Two Winnipeg children kept confined in a Mexican home surrounded by security cameras and barbed wire have been reunited with their mother in Canada.
Missing for close to four years after being abducted, Dominic and Abby Maryk, now 11 and 9, were found Friday in Mexico after neighbours reported suspicions to authorities there.
The children are now back in Canada with their mother, Emily Cablek, said police today. The family is asking for privacy, said officials.
Two men have been arrested, including their father, Kevin Maryk, but investigators are still seeking a third suspect wanted in connection with the abduction of the children, who were abducted in 2008.
Christy Dzikowicz, of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, said the children recognized their mother. They seemed to be in decent physical condition, she said at a press conference hosted by the Winnipeg Police Service.
Dzikowicz read a statement on behalf of Emily Cablek, the children’s mother.
"I cannot put into words how grateful I am for the wonderful support I received from the community over the past three years," Cablek said in the statement.
"I want to thank the Winnipeg Police Missing Persons Unit for their amazing persistence, and to the Canadian Centre for Child Protection for standing by me and guiding me through the worst 45 months of my life.
"You all helped me stay strong for the most important moment of my life, for that, you will always be in my heart, and a part of my family. I am the happiest Mummy (sic) in the world right now, and am asking please, give my family some privacy, so that we can begin to heal.
"We have a long road ahead, and I want my children to feel completely safe through all of it, they deserve nothing less."
Children 'resilient,' doing well
Dzikowicz described the children as "really quite resilient" and said they were doing "very, very well."
"They absolutely, 100 per cent recognized their mother, have many memories," she said. "Dominic’s looking forward to (a) Slurpee"
The children were essentially confined for years without communication with the outside world, she said. Investigators believe they didn't go to school or receive medical attention.
"As we see in many parental abductions, particularly ones of this duration, there’s been much damage done and alienation. However...in the last 12 to 18 hours, there has been such a remarkable shift, that it’s beginning to feel a bit more like the happy reunification you would dream of, or hope for.
"That being said, we’re not naive, there’s a lot of work to be done but they are content at this moment, they are content with their mother, and we have every expectation that there’s where they’ll remain."
Police said the tip came after the children had been moved five times, including to Puerto Vallarta and Guadalajara, said Winnipeg police Det. Sgt. Shaunna Neufeld, with the missing persons unit.
Neufeld, a mother of three children, called the arrests the result of "a little bit of luck, a lot of persistence."
"As a mom of three kids, I can’t imagine a week without my kids, let alone three and a half, almost four years," she said.
Abduction, conspiracy charges expected
Witnesses allege the siblings spent their days inside a home surrounded by security cameras and barbed wire.
Inside, four attack dogs kept watch over a cache of weapons, drugs and child pornography police allegedly found at the house. Dog feces and litter were strewn on the floor, and the only time neighbours said they saw Dominic and Abby leave the building was after 6 p.m. to accompany men who did not return until the early hours of the morning.
Police arrested the children's father Kevin Maryk on scene, as well as his friend Robert Neil Groen. Groen and Maryk were friends in Canada, before they met up in Mexico and lived together for an extended period of time.
Both men are in custody in Mexico. Mexican authorities are investigating whether the men have links to drug cartels.
Winnipeg police said Maryk will be charged with abduction in contravention of a court order, and conspiracy to commit an indictable offence. Groen will be charged with conspiracy to commit an indictable offence.
The third suspect police are seeking, Cody McKay, has family in Winnipeg but police said they haven’t been in touch with him.
Groen is expected to be extradited to Canada within weeks, and Maryk within the next months, said Winnipeg Police Insp. Gord Perrier with the missing persons unit.
"Those are the parameters that Mexico’s provided us," said Perrier. "There’s a lot of processes even within Mexico that need to occur before extradition takes place."
Perrier said authorities "were certain" that the children were in Mexico for a long, and knew they had moved at least five times.
"We were very close a number of times to apprehending Mr. Maryk and the children. But like I said, when you’re thousands of kilometers away, these are difficult things to coordinate.
"Mexico’s a big country with a lot of people and a lot of places to hide."
Children went missing after vacation
Dominic and Abby were seven and five, respectively, when they went missing from Winnipeg in August 2008 after their biological father took them on a vacation.
Maryk and the children's mother were involved in a lengthy custody dispute over the children before their disappearance. A court ruled Cablek had primary care of the children and their father had visitation rights.
In September 2011, Cablek told reporters she remembered not wanting to leave her children with Maryk due to a "bad feeling" she had.
"It was their first long visit in the summer with their father," she said. "I didn't want my kids to go, and so I cried. And Dominic and Abby didn't want me crying... Dominic said, 'Don't worry, Mommy, everything will be OK.' So the last thing I got was hugs and kisses, and they walked through the door, and that's it."
Maryk was last seen at a car-rental agency on King Edward Street. When he didn't return, police issued a Canada-wide warrant for him and his nephew, Cody McKay. Groen, Maryk's former neighbour, was also accused of helping with the alleged abduction.
Cablek worked with city police and the Canadian Centre for Child Protection to publicize photos of the siblings and keep public attention focused on the case. The search finally ended Friday afternoon when police raided the Zapopan home and arrested Maryk and Groen.
'The power of social media'
Police officials said they began providing video to Mexican media outlets in the past months after getting "specific information" linking Maryk and the children to two specific areas. One of those videos was dubbed into Spanish, said police.
"We were targeting local media, factories, trucking companies... and distributing these videos, along with photos," said Perrier.
"So we were very tactical in the communication we were bringing to those areas in Mexico, hoping that this type of tip would come forward, and it did."
"We know that social media, the power of social media, the power of YouTube, in countries like Mexico is really what we needed to bring that to the ground level," he added.
A Mexican missing-person agency said a Zapopan resident tipped off authorities. FIND Foundation president Juan Manuel Estrada Juárez said he contacted Interpol and Mexico's federal police after a U.S.-based private investigator got information about the case.
Louisiana-based private investigator Wilhelm Von Mayer told Juárez a resident recognized the children from recent news reports.
Von Mayer said municipal police in Guadalajara and the army ignored the resident's calls to intervene. He said the tipster worried there was a small window of time as he knew the lease on the Zapopan home was set to expire in July, and the men could relocate.
The tipster is scared to speak publicly, Von Mayer said, as he fears possible retribution from local drug cartels.
"The kids were living a nightmare," Juárez told the Free Press through a translator.