Cops had little hope of finding anything when they walked into the home of Diane Dobbs. Years ago, they had searched her property. But in this instance, they took a closer look. When they pushed aside a dresser that was against the wall, they uncovered a truth that would shake their very foundation.
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 at his grandmother's home.
Six-year-old Richard Chekevdia was in good spirits and physically fit after being found on 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.
The boy's mother, Shannon Wilfong, 30, has been charged with child abduction.
Richard Chekevdia at a wedding in Illinois in 2007: Allegedly abducted in a custody dispute two years ago, the six-year-old has been found alive, hidden behind a wall at his grandmother's house
The grandmother, 51-year-old Diane Dobbs, has been charged with aiding and abetting.
The boy is now staying with one of his father's relatives while state child welfare workers investigate claims that Mike Chekevdia abused his son before his disappearance.
Mr Chekevdia, 48, a former police officer who is now a lieutenant colonel in the Illinois National Guard, denies the allegations.
On hearing his son had been found, he said: 'Two years? You have no idea. You could have knocked me over with a feather.'
Shannon Wilfong, who disappeared in 2007 with her son, Richard, has been charged with child abduction
Mr Chekevdia, who lives three miles from where his son was discovered, added: 'I've lost sleep. I've lost weight. I've gained weight. I wouldn't wish this on anybody.'
He won temporary custody of his son shortly before the boy and his mother - Chekevdia's former girlfriend - disappeared in November 2007.
Mr Chekevdia said 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.
For much of the time since, Mr Chekevdia said, the windows of Dobbs' home were blocked off by drawn shades or other items, presumably to prevent anyone from peeking inside.
Anxious wait: Mike Chekevdia at his home in Royalton, Illinois, looking to be reunited with his son
'I had a firm belief he was in there, and yesterday it was confirmed,' Mr Chekevdia said.
Investigators did not detail what led sheriff's deputies and federal marshals with a search warrant to Dobbs' house on Friday, when they found the boy and his mother in a hideaway roughly 5ft by 12ft and about the height of a washing machine.
Grandma's house: This is where the young boy was kept hidden in a room measuring 5ft by 12ft - and just 4ft high
'We let him out of the (patrol) car and he ran around like he'd never seen outdoors. It was actually very sad,' Illinois State Police Master Sgt Stan Diggs said.
'He was very happy to be outside. He said he never goes outside. Surprisingly, 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 a local newspaper last year that her daughter had been forced into hiding to keep the child from his father - and called the custody dispute a 'nightmare for all of us'.
Mr 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.'
Wilfong remains in jail on a $42,500 bond in Benton, Illinois, where Dobbs is being held on a $1,000 bond.
Father and son in 2004: Mr Chekevdia said he long suspected his son was being stowed by the boy's grandmother Diane Dobbs, although there were no signs of him when her house was searched with her consent after his disappearance
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