For 14 years, Orey Steinmann never knew that authorities from the United States and Canada were searching for him and his mother, who was on the run with him after his father won a custody battle.
Then, one day a year ago, the 17-year-old was with some friends at a computer and typed his name in the database of Internet search engine Google.com.
“He was just messing around ... because he has an unusual first name,” Rhonda Morgan, executive director of the Missing Children Society of Canada, told The Associated Press on Thursday.
What the blond-haired Canadian teen saw last February was a picture of himself, as a toddler, on a Web site for missing children. It reported that he and his mother, Gisele Marie Goudreault, had disappeared from Canada while she was in the midst of a custody fight with her boyfriend, Rodney Steinmann.
The discovery would set off a pair of yearlong investigations by officials of Morgan’s group and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Those probes ended Feb. 11 with U.S. marshals arresting Goudreault, who worked as an administrative assistant for the Los Angeles Unified School District, and county child services officials taking her son into protective custody.
'She was a great mom'
“I was absolutely shocked and devastated when I found out what had happened,” said Rina Rio, who manages Chatsworth Gardens West, where Goudreault rented a tiny one-bedroom apartment for $593 a month.
“Her world was taking care of her son. She was a great mom,” Rio said, adding she knew both mother and son were from Canada and that the boy’s father still lived there. She said they had told her the father left home years ago.
Authorities were tipped off by a teacher, who the teen had confided in. That led to Morgan’s agency communicating for months with Goudreault as she agonized over whether to turn herself in and risk being separated from her son.
“She was between a rock and a hard place,” Morgan said. “She wanted to clear it up, but if she did she risked not being able to return to California and jailed in Canada.”
About the same time the boy made his discovery, Canadian authorities who had long since lost track of him learned from American immigration officials that his mother had applied for permanent residency in the United States.
After months of paperwork, Canadian authorities finally obtained a fugitive warrant for Goudreault earlier this month, and U.S. marshals arrested her at home on Feb. 11.
Goudreault, 45, was jailed without bail, and Canadian authorities are seeking her extradition.
Boy in foster home
Her son was placed in a foster home, and Stuart Riskin, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, said Thursday he was “doing well.” He declined to release any further information, citing privacy laws.
“He’s going to turn 18 in a few months and I assume he’s going to be allowed to make his own decision,” Morgan said. “I’m told he wants to stay in the U.S. I don’t know if he wants to contact his father.
“He’s not speaking with his mother ... he’s upset,” Morgan said.
According to Canadian documents filed in U.S. District Court, Goudreault fled with the boy in May 1989 just before Steinmann was to receive full custody. The couple had never married.
Authorities said she had moved to Mexico, then Southern California and changed her name frequently, which was why it was so hard to find her.
Dad wants to see son
Rodney Steinmann, an electrician who lives in Ponoka, Alberta, told Morgan he wanted to see his son.
“He felt Orey should be allowed to contact his father on his own terms,” Morgan said.
Steinmann did not respond to a message from The Associated Press, but his mother said the family was concerned that the child they have sought for 14 years may still not come home.
“I know it’s going to have to be his decision,” Linda Steinmann said by phone this week from the Ponoka supermarket where she works. “So we’d just like to let him know we’re all thinking of him and waiting to hear from him.”
Friends of the teen said they now understand why his mother seemed overly protective.
“His mom was always with him, watching him, making sure he was OK,” said Megan Dunne, 16, who lived in the same apartment building. “I actually had a crush on him, but he never would talk to me. He always kept to himself.”