After Three Years, Pearl da Massa Reunited with Her Father

Three years after her mother abducted her, Pearl Gavaghan da Massa has reunited with her father.  This article is fairly sparse on details (BBC, 9/27/11).  Here’s a piece I did on the case last March that has more information about the case. The little girl was originally abducted when she was four years old; she’s now seven.  Her mother, Helen Gavaghan and her father, Henry da Massa had split up prior to Pearl’s abduction.  Gavaghan had primary custody with da Massa having weekend visitation.  But da Massa wanted more and a court agreed, awarding him substantially greater parenting time than before.
  For about six months, everything seemed fine, but it now appears that Helen Gavaghan was simply using that time to plan and execute her abduction of Pearl. Among other things, she left a mountain of unpaid debts.  She also cleaned out a hefty sum of money from her bank account; her parents were at a loss to explain how she’d amassed such a sum.  Whatever the case, one day a friend of Gavaghan called da Massa and told him Helen was planning to take Pearl to India for a holiday. But Gavaghan didn’t go to India; she went to Mexico instead.  From there, she and Pearl walked across the border into Texas where they disappeared.  Apparently Gavaghan then changed her name to Meta International.  Their next sighting was in Toronto where they were living in an “alternative” community under still different names.  This time Gavaghan was calling herself Dana Flaherty and her daughter, Belle. In the three years Pearl was gone, Henry da Massa recruited the Manchester police as well as those in Toronto and Interpol to assist in finding his daughter.  Twice, they were close enough to finding her that da Massa flew to Toronto anticipating a joyful reunion.  Both times Gavaghan and Pearl disappeared without a trace. That puts me in mind of the Bartell-Dimm abduction I wrote about not long ago.  In that case, the mother, Wendi Lee Bartell-Dimm abducted her son by Canadian Danny Dimm once, but was apprehended after only a short time.  The second time, she was far more effective.  There, as in the Gavaghan case, the abducting mother simply vanished.  There was no trail of credit card charges, no sightings, nothing. At the time, Ed Wunsch who’s a private investigator specializing in child abduction cases, made an interesting prediction.  He said he thought she had gone to ground in a domestic violence shelter.  After all, people at those places don’t ask too many questions if a woman and a child come to them claiming abuse.  In a DV shelter, it’s easy to stay out of sight and live anonymously and cheaply. And sure enough, Wunsch was right.  Bartell-Dimm had been hiding out in a domestic violence shelter in South Dakota, where she was apprehended, arrested and the child returned to his father. So I wonder if Gavaghan availed herself of similar resources in Toronto or Montreal where she was finally caught.  Perhaps we’ll soon know. Wherever she was hiding, Gavaghan’s treatment of her daughter during their three years on the run seem typical of child abduction cases.  Three years, three different foreign countries and at least three different names were all part of that.  Gavaghan seems to have moved almost constantly from place to place, always on the lookout for the police.  At age four, Pearl was separated from her father and his extended family.  She was separated from all her mother’s relatives, her school friends, neighbors, familiar places, familiar people, familiar things.

She has not been to school or seen a doctor since she left the UK, [da Massa] said. 

Mr da Massa added: “This was not about a dad who misses his kid, or a mother who wants sole custody.

“This is about a kid who has had a crazy life and getting her back to a safe place with relative security.”

On that note, here’s a description from the Globe and Mail of what led to Gavaghan’s apprehension in Montreal.

The girl was discovered when Ms. Gavaghan’s suspicious behaviour sounded an alarm for a Montreal subway passenger, who then contacted police, said Christy Dzikowicz, the centre’s director of missing children’s services.

The man did not recognize Pearl from any of the numerous photos of her distributed throughout the country, but contacted police two weeks ago after becoming worried about the way she was interacting with her mother.

“He thought that the mom was really clinging to the daughter and looking around very concerned and suspiciously,’ Ms. Dzikowicz said from Winnipeg.

“I don’t think he really knew, he just had a sense that there was something wrong.’

That’s a pretty fair description of what happens when a parent abducts a child.  The two can’t even ride a subway without anxiety so great it attracts the attention of other passengers.  It’s a good thumbnail sketch of the relationship between an abducting parent and an abducted child.  Recall, this was three years after the abduction. There’s been an international warrant out for Gavaghan’s arrest for a long time and, now that she’s been caught, she’ll be extradited to the United Kingdom for criminal trial.  Da Massa has returned to the UK with Pearl and plans to enroll her in school in Manchester. Oddly, the article makes no mention of the the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.  I assume that’s because it’s not just a civil matter due to Gavaghan’s non-payment of her debts.  That would normally be a civil matter, so I’ll go on to speculate that she defrauded someone, likely a credit card company.  That could explain the large amount of cash in her bank account plus the criminal nature of the charges against her.  She’s also charged with kidnapping, unlike some parental abductors we’ve read about. We’ll learn the details as her trial gets under way.  But for now, the mood is joyous among the police and of course Henry da Massa.

Mr da Massa said seeing Pearl again for the first time since December 2008 was an “incredible moment”…

Det Ch Insp Colin Larkin said: “We are delighted Pearl da Massa has been reunited with her father and that she has been brought back to the UK safe and well.

“Officers from South Manchester CID worked tirelessly with Henry da Massa to do all we could to ensure this happened.”

Pearl’s been deprived of a normal upbringing for almost half her life.  It’ll take her a while to get used to normalcy again, but I’ve no doubt Henry da Massa will give her all he has to make sure she’s well cared for and living in a stable environment. Meanwhile, we’ll keep an eye on the proceedings against Helen Gavaghan.  Will she claim da Massa abused Pearl?  That seems like a long shot at best given the fact that a court had recently increased his parenting time when Gavaghan abducted their daughter.  Will the courts realize the serious child abuse that Gavaghan committed and punish her accordingly?  Or will the motherhood sentencing discount come into play? We’ll see. Thanks to Malcolm for the heads-up.

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