Boy Found in Secret Room at Grandma's

House where police say Richard "Ricky" Chekevdia was hidden for two years in secret room CBS

A boy allegedly abducted in a custody dispute nearly two years ago has turned up alive, hiding with his mother in a small, specially built secret room behind a false wall at his grandmother's Illinois home, investigators said.

Richard "Ricky" Chekevdia, who turns 7 on Sept. 14, was in good spirits and physically fit after being found Friday by investigators with a court order to search the two-story rural home in southern Illinois' Franklin County, about 120 miles southeast of St. Louis.

"Bassically," Ill. State Police Master Sgt. Stan Diggs told CBS News, "It was a hidden compartment. You move a panel" and the room is revealed.

Ricky's mother, 30-year-old Shannon Wilfong, is charged with felony child abduction. His grandmother, 51-year-old Diane Dobbs, is charged with aiding and abetting. Wilfong was jailed on $42,500 bond in Benton, Ill., where Dobbs was being held on $1,000 bond.

Ricky is now staying with one of his father's relatives, reports CBS News Correspondent Bianca Solorzano, because authorities "want to move slowly" in reuniting father and son.

"I can't express how happy I am, Chekevdia, a 48-year-old former police officer who's a lieutenant colonel in the Illinois National Guard, told "Early Show" substitute co-anchor Debbye Turner Bell Monday. "It's inside -- I'm a less than emotional person when it comes to anything, but this has got me pretty much balled up and the emotion will come out when i see my son for the first time again."

After hearing his son had been found, Chekevdia remarked to The Associated Press, "You could have knocked me over with a feather."

Chekevdia won temporary custody of his son shortly before the boy and his mother - Chekevdia's former girlfriend - disappeared in November 2007. Chekevdia says he long suspected his son was being stowed by Dobbs, although there were no signs of the boy at her home when it was searched with her consent after his disappearance. Wilfong was charged in December 2007 with abducting the boy but couldn't be found.

Chekevdia told CBS News the ordeal began when, "I gave him back to his mother, and never saw him again."

For much of the time since, Chekevdia said, the windows of Dobbs' home were blocked off by drawn shades or other items, presumably to prevent anyone from peeking inside. Police say the boy was only allowed outaide at night. "I had a firm belief he was in there, and ... it was confirmed," Chekevdia said.

Investigators, during a news conference Friday, didn't detail what led sheriff's deputies and federal marshals with a search warrant to Dobbs' house Friday, when they found the boy and his mother in a hideaway roughly 5 feet by 12 feet and about the height of a washing machine.

"We let him out of the (patrol) car and he ran around like he'd never seen outdoors. It was actually very sad," Sgt. Diggs said. "He was very happy to be outside. He said he never goes outside."

"Surprisingly," Diggs added, "Ricky is in very good spirits. For someone who's been isolated in that house with no other outside beings, he's a very social, very polite, very talkative little boy."

Dobbs, the grandmother, told the Southern Illinoisan newspaper of Carbondale, Ill., last year that her daughter had been forced into hiding to keep the child from his father. Dobbs called the custody dispute a "nightmare for all of us."

Chekevdia, eager to get his son back in school and to a dentist, said waiting for Ricky to resurface required patience.

"It's hard to sit back and watch things happen when you're used to making things happen," said Chekevdia, a military officer who served in Iraq earlier this decade. "But I just bided my time and let the system work."

To see Solorzano's report, and Bell's interview of Mike Chekevdia and Ernie Allen, head of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (addressing the difficulties of reunions like the one awaiting Mike and Ricky), see below:


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