INDIANAPOLIS - A sheriff's deputy who investigated the 1994 disappearance of an Indiana boy who has been found living as an adult in Minnesota says he never feared for the child's safety.
Retired LaGrange County sheriff's deputy John Russell, 70, said Friday he spent at least two months investigating the disappearance of then-5-year-old Richard Wayne Landers Jr. from Wolcottville, but kept running into dead ends.
Police said the boy's paternal grandparents took him out of state during a dispute with his parents over his custody.
Russell said the grandparents had raised the boy since birth. While he said he knew what they did was wrong, he said he never feared for the boy's safety.
"I know they were in the courts. They were starting to let him be with her (his mother) for a little bit at a time. Then they said they should give them a couple of weeks together, and just before the two weeks, they disappeared," Russell said.
Police said a 24-year-old man with the same Social Security number and birth date as Landers but living under a different name, Michael Jeff Landers, was located in October in Long Prairie, Minn.
"Now, the question is, man, where was that information over the last 18 years?" said state police spokesman Sgt. Ron Galaviz. "I'm just speculating, but maybe it was only until now that access and technology made it available to really do some in-depth checking."
Landers' grandparents also were living under aliases, Raymond Michael Iddings and Susan Kay Iddings, nearby and confirmed the man's identity.
The grandparents were initially charged with custody interference, but charges were dropped in 2008 after the case went cold.
Todd County (Minn.) Sheriff Peter Mikkelson said once an investigation is complete, the case would be forwarded to the U.S. attorney general for possible charges.
A woman who answered a phone number associated with the Iddingses said she has told the truth to the officials who need to know, and declined a request for an interview.
Landers' mother, Lisa Harter, was "jumping up and down for joy" when investigators told her a few days ago that her son had been found, her husband Richard Harter told The Associated Press in a telephone interview on Thursday.
He said his wife is "the happiest woman on earth."
Harter said he and his wife were working with an attorney and hoped to reunite with his stepson soon. Police said Landers is married and expecting his first child.
Police spokesman Sgt. Ron Galaviz said Landers' father was never in the picture. Galaviz said an attorney is working with Landers' mother to reconnect her with her son.
"I don't have any idea or any sense of what was communicated to him over the last 18 years, so the question I've been getting too is what was his reaction," Galaviz said. "I think that depends on what he's been told over the last 18 years."