SPARWOOD, B.C. – Just how three-year-old Kienan Hebert was brought back to his British Columbia home undetected in the dark of night may have a deceptively simple answer: the doors were unlocked.
Kienan was returned to his family home in Sparwood, B.C., early Sunday morning nearly a week after he disappeared from the very same two-storey house.
The house was unoccupied at the time, with Kienan’s large family staying a few doors down, and just hours earlier, the boy’s father made an emotional plea for whoever had his son to leave him in a safe location.
The sudden turn of events raised immediate questions about how a kidnapper could enter the home undetected for a second time, but on Monday, Kienan’s father Paul offered the explanation.
“We left the doors unlocked on purpose,” Paul Hebert, sounding exhausted but relieved, said in an interview.
“We asked him to bring him back to a safe place, and he brought him back to our house.”
Hebert declined to say whether he left the doors unlocked on the advice of police.
The sole suspect in Kienan’s disappearance remains convicted sex offender Randall Hopley, 46, who was still at large. Police and the Heberts have publicly urged Hopley to turn himself in.
Kienan hadn’t been seen since last Tuesday, when his parents put him to bed for the night. By Wednesday morning, he was gone, prompting a massive search of the surrounding area.
By the end of the day, the RCMP had determined Kienan may have been abducted and issued an Amber Alert, asking the public to be on the watch for Hopley’s car and a little boy wearing Scooby Doo shorts. The alert spanned several days and was eventually expanded into Alberta.
On Monday, Hebert said his son — one of eight children — was coping with the ordeal and appeared to be OK.
“Other than the personal invasion, being taken away in the middle of the night, nothing,” Hebert said when asked whether his son was harmed.
“Kienan’s still a little bit offset. If you’re a stranger, he won’t come and talk to you. But he’s doing really good; he’s happy to be home.”
The case has prompted public debate about two aspects of the police investigation: whether the Amber Alert was issued soon enough and how the abductor could have evaded police to return Kienan home.
Hebert said he was confident the RCMP did all they could and credited the force for Kienan’s safe return.
He saved his criticism for the courts, which he said failed to intervene as Hopley’s criminal record grew, including at least one case involving a child.
“The judicial system that didn’t correct Hopley to begin with, they invaded our rights,” said Hebert.
“The judge let him walk with no help. That’s what failed: The system. Mr. Hopley needs help and the judicial system failed him, and in doing so failed us, as well.”
Hebert didn’t specify which case he was referring to, but Hopley has numerous convictions spanning two decades.
In 2008, Hopley pleaded guilty to break-and-enter and was sentenced to 18 months in jail. A Crown spokesman has confirmed Hopley admitted in court that he attempted to take a 10-year-old boy from a home in Sparwood, although charges of unlawful confinement and attempted abduction were stayed.
In the 1980s, Hopley was convicted of sexual assault and sentenced to two years in federal prison.
Hopley hasn’t been charged in Kienan’s disappearance. Two of his recent defence lawyers have declined comment.
Shirley Bond, who is both the attorney general and solicitor general in B.C., wasn’t available for an interview. In a written statement, Bond said she couldn’t comment on an ongoing criminal case.
“I understand the RCMP is planning to review some of the questions at hand, such as the process around the issuing of the Amber Alert, which I fully support,” said the statement.
“At this time, we need to take care not to say anything that might compromise the ongoing police investigation or any future prosecution.”
An RCMP spokesman did not return a request for comment Monday.
Brad Bostock, executive director of Child Find Canada, said the criticism directed at the RCMP — for the Amber Alert and the circumstances surrounding Kienan’s return — may be misplaced.
Bostock noted there are specific criteria in place to determine when an Amber Alert should be issued.
Police must believe a child has been abducted and is in danger, and they must have information such as a vehicle description or license plate number to distribute.
“People question the Amber Alert system because, in a lot of the situations, they don’t have a full understanding of the criteria that needs to be met before it can be activated,” said Bostock.
“I think what would end up happening is that if we relaxed the criteria and we saw a greater number of Amber Alerts put out into the general public, we would see them lose their importance. People would become desensitized.”
Bostock said he’s never heard of another case in which an abductor returned a child home unnoticed, and there would have been little reason for police to be watching the family home.
“To have the child returned to the home at three o’clock in the morning, that’s really unprecedented,” said Bostock.
“A lot of people are being critical of law enforcement, but I don’t think anybody realistically thought, ‘He’s probably going to bring the kid right back home and put him on the couch,’ so we should have a law-enforcement officer sitting on that couch waiting.'”
— By James Keller in Vancouver