Kidnapping father: I'll leave U.S. to keep girl
By Jessica Heslam, Boston Herald
Wednesday, December 6, 2000
Despite anguished pleas from the baby's mother, a Haverhill man who kidnapped his toddler two months ago has vowed to leave the country if a judge refuses to give him a fair shot at custody of his 16-month-old daughter.
``I'm ready to flee. It doesn't matter where I land - I'll have family and friends and she will not be neglected,'' Brian Meuse said of his daughter, Marissa, during a telephone interview Sunday.
The pair was last seen in Haverhill Oct. 5.
Meuse picked up his daughter at her Port Orange, Fla., home - where she lived with her mother, Susan Pane - for a week-long visit Oct. 1.
``I said, `Bye, bye baby. I love you. I'll see you in a week,' '' recalled the 34-year-old woman.
The custody dispute began when the unmarried couple's relationship broke up and Pane fled to Florida with the baby more than a year ago.
Cross complaints fed into their distrust as did Marissa's health and conflict over the baby's therapy.
Police and FBI investigators are searching for Meuse, who said on Sunday that he and his daughter were staying in safe houses.
Meuse, who had visitation rights, was supposed to have returned the baby Oct. 8 to her mother, who has legal custody.
Instead, Meuse, a machinist, headed back to Haverhill Oct. 1 and vanished a few days later.
``I want her back today. I want her for the holidays,'' Pane said. ``It's his anger and hatred toward me . . . he's using her as a pawn.''
But Meuse says has the means to remain underground ``forever'' - or until he gets a fair chance before a judge.
``This is the hardest thing in my life,'' said Meuse, who is supported by the Fatherhood Coalition - a widely known advocate group for divorced and unwed fathers.
Since Meuse kidnapped his daughter, Essex County Probate Judge Mary M. Manzi has ordered him to return the child.
Three warrants have been issued for Meuse's arrest, including a federal warrant.
``The longer he waits, the worse he and the child will be,'' Haverhill Police Detective Daniel Moynihan said.
Nancy Hammer of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children said parental kidnapping does more harm than good to a custody case.
``They're fleeing the system that is designed to resolved these disputes,'' she said.
Over 163,000 children in the United States are kidnapped by family members - in most cases their parents - each year, according to federal records.
Meuse said he took his daughter in part because Judge Manzi has refused to hear evidence that Pane has neglected their baby and is addicted to prescription drugs - accusations Pane denies.
At the heart of the custody dispute are the therapy sessions Marissa attended in Florida to help strengthen her low-muscle tone condition.
Pane said doctors have not been able to pinpoint the cause, but Meuse blames Pane. Meuse claims Marissa missed most therapy sessions between June 27 and Oct. 1, which Pane also denies.
Meuse's lawyer, Barbara C. Johnson, and his family say they do not know his whereabouts.
Their custody fight intensified when Pane left the Haverhill home she shared with Meuse with their baby and fled to Florida Oct. 1, 1999.
``He wanted nothing to do with me and did not enjoy the pregnancy,'' Pane said.
Last March, Judge Manzi acknowledged that Pane wrongfully removed the child, but did not order the child back to Massachusetts. The kidnapping has gripped the attention of many Haverhill residents.
One neighbor said Meuse was very upset when Pane left.
The two had planned to marry and Pane talked about buying a new home with him just days before she left, the neighbor said.
Pane says she wakes up each morning hoping it will be the day when she gets the call that authorities have found her baby.
``It's only a matter of time,'' Pane said. ``I have to believe that.''
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