Lost and Found

Scriptural truth in the threat of tragedy.

by Bonnie Evans

Morning offered no hints that this day would be different than any other Wednesday, that it would be overwhelmed by every parent’s worst nightmare or teach me lessons I would never forget.

Innocent request

Just as I slid the last dumpling into the simmering chicken soup, five-year-old Melissa burst into the kitchen. “Mommy, I’m gonna get the mail, kay?”

“Matt, can you go with her?”

My seven-year-old son sat surrounded by homework. “I’ve got Royal Rangers tonight and gotta get this math done.”

I pointed a finger, still caked in sticky dough, and warned her, “OK, you can go by yourself, but come right back. No lollygagging!”

Worry-free

Her blonde pigtails bobbed in agreement. I almost smiled as she banged the door into the outside wall. This was the first time my baby would carry out the evening chore alone.

And because it never occurred to me that Robert Dunton, a recently released felon, would be passing our driveway in his station wagon — that he’d spot Melissa, chase her, catch her, toss her in his car, and drive away — I didn’t worry.

Quick search

We knew something was wrong right away. The walk took ten minutes, and she wasn’t back in fifteen. My husband hiked down and saw the mail untouched in its box while I checked her bedroom in case she’d slipped into the house unnoticed.

Soon all three of us, as well as our few-and-far-between neighbors, were searching for her.

Simple prayer

The sun seemed to sink faster than usual, and the chilly fall air dampened our sagging spirits. Against the backdrop of nature’s twilight sounds, hollow voices continuously threw her name against the darkness.

Hours later, we met in the garage. No one dared to say it, but we had all lost hope.

“Let’s pray,” my husband whispered as he reached for our hands.

Mike’s prayer was simple, “God, help us find Melissa. Your eyes can see her; ours can’t. Keep her safe, and show us where to look.”

With that, we turned back toward the open garage door. Where do you look when you’ve already looked everywhere two, three, or four times?

Phone call

As we stood paralyzed with fear and indecision, the phone rang. Mike grabbed the outside handset, and I listened to his side of the conversation.

“Who is this? . . . Describe her to me. . . . I don’t understand who this is.”

She’s been kidnapped, and this is our ransom call, I thought. I wondered what price tag they’d put on our daughter’s head. In that instant, I knew that whatever they asked for, I would pay it.

The call wasn’t the kidnapper but the California Highway Patrol. They’d found a little girl miles from our home and wanted to know if our daughter was missing. The dispatcher didn’t have many facts but wanted us to meet the officer and the tow-headed tyke where she’d been found.

Happy reunion

Before we pulled off the freeway, we could see numerous police cars parked along the frontage road.

I willed myself out of the car, wondering how Melissa could possibly have gotten so far from home. Mike looked for the person in charge as I scanned the scene for her.

I spotted her in the back seat of a police car about the same time she saw me. “Mommy, mommy!” she mouthed, pounding on the locked door.

A sheriff let her out, and she jumped into my arms. As I held her trembling body, she told us how Dunton grabbed her and how she’d fought against his grasp.

“I just got out of prison for killing my wife and baby,” he’d told her. “If you don’t shut up, I’ll kill you too.”

“I’m never gonna see my mommy and daddy again,” Melissa sobbed back.

Miracle

It appears Dunton became disoriented after snatching Melissa and zagged around on curving country roads for a while. Eventually, his turns landed him on a boulevard that would take him to the freeway. Just as he turned toward a clean get away, God gave us our miracle.

A California highway patrolman pulled out behind Dunton’s vehicle and noticed that the battered car was missing a taillight. Officer Thompson later admitted that since it was time to clock out, he decided to let the minor infraction slide.

He later wrote in his report that when he passed the station wagon, it “veered suspiciously onto the shoulder of the road.” The evasive action and the driver’s averted glance troubled the patrolman, so he decided to investigate, using the taillight as an excuse.

Divine intervention

Inside the stopped vehicle, he found an unkempt young man and a child he hadn’t seen while passing the car.

“He took me from my mommy and daddy,” the little girl kept crying.

Dunton tried to excuse her tears, but the officer didn’t believe him. Officer Thompson cuffed him and gently tried to find out who the youngster was and where she belonged.

Five hours after the ordeal began, we all knelt by Melissa’s bed and thanked God for the grace He chose to send. Public servants, family, and friends agreed: We would have never seen her again if God hadn’t intervened.

Finding purpose

Months later, after court appearances and sentencing, after we had returned to our normal work and school routines, I still struggled. Why had God allowed this unnerving event in our lives?

One fogless morning, He answered. He took me back to the “ransom” call and my oath to buy my daughter back no matter what the cost. Then He spoke to me in the quiet place where only He is heard: Would you really have paid any price to get her back?

“Absolutely,” I answered.

Would you have sold your home? Sold everything you have and emptied your bank accounts?

“Yes.”

Would you have borrowed money and gone into debt? God probed.

“Yes, I’d have worked for the rest of my life to pay back loans.”

Heaven paused for just a moment before God asked His final question. Would you have given your son?

My heart recoiled. How could I choose one child over another? Why would God ask me to do such a thing?

Heavenly metaphor

Slowly, the truth of His heavenly metaphor broke. For a few moments, I could feel the depth of God’s sacrifice and grief as He sent Jesus to a manger and Calvary’s cross. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, NIV).

Jesus didn’t just come; God gave — one perfect child to release those taken and lost to His embrace.