After 8 years on the run, teen is home Custody: A Carroll County boy kidnapped by his mother in 1990 is back with his father, learning to live without fear.

August 30, 1998|By Kirsten Scharnberg | Kirsten Scharnberg,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Mike Farabaugh and Michael James contributed to this article.

Amid the jumble of legal documents and sordid accusations in the case of Wimperis vs. Wimperis, it is easy to forget that the real story has always been Adam's.

He is the little boy who missed out on recess and show-and-tell and cowboy-theme birthday parties with kids and clowns.

He never knew his last name or his next address.

Or the truth.

From the day Adam's father was accused of sexually molesting him until the moment his mother kidnapped him after losing a messy custody battle in 1990, the line between the good guys and the bad guys had become too blurry to discern.

In Adam's world, things were never as they seemed. Nothing was ever normal enough or stable enough or safe enough.

For eight years.

Now, his mother has been found and charged with abducting her son, bringing them back to Carroll County where it all began.

Since that warm June day in 1990, a father has mourned.

A mother has run.

A church has harbored a fugitive.

A little boy has become a teen-ager.

Based on interviews with family members, prosecutors, the FBI and those who hid mother and son, it's clear that everyone on every side of the case has suffered.

But one sandy-haired youngster -- a quick-witted, very confused boy named Adam James Wimperis -- has paid the biggest price of them all.

Father's Day, 1990

Sharon Wimperis decided she couldn't take any more.

Her marriage had fallen apart. Her son, she believed, was being molested by her husband. But with the charges of abuse deemed untrue and her parenting in question, she had lost custody of 5-year-old Adam.

So she fled with the boy, changing their names, leaving behind the East Coast and an older son from a previous marriage. This is what good mothers do when the father denies and the judge rules and the child suffers, she told people.

The Finksburg housewife headed west, into anonymity.

In the first place they settled, life for Adam bordered on normal.

The town was Marion, Ind., population about 30,000. Halfway between Indianapolis and Fort Wayne in a rural county, it was the perfect place to get lost.

"They literally just disappeared into thin air," says Bill Wimperis, Adam's father, left behind, accused, his only child gone.

Aided by an underground network of Christian churchgoers willing to harbor a federal fugitive whom they believed to be protecting an abused boy, Sharon and Adam moved in with a Marion couple whose own children were grown and gone.

Adam James Wimperis became Adam Ford. He didn't get a middle name.

Adam and Sharon -- who had changed her name to Ann Ford -- joined St. James Lutheran Church. They were active in the parish, joining Bible study groups and going to Sunday school.

Adam was allowed to play with other children after weekly church services. In a 1992 photo in the glossy church directory, 7-year-old Adam smiles for the camera, one front tooth missing.

Of the church's nearly 500 members, only a handful knew Sharon and Adam's secret. The Rev. Mark Carlson was one of them.

"In our church, this mother and son lived under the protecting and caring hand of love," the pastor said. "We sheltered them and concealed them. We knew it was against man's law, but we were following the leading of God in this. We believed we were exercising a higher moral law."

For 3 1/2 uneventful years, Adam lived in Marion. In 1993, the boy was enrolled at Lakeview Christian School.

"He was a happy, healthy, very normal little boy," the school's administrator, Michael Shaffer, said he was told by the boy's first-grade teacher.

Then a random mass mailing of postcards from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children landed in thousands of mailboxes around Marion. At the top of the card -- above black-and-white pictures of Adam and Sharon -- was the question, "Have you seen us?"

Many people had, and they called to report that Marion's Ann and Adam Ford were Maryland's Sharon and Adam Wimperis.

The FBI missed them by minutes. Years later, Adam would tell authorities he recalled racing down his street in one direction and seeing police cars race up in the other.

When the story hit the local newspapers, the town reeled. People had respected Sharon. The first-grade teacher described her to Shaffer as "a true lady in an age where there aren't many of them left."

Carlson fielded calls from dozens of church members, who all agreed the woman had been a doting mother.

At Lakeview Christian Elementary, 20 first-graders gathered into circle and prayed for Adam Ford.

After Marion, Sharon trusted no one, risked little. The Indiana town would be the last place Adam attended a school or church. There would be no Little League, no sleepovers with friends.

It would mark the last time he would stay in one place long enough to call it home or use a name for long enough to know how to spell it.

And it would mark the last time he would be able to see a police officer without panicking.

Frozen in time

For Bill Wimperis, that Father's Day in 1990 was the day time came to a standstill.

His only child was gone. His reputation was smeared.

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