The police received an anonymous tip telling them to look inside the house again. They flew into action and searched the two-story family home carefully.
This time they explored every nook and crany but it was no use. The hours rolled on and their hope was dwindling. His father waited patiently, praying he’d be ok. But then everything changed.
Michael Chekevdia and Shannon Wilfong always had a turbulent relationship which became even more complicated when their son Ricky was born. Their constant arguments and on and off relationship status eventually led to a complete separation with shared custody of their child.
They decided it was a fair agreement, but one that wouldn’t last for long.
Michael was a well-respected member of the National Guard, stationed in West Frankfort, not far from his hometown of Royalton, Illinois. But not long after his son was born, he was deployed to Iraq.
He did his best to keep in touch with Ricky while overseas, but Shannon did not make it easy for him.
When Michael returned to Illinois, he was looking forward to spending time with his son. But Shannon wasn’t used to having to share custody and often refused to let Michael see him. Eventually, Michael took her to court for violating the terms of their custody agreement.
When Shannon didn’t show up to court, Michael was granted temporary custody. But it was a fruitless victory.
Before Michael had a chance to bring his son home, Ricky vanished along with his mother, Shannon. Nobody knew where they had gone. Michael was devastated and his ex-wife and son were officially listed as missing persons.
Facing the likelihood that Shannon had run away with his child, a warrant was issued for her arrest. Then a different story came to light.
Shannon’s mother, Diane Dobbs, came forward to report that Michael abused Ricky and that she and her daughter had tried to speak up in the past.
Michael denied all allegations and there didn’t seem to be any evidence to validate her accusations. Nonetheless, she was adamant Shannon must have taken her son to protect him from his father. Then things got interesting.
Michael lived close to Shannon’s mother, and she wanted to take advantage of that. She put up dozens of posters in her front yard accusing him of being a child abuser and a liar.
She also began handing out fliers with the accusations around the entire neighborhood and even at Michael’s church. She was going out of her way to target him, and soon Michael had enough.
Michael pleaded with the police to search Diane’s house for signs of Ricky or his whereabouts. They obliged but found nothing to help them solve the case.
Michael spent the next two painful years with no news of his son. But he never stopped searching until one fateful day when there was a break in the case.
Police received an anonymous tip telling them to look again at Diane’s house. They searched the two-story home carefully. This time they explored every corner and every crevice.
It looked like it was pointless. They couldn’t find anything. But then one Officer closed in on a wooden dresser that was pushed up against the wall.
For some reason, he decided he wanted to move the unassuming dresser and see what was behind it. They moved it to the side and stood back.
They looked behind the dresser at the hole in the wall. It was dark and mysterious, small and smelt awful, like sweat and must. Its measurements were about twelve feet long, five feet wide, and four feet tall. They peered inside.
In the tiny corner of the dark space, the officers found Shannon and Ricky were hiding. It became clear that Diane had been hiding them in that secret room all along, for nearly two years.
On their way to taking the mother and boy into custody, the officers were overcome by shock with a sudden realization.
“We let him out of the [patrol] car, and he ran around like he’d never seen outdoors,” explained Illinois Police Department Sergeant Stan Diggs. “It was actually very sad. He was very happy to be outside. He said he never goes outside.” They were determined to get justice for young Ricky and his father.
Shannon and her mother, Diane, were soon arrested and charged with criminal offenses. But how had they been living for two years?
When Shannon was out on bail, she tried to spin the story to claim Ricky had enjoyed complete freedom the whole two years he spent in her house. But the evidence pointed otherwise.
Neighbors went on record to say they never saw Ricky outside Diane’s house. The boy himself displayed signs of isolation, though he was in relatively good spirits. Luck had run out for Diane and her daughter, but they weren’t done yet.
Diane was later arrested again after appearing on Good Morning America. She and her daughter fought the charges, and Ricky was sent to live with one of Michael’s relatives while the case was investigated.
After three years of denial, Shannon gave up and decided to plead guilty. She was fined $1,500 and put on probation for two years. Michael was vindicated at last.
After the case was settled, Michael was granted permanent custody of his son. A year later, he retired from the National Guard and is a full-time single father.
Michael wanted to be able to give Ricky the stable home and life he deserves. A life that was taken away from the boy through no fault of his own, but has since been thankfully restored!