Abducted girl tells of wrenching custody battle
An acrimonious 16-year custody battle that involved the FBI and pushed a Tucson teenager into the national news will officially end today when Alese Reichart turns 18.
Alese, whose short life has included having four different names, attending eight schools, running from the law with her mother and moving across the country to live in a state group home against her will, is finally in control of her own life.
The young woman, now able to speak for herself as an adult rather than through lawyers, says she’s glad her mother abducted her against court orders and hid her in Tucson. Alese and her mother contacted the media this month, saying they wanted to tell Alese’s story and reveal the truth.
“I had to grow up real fast,” Alese said in a recent interview in the living room of the small, tidy apartment she shares with her stepfather, 44-year-old Dan Peters, and her mother, Joli Ann Peters, 44.
Alese and her mother say they had to flee Chicago 13 years ago because Alese was sexually abused by her biological father, Michael Reichart, though those allegations were never proved in court. They find similarities with their case and the 2002 film “Enough,” which features Jennifer Lopez as a woman who flees an abusive marriage with her 5-year-old daughter. Like the Jennifer Lopez character, Joli felt betrayed by a system that did not believe her.
As a Jehovah’s Witness, Alese doesn’t celebrate birthdays, but this year is the exception: Tuesday she’ll go to Pima County Superior Court and as a gift to herself she’ll take her mother’s maiden name and become Alese Taylor. “I come from a long line of strong women,” she explained. “My mother gave up her whole life to keep me safe.”
Alese and her mother were discovered living under the names of Tina Marie Jordan and Nicole Elizabeth Jordan in Tucson in December 2000. When their true identities were discovered, Joli was arrested and authorities removed Alese from her Tucson middle school and put her in foster care in Chicago, where her biological father lives.
A custody battle that began when Alese was 2 resumed – this time under the glare of the national media.
Now Alese says her mother’s arrest and her subsequent eight months in foster care have left her with terrible memories, but she’s moving on. She is finishing high school through an Internet correspondence course and plans on becoming a forensic anthropologist.
Abductions by parents up
As divorce rates have risen so have child abductions by parents – more than 200,000 occur each year in the United States, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. What is unusual about Alese’s story is the time that passed while mother and child were on the run – nearly a decade. In most cases of parental abduction the child is located within a month. Unlike Alese, a majority of those children return to live with the custodial parent.
Joli violated a joint custody agreement when she fled with Alese in 1991, maintaining she had to get the little girl away from Michael Reichart, whom she labeled a molester.
Reichart, who was awarded sole custody of his daughter by an Illinois judge in 1994, has consistently denied the accusations and countered that his wife is mentally ill. He did not return phone calls from the Arizona Daily Star for this story.
Alese and her mom settled in Tucson in 1993 when Alese was 7. In 1996, Joli married Dan Peters, a local pool technician.
Photo appeared on ad sheet
In 2000, a photo of Alese turned up on a mail advertisement featuring missing children. A classmate recognized the photo and told the principal at the local AmeriSchools Middle Academy, a charter school where Alese was an eighth-grade student.
The FBI took control and Alese was placed in a group home and then sent to Chicago, where she stayed in state custody for eight months. She spent her first few months at the Chicago area’s problem- plagued Maryville Academy City of Youth, which she now describes as “the middle circle of hell,” before being placed in a foster home.
Joli was arrested and a federal judge gave temporary custody of Alese to her stepfather, leaving jurisdiction over the girl with Illinois authorities. Reichart agreed with the court, saying he wanted Alese to be happy, and Alese returned to Tucson.
Joli was convicted of misdemeanor reckless conduct and visitation interference as part of a plea agreement in Chicago. She was sentenced to two years on probation, which she was allowed to serve in Tucson.
Father has remarried
Michael Reichart, who has remarried and has a son with his new wife, was supposed to see his daughter six times a year in Illinois, but Alese visited once. Alese says she hasn’t spoken with her father in nearly two years.
Mother and daughter continue to say authorities refused to believe the truth but that the truth will ultimately emerge – Alese is planning on writing a book about her ordeal.
200,000 children are abducted by a parent each year in the United States, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
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