Criminal Justice

Boy Who Disappeared in 1994 Is Found Alive and Well

A 5-year-old Indiana boy who disappeared 19 years ago has been found living under an assumed name in Minnesota.

Richard Wayne Landers Jr., who apparently was abducted from the Wolcottville, Ind., home where he lived since birth with his paternal grandparents in 1994, was tracked down in Long Prarie, Minn., through his birthdate and Social Security number, according to multiple reports.

Landers, who was found living under the assumed name Michael Jeff Landers, is now a 24-year-old married man who is expecting his first child, police say. Minnesota officials say that Landers’ paternal grandparents, who have been living under aliases in a nearby town, have confirmed their grandson’s real identity to police.

Indiana police have declined to say whether the grandparents, Richard E. and Ruth E. Landers, will face criminal charges, the Associated Press reports, citing the ongoing investigation. But a Minnesota sheriff said the couple could face federal charges.

In July 1994, after the grandparents got into a dispute over custody with Lisa Harter, the boy’s mother, the couple fled, taking the boy with them.

The Landerses were charged with a misdemeanor at the time, which was later elevated to a felony, but the charges were dismissed in 2008 after the case went cold.

The case was reopened in September when Landers’ stepfather, Richard Harter, turned the boy’s Social Security card over to an Indiana State Police detective. That turned up a man with the same social security number and date of birth in Long Prarie, Minn. A driver’s license photo for the man also resembled Landers.

Lisa Harter, the boy’s mother, was “jumping up and down for joy” when she heard that her son had been found, Richard Harter told the Associated Press in a telephone interview Thursday. Harter described his wife as “the happiest woman on earth.”

Harter said he and his wife are working with an attorney and hoping to reunite with Landers soon.

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