Peoria girls caught up in custody battle found with religious sect in Belize

Teens’ story to air on ‘Dr. Phil’

PEORIA – The tale of two teenage Peoria girls whose parents’ custody battle stretched over years, continents and into an arcane religious sect now enters the realm of daytime television as the Dr. Phil show airs the first of a three-part series today.

Mollie, 15, and Allene Hari, 13, were returned to their mother, Michelle Frakes, a special education teacher at Blaine-Sumner Middle School, a couple of months ago after spending nearly a year in Central America with their father, Michael Hari, and a religious group to which he belonged.

Hari of Paxton has been charged in Ford County with removing a child from the jurisdiction of the court and unlawful interference with visitation. He’s accused of fleeing with his daughters to Belize before an April 2005 court hearing in which his custody of the girls was threatened.

“The minute they disappeared, we just went through the normal procedures,” said Tammy Behymer, the teens’ aunt. Frakes and the girls declined to be interviewed Monday.

After working through the courts and Ford County Sheriff’s Department, where Hari once was a deputy, Behymer and Frakes notified the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which was integral in involving talk-show host Dr. Phil McGraw.

Representatives of the show contacted Frakes at the beginning of the year offering help neither she nor the local authorities could afford: a private detective with a paid expense account.

“We jumped at it,” Behymer said. “We didn’t have the money to go to all that.”

The search lasted only a few months and ended in a Belize rainforest, where Hari’s Old Bretheren German Baptist Church has a community. The girls lived there just shy of a year with no running water or electricity, preparing their own food and making the long dresses and bonnets preferred by the faith.

“They thought they were on vacation,” Behymer said of the trip south. But, they also “loved the way they were living. . . . They were very proud and excited that they knew how to cook and to clean and to sew.”

And in that respect, Behymer thinks Allene, the younger sister, would willingly return to the Belize colony if given the opportunity.

“I think the youngest one would,” she said. “There’s been a lot of brainwashing there.”

Reached by phone at his parents’ house in Paxton on Monday, Michael Hari said the history with his ex-wife and daughters’ mother is too complicated to understand through a few episodes of a television show.

“To understand the whole issue, you have to go back 16 years to see when this pattern started,” he said, noting that he had custody of his daughters when they left for Belize and he will be featured on the Dr. Phil show.

“They had a really good time and it’s a good way to live,” Hari added. “This has really been sad.”

The first show airs at 3 p.m. today on WEEK-TV, Channel 25. The final two episodes air at the same time May 9 and 10.


(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
The Peoria Journal Star, USA
May 2, 2006
Matt Buedel
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Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday May 2, 2006.
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