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Boy Found After 17-Year Hunt; Mother Suspected in Abduction

TIMES STAFF WRITER

High school teacher Robert Decker doesn’t know when he’ll see his son again. It could be a few days. Or maybe weeks or months.

But after 17 years of trying to find the youngster, allegedly abducted by his mother from the family’s Camarillo home, Decker figures he’s just going to let the reunion take its course.

Ending the longest-running abduction case in Ventura County history, authorities last week found Decker’s 17-year-old son living under a new name in Twin Lakes, Wis.

That discovery came after Georgia authorities received an anonymous tip and arrested Decker’s ex-wife, Linda Sue Decker, 37, on Friday while she was visiting relatives in a resort area south of Savannah.

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She was arrested on suspicion of child abduction and sits in a Georgia jail awaiting extradition to Ventura County.

“It’s a godsend,” said Robert Decker, 51, choking back tears Wednesday during a news conference at Oxnard High School, where he teaches English and drama.

“I dropped to my knees and thanked God,” he said of learning that his son had been found. “I understand he’s an amazing, wonderful kid. I can’t wait to meet him.”

Decker has not yet talked to his son, who was taken away when he was only 9 months old. His given name was Morgan George Decker, although that had been changed somewhere along the way to Michael. He is a 17-year-old honors student in Twin Lakes and will be a high school senior next year.

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His mother had remarried, authorities said, and the teenager believed that her new husband was his biological father.

“I missed . . . important years of his life,” said Decker of Camarillo. “I never got to teach him how to hit a ball or hammer a nail or work on a car. I don’t want to disrupt his life. I just want to be part of his life from here on out.”

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Investigators with the Ventura County district attorney’s office flew to Wisconsin on Tuesday to interview the teenager and start piecing together their case.

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Another team of investigators was expected to travel to Brunswick, Ga., later this week to return Linda Sue Decker to Ventura County. Decker, now known as Michelle Jones, has waived extradition and is being held on $250,000 bail, authorities said.

In most cases of parental abduction, authorities said, they immediately move to reunite the abducted child with the other parent.

But because the youngster in this case is nearly an adult, authorities said he will continue to live in Wisconsin and that any reunion with his father will be left up to him.

“This is a parent’s worst nightmare--to not know where your children are or how they are doing,” said Ventura County’s Chief Assistant Dist. Atty. Kevin McGee. “To finally have all those questions answered has got to be a tremendous weight off [Decker’s] shoulders.”

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Robert Decker said his nightmare began in 1981 when his wife took their son to visit relatives in San Jose. The couple had married in that city and moved to Camarillo in early 1980. Their son was born later that year.

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Decker said Wednesday he had no idea that his wife wanted to leave. But after she went to San Jose in the spring of 1981, Decker said, she told him she wasn’t coming back.

What ensued, Decker said, was a series of court battles over visitation. He said he had a two-week visit in mid-July, when Morgan was about 9 months old. That was the last time he saw his son.

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Over the next 17 years, Decker turned to investigators with the Ventura County District Attorney’s Parental Abduction Unit for help in finding his boy. He also tapped into resources available through the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

He even hired a private investigator to follow leads through Alaska, Missouri and Illinois, but the trail always grew cold.

“It’s a pretty helpless feeling,” said Decker, who kept a journal about his search for his son. “The most I ever hoped for and prayed for was an anonymous note saying he is all right, he is doing well in school, he is safe.”

What came some 17 years later was an anonymous tip.

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Detectives with the Brunswick Police Department in Georgia were told on Friday that a California fugitive was visiting at nearby St. Simons Island resort, according to Sgt. Chuck Herlihy.

After confirming with Ventura County authorities that the woman was wanted on a felony warrant, detectives staked out the location and eventually saw her driving away in a minivan. They pulled her over and placed her under arrest, booking her into the Glynn County Jail.

Investigators learned that Linda Sue Decker had remarried and had started a new family that included three other children.

Herlihy said the entire department was thrilled with news of the capture.

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“We live for this,” he said. “In a police officer’s career, this is a milestone. I just wish it hadn’t taken so long for this man to find his son.”

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All that is left now is the reunion. But on that score, Decker said he wants to take it nice and slow. Already, he knows that his son’s life has been turned upside down.

Investigators have promised to pass along Decker’s phone number and address to the youngster when they interview him. And aside from wanting his son to know that he holds no ill will toward his ex-wife, Decker said he will wait for the youngster to make the next move.

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Decker’s 11-year-old daughter, Ashley, is also looking forward to meeting her half-brother, he said.


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