to remove a 10-year-old boy, who was in foster care at the time. Mr. Hopley claimed he was acting on behalf of the child's parents. B.C.'s Criminal Justice Branch has confirmed Mr. Hopley pleaded guilty to breaking and entering and was sentenced to 18 months in jail, while the other charges were stayed.
Child abductions by strangers are exceedingly rare, but such kidnappings are the sort where children are most at risk of being murdered. "Very rarely have they had happy endings," said Crystal Dunahee, president of Child Find Canada, whose own son has been missing for two decades. An RCMP study looked at the five cases of true stranger child abduction in 2000 and 2001. Of those, four children were murdered; a fifth was rescued after the abductor's vehicle ran out of gas.
The RCMP are now asking Mr. Hopley to turn himself in, while thanking him for returning the boy. "It was a tremendous thing that you did for them," said Cpl. Moskaluk, adding that Mr. Hopley's mother, Margaret Fink, is also asking him to surrender.
Cpl. Moskaluk said Mr. Hopley may have changed vehicles from his brown 1987 Toyota Camry, with the licence plate 098RAL.
Former Sparwood mayor David Wilks, a long-time Mountie in the area who currently serves the region as an MP, said despite years of run-ins with Mr. Hopley, he was never worried that Kienan would be harmed. But he said it's still an unnerving situation for the community, unaccustomed until now to locking their doors. "Is there another child next? He's still out there. He has the uncanny ability to get into a house and back out with everyone in it, and not only take the child, but deliver the child back."
Hebert family friends Andy and Leesa Olszewski said the situation is particularly unsettling for them since they have two toddler daughters. "We're thinking of getting an alarm system and a dog," Mr. Olszewski said. "Maybe that's just us being paranoid."