A 12-year-old boy is safe and sound and back in Vermont state custody after police say he was abducted by his mother. Three hours after an Amber Alert Monday night, Zachary Lee was located just over the border in New Hampshire. His mother was in court Tuesday afternoon.
Police say Patricia Kane, 49, has been highly unstable and volatile since her son, Zachary Lee, 12, arrived in the U.S. just two weeks ago. And when Lee went missing from his foster home in Sunderland Monday afternoon, authorities believed Kane, who has been living in Manchester, Vt., may have taken off with him.
Police issued an Amber Alert for Zachary Lee Monday night. A short time later they got a tip: A dinner guest at the Canoe Club in Hanover, N.H., had seen the pair and another child.
"Reported that at about 5:30 she had seen this woman dining with the two children, felt that it was a positive match for the Amber Alert that this person saw, contacted Vermont State Police. Vermont State Police in turn called us," Hanover Police Lt. Michael Evans said.
Hanover Police tracked the woman and children to the nearby Lyme Inn in neighboring Lyme, N.H., and eventually took her into custody, placing both kids into the protection of social workers from Vermont.
"I think it speaks to the success of the Amber Alert program," Evans said. "Vermont got information out in a timely manner when they had a child abducted from their jurisdiction; the information was obviously seen by a person who took interest in it."
Tuesday afternoon Kane was arraigned as a fugitive from justice in Lebanon District Court. According to prosecutors there, Kane faces two charges in Vermont-- unlawful restraint and custodial interference.
"I believe both of them are up to five years, and one fine is up to $25,000 and one fine it up to $5,000," Prosecutor Christopher O'Connor said.
But, at this time, it's unclear why the 12-year-old was separated from his biological mother. Authorities say he was brought back to the United States from France Jan. 14. We also know that Lee's biological father has passed away.
"I don't know if that started the foster care after his father had passed away. But he has been in the custody of the state of Vermont. She has been in Vermont. For how long, I do not know," O'Connor said.
We also know that this is not the first time Kane has tried to abduct her own child.
"I understand there was a previous attempt to abscond with this child in France," Evans said.
We are likely to learn more about the issues surrounding custody when Kane is extradited back to Vermont to face those charges in Bennington County. She is not fighting that process. Kane is currently being housed at the Grafton County Jail in North Haverhill, N.H.
AMBER ALERT REVEALS FLAWS IN SYSTEM
So how was Zachary Lee found so quickly when so little was known about where they were headed? Law enforcement agencies are crediting the Amber Alert system. Luckily the Amber Alert system doesn't get much use in Vermont. In fact, the state has only initiated an alert for a missing child twice in the last decade. And while this story had a happy ending, Vermont State Police say the alert didn't go as smoothly as they had hoped.
If you were watching television around 8:30 p.m. Monday, it was hard to miss the crawl across your screen. It was an Amber Alert for Zachary Lee, 12, after his Sunderland foster parents reported him missing.
"I commend the people who take it seriously. I know when you're watching a show and something scrolls across the screen it can be annoying. This is public safety. A child's life could be at stake," Vt. State Police Col. Tom L'Esperance said.
But if you wanted to help Zachary, there were few details to go on, at least at first.
Reporter Jennifer Reading: We got a lot of complaints that the initial Amber Alert put out by the emergency broadcast system did not have a lot of details.
Col. Tom L'Esperance: Right.
Jennifer Reading: What happened there?
Col. Tom L'Esperance: That's what we're trying to look into.
The colonel of the Vermont State Police says they hit few snags, explaining internal email glitches prevented details from getting out to the public as fast as they had hoped. Investigators were also missing critical information to feed into the alert system, like the type of car Zachary and his mom may have been traveling in. Without that, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children will not blast out Amber Alert text messages.
"You learn from it and we can get better," L'Esperance said. "And I think if it happened tonight we would be better than we were last night and we weren't that far off."
An Amber Alert is activated by law enforcement and is intended for only the most serious, time-critical child abduction cases. The last time Vermont activated an Amber Alert was in 2008 during the search for 12-year-old Brooke Bennett. The Braintree girl was abducted and killed by her uncle, Michael Jacques.
L'Esperance says pulling the trigger on an alert is a fine line never taken lightly.
"You don't want to cry wolf and this was a circumstance where each and every element that we looked at we checked that off and said, 'OK, it's time we have to send this out,'" L'Esperance said.
In order to trigger an Amber Alert, the child must be younger than 18 and in danger, kidnapped off the street or from a home and traveling in an identifiable vehicle. In Zachary's case police had information his mom might try to leave the country with him.
By the second alert, the information was clearer. And despite the setbacks, the system worked. Police say keen witnesses who saw the Amber Alert spotted Zachary and his mom in a Hanover, N.H., restaurant and called police.
"That's what the Amber Alert is all about. That's why if you used it every night on investigations it would get old fast. People see it, then react accordingly and they act the way they should," L'Esperance said.
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