Kidnapped Oregon girl found after 15 years

Associated Press

VENETA, Ore.— An 18-year-old girl who says she was taken from her family when she was just 3 years old has been reunited with her mother and twin brother as the FBI tries to sort out whether it was an unreported kidnapping.

Fallon Marie Hodges told KVAL-TV in Eugene that she moved from town to town after she was allegedly taken by her baby sitter in 1985.

"Different places. Sometimes every day," said Hodges, who appeared in good spirits during an interview with the television station. "I’m well-traveled. Got any questions about vacationing?"

Last Friday, she wandered into a sheriff’s office in rural Pershing County, Nev. She told authorities that she didn’t know her real name — but that it might be Fallon.

Pershing County Sheriff Ron Skinner said the girl told them that she thought she was born in October and that she believed she had a twin brother named Dustin.

Investigators checked birth records and found a Fallon Marie Hodges who was born at Sacred Heart Hospital in Eugene on Oct. 17, 1982. From there, they linked the girl to her mother, Eveleen Strempel, who lives just west of Eugene in the town of Veneta.

Hodges and her mother were reunited Sunday.

"I was just jumping up and down screaming and crying and laughing all at the same time," Strempel told KVAL. "It was the best news I’d had in a long time."

Skinner told a Medford newspaper, the Mail Tribune, that the reunion was emotional.

"The girl seemed to be happy," Skinner said. "We’re calling it a successful recovery of a missing child."

Strempel had lived in Central Point, just west of Medford, until last month, according to the Mail Tribune.

A Central Point police detective tracked her down after Oregon authorities were contacted by the Nevada sheriff’s department.

Skinner told the newspaper that it wasn’t clear whether Hodges had been abducted or abandoned.

Strempel said she had left Fallon and Dustin with her babysitter, Marcella Whitehead, while she sorted out her financial problems. She returned for Dustin, and said she would be back soon for Fallon. But Whitehead and the girl were gone when she returned.

Police said Hodges had been living in Washington with Whitehead and Roland Homenyk. The pair left her in Lovelock, Nev., a small town about 90 miles northeast of Reno, telling her they would contact her once they were safely away and tell her about her true identity.

Hodges waited a month before going to the sheriff’s office, saying she needed help finding her identity, Skinner said.

Hodges told sheriff’s deputies that she never attended school or visited a doctor.

Strempel told KVAL she never reported her daughter missing because she was going through a difficult time, she didn’t have a home and was involved in drugs. But she says she never stopped looking for her, and claims she was misled by Whitehead.

"They weren’t the greatest people, and I never knew that," Strempel said. "Nobody seemed to know these people because they had given me a false last name."

Hodges says she also blames Whitehead ahd Homenyk.

"I believed them," she told KVAL. "I believed all the lies they told me, which was a lot I’m finding out. So if there was any resentment now, it’s on them, definitely."

The FBI launched an investigation Monday and are trying to determine whether a crime had been committed.

"At this point, we really don’t know what we have," said Mike Morrow, an FBI agent in Eugene.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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