Daughter Abducted, But Thankfully a Miracle Happened

Gratitude is born in hearts that take time to count up past
mercies.
~ Charles E. Jefferson
It was 25 years ago this month that we almost lost our Melissa.
A day, a trial, a miracle. Ever since, forever giving thanks.
I still remember what I was making for dinner that night:
chicken soup with egg drop dumplings.
Gratitude is born in hearts that take time to count up past mercies.

~ Charles E. Jefferson

It was 25 years ago this month that we almost lost our Melissa. A day, a trial, a miracle. Ever since, forever giving thanks.

I still remember what I was making for dinner that night: chicken soup with egg drop dumplings.

I still remember what she wore to school that day: gold shirt and green plaid kilt. Her white-blond hair in pig tails and tied with green ribbons.

Dinner was almost ready when she asked if she could get the newspaper. At the time, we lived in Santa Cruz County, in the country, on a slight hill. Usually both of the kids did this nightly chore, but this time, she asked to go alone.

It never occurred to me that Robert Joe Dunton would be passing our driveway in his old blue station wagon when she got to the bottom of the driveway. That he’d spot our little one and try to coax her into his car. That he’d chase her, throw a coat over her head and take her.

But he did. Tossing her in the front seat, he kept her pinned down under the coat while he sped away.

Melissa said she was screaming and kicking and he told her, “I just got out of prison for killing my wife and baby; if you don’t shut up, I’ll kill you, too.”

And she began to wonder if she’d ever see her “mommy and daddy again.”

As near as we can tell, Dunton drove the back roads between Watsonville and Aptos for about 45 minutes. Our guess is that he got disoriented and couldn’t find his way back to the freeway. Eventually, he pulled onto Freedom Boulevard and started heading toward Highway 1.

That’s when we got our miracle.

When Dunton turned west, a California Highway Patrolman pulled in behind him. Officer Thompson noticed that the car was missing a taillight but said it was time to go off duty and didn’t want to fill out the paper work for a minor infraction.

The officer went to pass the station wagon and noticed it “veer suspiciously” onto the shoulder of the road. Realizing he needed to investigate, he decided to pull the car over using the taillight as an excuse.

Inside, he found an unkempt young man and a hysterical little girl screaming that the driver had “taken her from her mommy and daddy.”

Of course, Dunton had excuses for her terror but the officer didn’t think they held up. He put the man in the back of his patrol car and tried to comfort Melissa.

It took awhile for them to figure out who she was and where she belonged. Mike had called police, but in those days, you had to be missing for 24 hours before they filed an official missing person’s report. It didn’t matter if you were 5 or 50.

Meanwhile, we (family, friends and neighbors) were praying and looking for her.

When the dispatcher finally called, he couldn’t tell us anything but to go to the corner of Freedom Boulevard and Highway 1. When we got there, numerous police cars with red lights flashing milled around the scene. I looked for someone who could tell me if Melissa was alive, hurt or dead.

I saw her about the same time that she spotted me. She was in the back of a police car and couldn’t unlatch the door. I saw her clawing at the window and mouthing, “mommy, mommy.”

About four hours after she’d been taken, we had her home where she belonged. After the usual night time rituals, all four of us knelt by Melissa’s bed and thanked God for watching over her. There was no doubt in our minds that if God’s grace hadn’t intervened, we’d have never seen her again, never known where she was or who had taken her.

May I end this column by encouraging you to tell the people you love how thankful you are to have them in your life? To give them a hug or kiss or call them if they live far away?

And, may I take this moment to encourage you to look up in spite of your present circumstances. Sometimes, when we least expect or deserve it, it’s our turn for a miracle.

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