Girl's allegations of abuse 'unsubstantiated,' police say
Last Updated: Wednesday, April 15, 2009 | 7:08 PM ET
Ashley Gonis, now age 10, went missing in 2007 and resurfaced when she called Vancouver police Friday. (Family photo)
A Montreal father says news that his daughter has been found safe in Vancouver more than two years after her disappearance is like "a gift from God."
Frank Gonis said police told him Friday they had located his daughter, Ashley Gonis, 10, at a SkyTrain station in the neighbourhood of East Vancouver.
"The police called me on Friday early in the morning and it was like, I don’t know, a gift from God. It's amazing that she’s safe," he said.
Ashley disappeared in January 2007, along with Gonis's ex-wife, after a parental dispute that he says ended with him being awarded sole custody of the girl.
When she surfaced on Friday, police said Ashley told them she had run away from an "abusive situation at home" in B.C. and walked for hours before making a 911 call.
Court must first recognize custody order
Although Gonis will likely meet with his daughter within a week, his custody order must first be recognized by a B.C. court before he can take her home, said Pina Arcamone, director of Montreal-based Enfant-Retour Québec, a non-profit organization that assists families searching for their missing children.
Vancouver police haven spoken with Montreal authorities to confirm the girl's mother breached custody orders from Quebec when she brought her daughter to B.C. in 2007, Const. Lindsey Houghton said.
But the orders are not directly enforceable in B.C., so the province's child protection service is working with its Quebec counterpart to arrange Ashley's return to her father, Houghton said.
Arcamone also said the father could face challenges reconnecting with his daughter.
"The real work starts when we actually do find" the child, she said in Montreal.
"But I know that the dad is very anxious to have his little girl. He's worked very hard to find her. I believe he can offer a loving environment. He's kept her bedroom intact, so that when she comes home she'll come home to her familiar bedroom."
Arcamone described Ashley's phone call to police as "exceptional." She said it's only the second time she's heard of a child who's alleged to be the victim of a parental abduction phoning for help.
Gonis said he can't imagine what Ashley's home life has been like since she disappeared from Montreal more than two years ago.
"The information I’ve gotten is there is a lot of work to be done with her,… a lot of brainwashing to cut through.... But hopefully it will be all for the best," he said. "She is still young. There is time for her to recover."
Gonis said he wanted to fly to Vancouver the same day he heard the news but was waiting to get his legal paperwork in order before going to B.C.
"I want to make sure I got all my ducks in a row so I don’t go there and end up having to fight social services to get my daughter back," he said.
Ashley in ministry's care
Ashley was placed in the care of the B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Development after being found.
Gonis said he's ready to give Ashley whatever help and support she needs.
"I just want her home, you know, and then whatever comes up, we’ll deal with it then, you know," he said.
Ashley was listed as a missing child due to parental abduction on Enfant-Retour Québec's website.
Gonis had made a public appeal for the safe return of his daughter after she and his ex-wife vanished, according to media reports.
Abuse reports disputed
Vancouver police say allegations of abuse involving Ashley are unsubstantiated.
Houghton said officers have spoken to several people, including the girl's mother, and found no evidence of abuse.