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Parental Alienation Syndrome (pas) Sixteen Years Later

Flight attendant speaks in Dutch bell tolls children chatter Family Dear God, thank you for this food, and bless it to our bodies. Amen. they speak in Dutch For lunch we say a short American Voiceover All Holly Collins ever wanted out of life was to just be normal. Part of an allAmerican family. with a cosy home, happy kids, pets, carefree vacations, the whole nine yards. Instead, what HollyAnn Collins ended up with was life as an international fugitive. A woman so desperate to keep her children safe.

She was willing to leave behind everything she owned, everyone she knew. She became a kidnapper of her own children, hunted by the FBI. wistful music they speak in Dutch Oh, perfect. man speaks in Dutch This is what I gave to you guys in the bag. This is very common for children to eat. They like to chew on it. Voiceover HollyAnn Collins became the first American to ever be granted asylum on the grounds of domestic violence by the Dutch government. Her American children, Jennifer and Zachary,.

Would grow up in the Netherlands to become poised young adults. Jennifer studies at the University of Leiden. Zachary is in a band. And their younger brother, Americanborn Christopher, has become a champion cyclist. Holly would have more children and live a simple, safe, and relatively happy life in the Netherlands. A small miracle, really, considering how it all started. I was naive, I thought if you were a good person, if you went to church, if you were a good mom, if you took care of your kids, if you told the truth,.


No Way Out But One

That it would be OK. I mean, even to the very end. The day we walked into court my lawyer said this doesn’t look good, this doesn’t look good. And I said, no, no. It’s gotta be OK. We’re telling the truth and I believe in God and I went to church and I lit a candle. sobs And then when the judge was reading his order, the first line of his order it said the court found there was abuse. Thank God, they believe us. They know the children are telling the truth.

And then he said but, you know, because of the abuse, the mom’s crazy. So we’re gonna take the kids away. Voiceover The decision to modify custody was very, very difficult, as it is evident the Respondent, Mrs. Collins, and the children love each other greatly. However, the evidence is overwhelmng that the children are at great physical and emotional risk if they remain in Respondent’s care. Voiceover On December 22nd, 1992, after five days of testimony in a Hennepin County, Minnesota courtroom, Judge Michael Davis told HollyAnn Collins.

That he was taking away her two children, Jennifer and Zachary, and giving sole custody to her exhusband. The finding that domestic violence had in fact occurred did not help her case, and the medical evidence that she presented of the injuries she said her children had received at the hands of their father, in fact had hurt her case. Though the details of Holly’s flight and her asylum are singular, what happened to her and her children in court happens every day to battered women and frightened children in family courts all across America.

Gavel thumps Attorney Alan Rosenfeld of Colorado has been representing mothers desperately seeking to keep their children safe for over 25 years. What’s extraordinary is that. she was one of the small number of moms who had the courage to challenge, defy the court system, and then she’s one of the smaller numbers from those who defied the system, who stayed hidden and safe with her children for as long as she did. What makes it different is that she ended up being granted refugee status in a European country.

But the failure of the court system tragically, that’s ordinary. Voiceover Based in Washington DC, Greg Jacob is a highly successful labor lawyer who does pro bono work for the organization Justice for Children. There is no question that judges across the country have placed children in danger, have led to the deaths of children, have led to children being abused because of bad decisions in cases. sad music In the beginning he only hit me. He used to say that if I would just follow his rules,.

Then he wouldn’t have to hit me. Voiceover January 4th, 1983. Patient now has some periorbital ecchymosis and subconjunctival hemorrhage. In other words, a black eye. Slight punctate, one millimeter corneal abrasion, keep eye patched, next 24 hours may use ice. Most of the time, I would step in front of the children. And most of the time I would get hit instead of them. Voiceover February 11th, 1987. Husband practicing wrestling move on patient last night. Injured left shoulder and elbow. Very limited range of movement without severe pain.

One of the main images I still have of my father and my mother would be me hiding behind the couch or in the closet and he’d throw her into the wall. I think I had, as a kid, lots of worries, grief, doubts, just knowing something’s up, and not knowing what. melancholy music One night, he was beating me up. It was nothing special. But I had just had enough. I was tired, and it just kept going on and on and I started crying really loud and screaming.

And he warned me, don’t wake up those kids. Don’t wake up those kids. If they get out of bed, there’ll be hell to pay. And I heard Zachary getting out of bed. I was so thankful because maybe this would disrupt Mark enough so I could get a break, just a few seconds’ break. And Mark. He went after Zachary. And I didn’t step in front of him this time. sobs I took Zachary to the hospital because his head started to swell. And we found out that he had a fractured skull.

Voiceover Minneapolis Children’s Medical Center July 16th, 1987. Patient, Zachary Collins. Impression Depressed skull fracture secondary to recent neurological trauma. Signed Jeffery S. Schiff, M.D. Either the doctors or the priest, I think, actually there was two child protection reports that came in. And Child Protection had shown up at my door and told me that if I didn’t leave, that they would take the children out of the home. Voiceover The sworn testimony of Father Eugene Corica in reference to marital counseling he performed in 1987 Mark was abusing Holly.

And I believe one of the children, at least. The first thing I told Holly, She never has to remain in that situation. You don’t have to stay when you’re being battered. I was told that there was nobody protecting my children. And that I was considered to be just as bad as the father for letting this happen. And. Once I did leave him, he got a lawyer immediately. And it went into family court, and then all the rules were different. Voiceover Attorney Cynthia Cheatham specializes in child custody cases.

Involving domestic violence and child abuse in Tennessee. Divorce court, custody courts, are not designed to deal with crimes. They wanna be equitable, they wanna be fair to both parents. And how do you fairly divide up a child when one person is abusing that child They want the mother to negotiate with the other side. How do you negotiate with somebody that’s either battering you, your children, physically, sexually abusing your children, what do you offer Every other weekend Family courts in theory are supposed to be like civil courts.

They’re very different from criminal courts. In criminal courts where you’ve got a prosecution to a jury, with a standard of beyond a reasonable doubt. Family courts are very different than that. In theory, the same rules that apply in most civil courts are supposed to apply in family courts as well. It doesn’t always work out that way. One of they key differences is in a lot of civil cases, you can try your case to a jury. In family court, you’re always before just one judge. And whereas many issues that come up in a civil court.

Can be appealed to a higher court on a fairly lenient standard of review, when you have a best interest standard of review, it’s almost impossible to get an appellate court to overturn a judgement in a family court. So as a result, family court judges get used to playing outside of normal legal rules, and they are used to not really being subject to rigorous appellate review. And so I think that it fosters a sense among the judges who are again, the sole judge in your case. You don’t have a jury, it’s all being tried to a judge,.

And they are used to having whatever they say stand. And so they feel like they have a great deal of latitude and leeway to rule whatever way they want to and feel pretty confident that that’s gonna be what sticks. Voiceover According to a report published in the New England Law Review, Abuse targeted at the mother is not always seen as relevant to custody and visitation decisions. And according to the Leadership Council, more than 58,000 children a year are ordered into unsupervised contact with physically or sexually abusive parents.

Following divorce in the United States. Connie Hope practices law in Hennepin County, Minnesota. In Hennepin County, they had an office with custody evaluators who were supposed to be neutral. And who were employed by the county and answered to the judge. Those evaluators when women raised the issue of domestic violence, every time that that happened with a client of mine, the evaluation came out recommending that the abusive father get custody of the children. It became a case of him vs. her. It was me against him.

And all of a sudden, he had visitation alone with the children. And I couldn’t understand it. Because we were safer being in the house with him because most of the times I could protect the kids. When we had visitations with my father, and I would refuse to go, to the point of being really upset, crying, to the point where I would throw up, and my mother at a certain point would say no I can’t make them go. And I was relieved. I thought that then we wouldn’t have to go with our father,.

That our mother was standing up for us. And I was naive back then. When the children would cry and scream not to go, I thought I can’t make them go, it’s wrong. And so Mark would call the police. And I was so thankful that the police were there, that the police would see. You know, because the kids were crying. It was the kids who didn’t wanna go, and it wasn’t that I was refusing to let them go. And the police would actually enter my home and search my house,.

And then pull the kids out from underneath the bed or find Zachary hiding in the closet and take him out of the closet and then carry them outside the house and hand them to this man who was beating them. Voiceover Ronna Grant and Holly Collins were friends. Their sons went to school and often played together. Ronna was present years ago for a visitation transfer of Holly’s kids, then nicknamed Fifi and Zeke, to Holly’s exhusband and his second wife, Rena. These were children that were afraid of this man.

And this woman. Their father and his wife, and we were standing there and the children didn’t wanna go. And so Mark grabbed Zachary by the arm, Rena grabbed. I was gonna say Fifi, Jennifer by the arm, started dragging them. And the kids were, you know, like putting their heels in like no, no, and they’re being dragged and dragged. And Rena came over, and I mean I’m standing right next to HollyAnn. She’s got you know, her hand on my arm. And can I swear Voiceover Yes, you can swear.

OK. This is exactly laughs what Rena said to HollyAnn. You’ll be lucky if you ever see these fucking children again. And, I mean I wanted to go for her throat. I couldn’t believe she’s holding Jennifer’s arm and she’s saying that to this little girl’s mother. It has a lasting impression. I haven’t ever been able to erase that from my mind. I can imagine those children have never been able to erase that from their mind. It’s strange how you’d think that there was then witnesses who saw how upset we were,.

And how terrified we were of our father. And yet it was used against my mother, that she was in violation of the visitation arrangements. Yeah, I remember some things of visitation. I don’t feel very comfortable talking about it. Back then I remember saying when the psychiatrist who was evaluating us he asked me if I thought my children were happy. And I remember saying that I don’t have time. to worry about whether my children are happy or not. I’m too busy trying to keep them safe.

Voiceover The story of how Holly Collins came to lose custody of her children is told in crushing detail in the reams of court documents she still keeps. The details are hers alone. But many of the problems that she faced are just like those that thousands of battered women and children face who must navigate the peculiar world of family court, where courtappointed evaluators and an odd bit of junk science can turn lives upside down. What happened in our case is that the court evaluator said that.

This was a case of parental alienation because of my fear of the father. She said that I wasn’t doing it out of. spite, I wasn’t being malicious, but that I was so afraid of the father because of his abuse to me, that I was alienating the children against him. chuckles And she also said that she does believe that the father has shaken the children by the neck, has strangled the children, hits the children, is physically harsh with the children, but because of my abuse, that we overreact to these acts. chuckles.

Voiceover I believe that what’s happened here is that Mrs. Collins, because of her anxieties, perhaps because of her abuse from Mr. Collins or perhaps because of some internal anxiety, has over responded to remarks the children have made about Mr. Collins, or things she may have observed. To the best of my knowledge here, I believe she has encouraged and enhanced the reports the children have made, and the fears about their father. Court evaluator Susan DeVries. In every single case involving allegations of abuse that I’ve been involved in,.

And that’s probably 20 of them, at this point, every single one, the father always, always alleges, that the mother is trying to alientate them from the child. It is always the defense’s tactic to try and put the spotlight on the other side and accuse them of wrongdoing. You’re gonna accuse me of wrongdoing, I’m gonna accuse you of wrongdoing, and then we’ll let the judge have to decide between those two things. So it is the tactic that is always used. Voiceover The concept of a Parental Alienation Syndrome,.

Or PAS, was first put forward by this man, Dr. Richard Gardner. What I’m saying to you is this we will see in the next few years more and more people being put in jail for short periods of time for inducing PAS’s, to help them remember not to do it. Voiceover Gardner has described PAS as the programming of the child by one parent into a campaign of denigration directed against the other. But Jennifer Collins doesn’t buy it. The reason why we didn’t wanna go with our father.

Was because of his actions, and what he did to us. And so it was. they managed to flip the responsibility or. the actual cause of the effects which was basically the cause was his behavior and they managed to somehow try and pin that on my mother. Voiceover In 2003, the controversial Richard Gardner committed suicide by cutting his own throat, and stabbing himself 23 times with a steak knife. But his theory lives on. And it heavily influences decisions that are made every day in the family courts.

Dr. Joyanna Silberg, a clinical child psychologist and the executive vice president of the Leadership Council on Child Abuse and Interpersonal Violence, is critical of the lack of peerreviewed research and the flimsy data of PAS. So he created this idea that they were doing this in order to ally unconsciously with a parent who didn’t like the other parent. There’s absolutely no scientific evidence whatsoever that a child can make up a false allegation and believe it based on alliance unconsciously with someone. That’s just not in the literature.

It’s just not the way children behave, there’s no evidence they ever behave that way. Voiceover In fact, large scale studies have shown that knowingly false allegations of abuse are rare. A critical assessment of PAS, published in the Journal of Psychological Science in the Public Interest, found that the scientific status of PAS is, to be blunt, nil. Any time that a parent has reasonable grounds to believe that abuse has occurred, I don’t think that’s ever alienation for the parent to do whatever they need to do.

To get to the bottom of those allegations and to try to protect their child. Voiceover As the junk science of PAS was being used to suggest that the real problem was not the abuse but the mother, Holly’s concerns for the children’s health also began to be turned against her. It all started because she believed the children’s doctor. Voiceover I have had the pleasure of taking care of Jennifer and Zachary Collins as the children’s allergist. I have described both children as being among the most allergic I have ever seen.

In my 13 years of allergy practice. The food allergies clearly have the potential to be lifethreatening. Dr. Paul Blum. Voiceover Due to the finding of severe allergies, a list of foods that the children shouldn’t eat was prepared by the allergist and shared with both parents. Holly made certain her children never ate the forbidden foods, but after courtordered visits with their father, the kids kept coming home with problems. Mark had the children on visitaion from Friday until Saturday evening, but we found out that the children.

Were allergic to pineapple and peanuts. And he would give them pineapples and peanuts during his visitation, and then drop them off in front of my house earlier than visitation was scheduled to end with a child in an anaphylactic reaction. So there are times that they would come home from visitation and within five minutes I would call an ambulance because they were in an anaphylactic reaction. Unfortunately, we are faced with a potential situation that is of true danger to both children. My dad, Mark and his wife, they used to.

Make us eat foods we were allergic to, and then they wouldn’t give us our medication and they’d laugh at us and make fun of us that we bleed like mumbles. Particularly his wife who did this. And she’d be holding the medicine and wouldn’t give it to us. Voiceover The Minnesota family court tried to sort out what to believe about the allergy problems after the visits with their dad. Besides the doctor, the kids and Holly, there were also other witnesses. Heidi was a young babysitter for the Collins kids.

Her mother Theresa was a close friend. They, too, remember. This was one that they told me about. Mark, when they were visiting him, had put ketchup on, he’d made hamburgers and he put ketchup on it. And so the kids said I can’t eat that, Dad, I’m allergic to it. And he had sworn at ’em and said you’ll eat this whatever blank burger. And I said are you OK, did you get sick And he’d stop talking the way he used to do. And then Jennifer, Fifi, who,.

You’ve met her now, she was much the same as a small child. She’s not afraid of anything or anyone, and she will tell you what she thinks. She piped in and she said, you tell the rest. He made him get on his hands and knees and beg for his puffer. She made him get on his hands and knees and beg, and I said she or he And they said Mark and her, meaning their step mother. And then they laughed. They gave that, I mean. Who does that But they.

That was the kind of torture these kids went through. mournful music Voiceover Hoping to break the cycle of abuse once and for all, Holly sought the court’s permission to move with the kids back to Massachusetts, close to her own family, where Holly planned to work and go to college. The court agreed, and Holly and the kids settled in this little house in Marblehead. Once settled in the Boston area, Holly, Zachary and Jennifer went to see one of the country’s leading authorities on child abuse and trauma,.

At Boston Children’s Hospital. Dr. Eli Newberger led an experienced team that included Dr. Maureen O’Brien. My recollection is that at the time of the referral, the professional people who had seen the children, and these included a physician and a mental health worker, had been powerfully impressed by the tremendous amount of anxiety among these quite young children, and the terror on the part of their mother, about the danger were they to be awarded to the custody of their father. Voiceover Children’s Hospital. June 16th, 1992. Mother and children are participating seriously,.

And consistently in treatment. The disclosures of abuse appear to all observers to be valid. I vividly remember these kids, and they were in some ways typical of the children that would come into the clinic in that they were anxious, nervous, they’d been through the process before, it’s in a hospital setting, and so you would anticipate that kind of emotion. sad music I really remember Zachary being very, very protective of his sister. Voiceover July 22nd, 1992. Both Zachary and Jennifer had made statements to members of evaluation team about specific.

Abusive incidences with their father. The children’s mother was not in the room when these disclosures were made. Voiceover Despite the reports that kept coming out of Boston’s Children’s Hospital, the Minnesota Family court insisted on continued contact between the children and the father they so feared. Voiceover I believe that the relationship between Mr. Collins and the children could best be rebuilt if the children were living in Minnesota. Susan DeVries. I so remember that feeling of this poor child was so young and he already was so beaten down by the system,.

He already felt like people weren’t listening to him, and it was just disheartening, because I felt like his emotions were so honest, he was clearly anxious. Voiceover Children’s Hospital July 22nd 1992. When questioned further, Zachary said, I’m tired of talking about it. You’re the 11th person I’ve had to talk to about it. I remember seeing HollyAnn being written up as hysterical, quote unquote, many, many times early on in the documents. And it’s just one of those lightning rod words, that if you’re a neutral person,.

Or if you’re a judge, or you’re someone who doesn’t know the family and you read that kind of a label, you tend to make instant judgements about that person. And so I would continually look for where was the data behind this And why didn’t people believe the drawings that the children were making Why was the emotion the overriding factor in the case when there really were some compelling physical facts as well So if you asked me two decades later do I think this was a case.

Where there was abuse Within the bounds of scientific and medical certainty, do I as a doctor believe that this is a case of child abuse and of domestic violence The answer is unequivocally yes. tense music Voiceover In the summer of 1992, the Minnesota family court ruled that the kids had to return during a school vacation to visit with their dad. This is Zachary and Jennifer when they were in my care. I mean, look at them! They are happy. They. Look at them! Look at this.

This is when we had one year of no contact with the father. We moved back to Massachusetts, we were living in Marblehead, we had a year of no one hitting us. One year of peace. Look at them! Voiceover Children’s Hospital, July 22nd 1992. The children were asked, if a judge were here with us right now, what would you say Both children clearly stated that they did not want to go to Minnesota and see Mark because, quote, he hits them and is mean to them. Voiceover After Holly refused to make the kids.

Get on a plane and go back and see their dad, the court came down hard and ordered them all back to Minnesota for a series of hearings to review the whole issue of custody. Some of it went well for Holly. Voiceover I believe there is a strong likelihood that there was physical abuse in the past from Mark Collins to Holly Collins. She does have medical records showing the kind of unexplained accidents we often see with battered women. Susan DeVries. Voiceover We found that Zachary and Jennifer.

Have an almost exclusive emotional relationship with their mother. They consistently describe her as the parent they prefer to live with. Voiceover But what happened to Holly has happened to many others before her. According to a report on gender bias published in the New England Law Review by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. We found that abuse targeted at the mother is not always seen as relevant to custody and visitation decisions. Our research indicates that witnessing as well as personally experiencing abuse within the family causes serious harm to children..

Voiceover Crossexamination of court counsellor Michelle Millenacker. Question But it doesn’t matter what physical harm he, Holly’s husband, caused to her That wouldn’t make a difference in your decision in relation to the children at this point in time Answer Correct. Voiceover As the hearings wore on, the findings of the pediatricians and psychiatrists and therapists from Children’s Hospital were dismissed. And the very fact that Holly took the children to see highlyqualified experts was used against her. It was suggested by the court evaluator Susan DeVries, that Holly had Munchausen by proxy syndrome,.

Subcategory doctor addicted. Voiceover I had very little background in this area. I had heard about the syndrome, but I asked the medical library to do a search for me. I read those articles, and prepared a memo. In these situations, the symptoms are not induced in the children. The symptoms are exaggerated, fabricated, blown out of proportion by the mother. Susan DeVries. Voiceover The court evaluator held just a master’s degree and had read a few articles on the rare Munchausen’s syndrome. And the court valued her opinion.

But the court dismissed the opinions of the pediatric specialist whose test characterized the kids’ allergies as lifethreatening, an affadavit from widelyrenowed pediatrician Eli Newberger, and a finding by the children’s pediatrician that there was no evidence Holly Collins had Munchausen by proxy. Court evaluators are given power that probably they shouldn’t be given. They are being given the power to, instead of having a judge look at actual evidence, to look at the evidence themselves with whatever biases they have, with whatever standards they think are appropriate, with whatever articles they may have read.

Or may not have read, and then to come up with an opinion that is life and death for the course of a child’s life, and then to give that to a judge who then buys it. And that’s just wrong, because our court systems were set up for people to look at real evidence and sort through real evidence. So it’s a complete bypass of the whole evidentiary system. It’s inappropriate power for anyone to have. Voiceover Despite the ample evidence from highlyqualified experts to the contrary, it was the opinion of a courtappointed evaluator.

That carried the day. This is how the system all too often works, and why the system all too often fails. The standard is supposed to be in all these courts, preponderance of the evidence. Is it more likely than not that this child was abused And that is not the standard that most of the judges apply, in my view. In my view, they almost always require a much higher showing of abuse occurring before they will actually move to protect a child, because in their heads, this parent has rights.

To the child, too. And if I’m going to restrict their access to the child, I wanna make sure I have a really compelling justification. melancholy music Voiceover After five days of family court hearings in December of 1992, Judge Davis ruled that Holly Collins would lose custody of her children. They would go to live full time with the man they so feared. That day at court when I had to take her out, I had to literally hold her up. She was shaking so bad and I said,.

Do you wanna go to the hospital And she said no, he’ll use that against me, he’ll say I’m insane. Voiceover Dateline Minneapolis. Three days before Christmas, Hennepin County District Judge Michael Davis told HollyAnn Collins he was taking away her two children and giving sole custody to her exhusband. An hour later, with the father waiting outside, Collins said goodbye to her nine year old son and seven year old daughter, assuring them that the separation wouldn’t last forever. The children refused to go. Kicking and crying, the girl had to be pried.

From Collins’ arms, and carried from her house by the courtappointed guardian ad litem. The boy trudged sullenly to his father, who was standing by his car. Curt Chandler, staff writer, Minneapolis Star Tribune, February 22nd 1993. For a year I had supervised visitation with the children. First I wasn’t allowed to see them at all. I wasn’t allowed to have phone conversations. We weren’t even allowed to write letters to each other. It was horrible especially ’cause my father used to say things, my father and his wife.

Used to say things like if she loved you she’d make sure she could see you, and stuff like that. Voiceover Knowing this might be the case, Holly had given Jennifer and Zachary journals to write in, to keep track of their feelings. And she make a xerox of her hand, so they could place their hand over hers if they felt lonely. When we were living with our father, and we didn’t have contact with our mother, we’d always get, or our school was great with sending home two letters.

Two copies of everything for children who had divorced parents. And so for school plays, or for my Girl Scouts, I was in the Brownies category and I was gonna do my graduation. And that they give you two invitations, and he promised me that he would send them to my mother, and that when I said for example that I still haven’t heard from my mom, is she coming, is she not coming He said I don’t know. She hasn’t called. I guess you’re not that important to her, and stuff like that, I guess she doesn’t love you.

And I remember for example my Brownies graduation. I was still waiting to see if she’d come, and I was seventh in the row of the girls, we all had one little sentence to read. And I was waiting and. I knew my mom would show up. And I counted, there were seven girls in front of me. She might just be late, and she’d still show up. And each girl went behind and my mom still didn’t show up. It was a stupid Brownies graduation, but by the time it was my turn,.

I was. I don’t know, brokenhearted that she wasn’t there. And he told me that he sent it, and she must not love me. So. I was crying because I was missing you. I hope the day goes by fast. sobs Because I miss you. sobs I miss you, I wanna be with you right now. I love you very much and I hope you love me, too. sobs This is the problem. Because when I got the kids back, they told me that their dad told them that I didn’t want them.

And I didn’t love them anymore. And that he didn’t want them there either, but nobody wanted them. And it was so far from the truth, ’cause I wanted to be with them every second. Voiceover Holly was finally allowed supervised visits at this visitation center. But there was to be no converstion with the kids about their health, or their welfare, no matter what. I was told on several occasions that I wasn’t allowed to talk about what my father was doing to us, talk about the abuse.

And when I did, I showed up for example once with bruises and I showed my mother, and I got in trouble. They said no, no, you know you’re not allowed to talk about those things anymore and if you do, you’re not allowed to see your mom. sorrowful music Eventually I was allowed to have visitation again. In my home, with a different supervising agency. And I think the most frightening decision was after the children had left my house, I went into the bathroom, and I had opened the shower.

I was gonna take a shower, I opened the shower curtain, and written on the wall in big, red crayon, was help me. So that was kind of when it started. And then we started writing notes when we were at our father’s house we’d put them in our pockets, and then when we were at our mother’s house we’d say I wanna go get some root beer. And then we’d go and we’d put them in the refrigerator. And then she started leaving notes for us, and that’s how we could communicate.

Outside of the supervisor. sad music Voiceover Over the next year and a half, while the case was under appeal, Holly was alone, and began a relationship with another man. She became pregnant and Christopher was born and christened. But the biological father did not want to be involved. So Holly’s life just continued to get more complicated. During this time, she worked as a nanny for Mairead Burnham and her husband, and they gave Holly pretty high marks on childcare. We were looking for a nanny for our sixmonthold son,.

And we needed one pretty quickly because our old nanny quit. And we saw her name posted in a local market, called her, met her, and we called her Muffy. In fact, I didn’t know her name was Holly for probably six months after that. She was Muffy to us, and Muffy to our kids. Voiceover How was she, on a scale of one to ten She was an absolute 10. When we’d tell the story to friends, and say yeah, you know our nanny’s children were taken away from her.

But she is still watching our kids, they thought we were a little crazy. And it’s hard to explain, but you have to know Muffy, and you have to see her interact with kids to know how much love there was. She loved our kids as much as she loved her own. Voiceover When Holly’s appeal on the custody hearing is finally decided, she loses once again. Holly now believes that she and her children have no way out, but one. gavel thumps And then I just decided that.

I can’t leave them there anymore. He will kill them. ominous music Actually we were getting kind of nervous, because we had an agreement, my mother had said that she would get us before July. And it was getting kind of close to July and nothing had happened yet. Voiceover Then, Zachary left one more note for his mom. It was time for Holly to keep her promise. So I didn’t know how I was gonna do it, or what I was gonna do, but I just knew that I wanted everyone to.

You know, to please forgive me for breaking the law. I was afraid to break the law, but I just was gonna get them safe. That was it. When she was given limited visitation, supervised visitation with her kids, now and again she’d say to me, what would you think if I took my kids And I’d say, I would not blame you, I think it’s outrageous that your kids have been taken away from you. So the day that she left she came to my work, and she said will you please pay me.

Right now what you owe me for the time that I’ve worked in the last two weeks Because I’m leaving today. And she didn’t have to say any more. There’d just been so much going on, and she was sort of. down, you know, scaling down on all of her things. I said you know, we just need a break. We all need a break. Let’s go, just relax at the lake, and. She didn’t show up. And. More time passed when she was supposed to be there and she didn’t show up and she didn’t show up.

And I remember walking in and just taking hold of my dad, and saying, oh God, I wonder if he killed her That was my first reaction. Did he kill her phone rings And I called the children, Mark had. they were nine and 11, but he left them home alone all day. And I called them and I said I have a surprise for you. Come meet me. People seem to think that this is. something she came up with. But it’s actually, we asked her to save us and come get us, and you know.

We could burn away together, kind of thing. I knew that we had to leave, and on the one hand it was exciting to feel close to safety, and at the same time, I was dreading it. All they said to me is that our father’s gonna beat us for this. Zachary said, we’re not allowed to go with you, we’re not allowed to talk to you. If Mark finds out, he’s gonna beat me. And that’s when I said, no. You’re coming with me. And I actually had told Zachary,.

I won’t make you come with me, but I promise you this time, I’m gonna protect you no matter what, I promise. You have to trust me this time. It was, we had a bit of a hesitation because we always got in trouble if we left any toys out. And I remember Zachary and I having a bit of a discussion whether or not we were gonna clean up before we left, because we didn’t wanna leave the Legos on the living room floor. So eventually we decided to leave them,.

So I thought that was kind of a moment of triumph. We left our father’s house and met up with our mother somewhere else so we ran away. And they met me at a store and we left. We got in the car and we drove away. Voiceover You just drove Just left. Voiceover Felony warrant and complaint, the State of Minnesota vs. HollyAnn Collins. On June 30th 1994 at approximately 3 pm, two known juveniles, a male and a female, left their residence to go to Adventures in Tutorial.

When the children did not return, their father went to look for them. He was informed by two friends of the children, that the known juveniles were approached by an adult female, HollyAnn Collins. The defendant hugged the known juveniles and they got into her car and left. Signed Elizaebth V. Cutter, Assistant County Attorney. I understand a parent’s frustration if they know that their child is being abused and a judge doesn’t provide them any protection and in fact orders tham to turn the child over to an abuser.

And I have to say, the hardest thing that I have to do in my job is to regularly tell parents that I think that we can win in the end, but in the meantime, you need to comply with the court order, turning the child over to the abuser. And what you have to think about is the long run because, and I would never even suggest the possibility of running with the children, but the reality is unless you’re willing to flee the country with the child and try to get asylum in some other country.

Because the FBI is going to come after you and try to find you if you do flee. Unless you’re willing to do that and able to do that, you have to win the battle here. Voiceover FBI interview transcription July 8, 1994. Mark Collins was interviewed at his home. Also present was his wife. When he arrived home on June 30th 1994, the children were not at home. A neighbor told him that the children’s bicyles were at the tutorial store. The children were probably waiting for Holly to pick them up.

Both Mark and his wife feel that the children would prefer to be with Holly. They probably went with her willingly. Never since we left did I ever feel like I was kidnapped. Actually as a kid, I thought it was quite ridiculous when we heard that they were actually charging my mom for kidnapping her own children, taking them away from an abusive father. It seemed completely ludicrous to me, so that’s one thing I’d like to get clear. Voiceover But the FBI didn’t see it that way.

They launched an intensive effort to track down the armed and dangerous Holly Collins. You would think HollyAnn was Osama Bin Laden. It was unbelievable. The amount of pressure and people that they put on this job astonished me. Kidnapping is a serious offence. But this was so out of proportion. The FBI has limited resources and the amount of resources that went to finding HollyAnn, astonishing. Voiceover Before running, Holly had made a list of her friends and supporters which the FBI found in her trash, and tracked them down.

Among them, Nancy Young, here with her daughter. There were wanted signs for abduction at the Dairy Queen in Crystal where the children had lived. So I wasn’t surprised to hear from them, because to me they were reaching out to anybody that had ever been associated with HollyAnn, and to me once they found that list, they were going to go down the list and whoever’s name it was, they were going to try to find out who was associated with those names. Voiceover And where’d they find that list.

It had to come out of a trash bin, was my best guess. Either a dumpster or some of HollyAnn’s trash. I would have no idea. Voiceover Holly’s FBI file contains a summary of their interview with Ronna Grant. This is the first time she’s ever seen it. Well I say here that I wish I could have helped her. If I had known that she was leaving, I would have helped her. And then. I emphatically stated that I supported Collins’ abduction of the children, I feel that the children should never be.

Returned to their father, and I stated that I would assist Collins if given the opportunity, and I said that the justice system is a disgusting profession. suspenseful music Right away, we had met up with some people who were gonna help us. And we cut the children’s hair, and I dyed their hair brown. And I put skin, a colorant on us, to change the color of our skin. And dressed Christopher, I had been growing his hair long, so put him into ponytails and put him in a dress,.

’cause the police would be looking for a woman with two boys and a girl. So I changed him into a girl. And. I traveled around the United States trying to find a way out. And we actually lost contact with the people who were helping us. Because at this time the FBI had closed in on the children’s underground. And they had decided that it was too dangerous to work with me, because our case was a highprofile case. And I was on my own. So I went into Canada.

We snuck across the border to get into Canada. We were also at an Indian reservation. We were hidden at an Indian reservation for quite some time. And then I decided to go down into Guatemala. Maybe I could find a way out that way. So I got on a bus with the children and we went through Mexico down to Guatemala. And all this time I didn’t have a passport. We got caught twice, and once we were even apprehended at the border for not having a passport. And thank God at the same time,.

There was some sort of confrontation with a drug bust. And the police said don’t move, you stay there. And they were all busy with the barking dogs, and arresting someone in a car. And the children and I ran across the border, and we got away. So. Yeah, for a long time we were just trying to find a way out of the United States. Voiceover It would be a long time before the FBI would find out what became of Holly Collins. But she let her friends know that she was OK.

It took her a long time to plan what she did to get out of Dodge. But she also planned to let people know that she was safe. And she said if you’ve got this letter from me and I’m not in jail or something like that, then you know at least for now, we’re safe. Voiceover But safe only meant together and gone. An underground journey, living beneath the radar, always looking over their shoulders, had just begun. Even before the enhanced security measures that came with 911, it is hard to imagine.

How the average person without proper documentation could get through airport security, let alone an entire family of four wanted by the FBI. Jennifer actually wet her pants at the airport so we could sneak through. laughs Yeah. I really felt like a bad mother, but I had planned it as a distraction so I had given her a lot to drink, and we were waiting, and when she started to say she had to go to the bathroom, that’s when I decided that I would try to get through security.

And Zachary had snuck through with another family. We didn’t even know them, but they were also a little bit busy trying to get their children through security, and it was I think cousins and a couple of families together. And so Zachary, I said to Zachary, just walk through there. So Zachary walked through. And then when Jennifer had to go to the bathroom, that’s when I attempted to go through. And she was crying because mommy, I have to go to the bathroom. And it was all distracted and she had wet her pants.

And I started crying, and Christopher was crying, and. that’s how we got through. laughs Voiceover After slipping three wanted kids without passports onto an international flight, Holly’s next goal was to make it to Australia or New Zealand. But when they had to change planes in Amsterdam They asked for our passports. And they said you have to be returned to your country. And I said I. I can’t return, I want asylum, I want refugee, I want to speak to the, the consulate, I didn’t, I was saying all foolish things,.

Everything I could think of that I had seen in movies. And then they said, you wanna be a refugee Now, we’re gonna put you through the procedure, and when you’re done, you’ll go voluntarily back to your country. chuckles Jennifer started crying. Saying no, please, please, don’t make us go back. Please don’t make us go back. And then he said OK, what’s going on here And then I said that I’m trying to get my children safe. And we just can’t go back, they’re not safe there. And they were laughing at me,.

Saying America, everybody here, there was a lot of people in the prison, ’cause it was in the jail, they all wanna go to America, it’s the Promised Land. And laughing, you’re telling me that you want to leave America And I said yes, because they’re not protecting my children. And he said do you have proof And I had one suitcase and it was full of my documents. And I said yes, yes, I can prove it. We had enough evidence to start the procedure, to have an emergency hearing.

They had an emergency hearing because. we weren’t allowed out of the airport. The airport was not considered Holland. It’s not considered Dutch territory. It’s an international airport. So we had to stay in the airport. And I was arrested, and I was put into a jail cell, and my children were put into the cell with me. And Jennifer said to the man, are we also being arrested And the immigration officer said yes. So it was really sad, because Jennifer started crying. I started crying, and Zachary was very still,.

And we were put in jail. We were in jail together. An 11 year old boy, a nine year old girl, and a one year old baby. And we were in jail. But we were safe. Voiceover Miles from Amsterdam, in what feels like the middle of nowhere, this refugee center was to be the next stop for Holly and her children. Even under the best of circumstances, the odds are stacked against success for asylumseekers. It’s so strange being back here. This is where I stayed with the kids.

Voiceover Deep in the countryside of the Netherlands, they lived with other refugees from violencetorn hell holes around the world. Desperate people, hoping for safety from unspeakable terrors. Some who had never used an indoor toilet or a fork. In general I have good thoughts, good memories about the refugee center. It was nice to have children who seemed to be in the same place, or have the same emotions I did. For example we were in the giant mess hall having dinner and someone would get angry or a loud noise would happen.

All of the children would get scared. So it wasn’t an odd, our emotions weren’t odd or strange. Everyone kind of seemed to have the same fear and the same. threat of violence if they were to be deported. And the same gratitude for being able to be in this safe haven. There were a few scary moments. For example there was a giant riot between the Iranians and the Somalians in the center where we had these beds and they had iron bedposts, and they’d took them off the beds.

And went chasing each other with them. So it’s. there were moments which were scary. And our mother managed to kind of protect us from that. And. she was creative with everything. So we had fun. We were safe, and the children were happy. I remember this as a. dangerous, sad place to live, but my children remember it as a sort of amusement park. But I remember the feeling of having hope. Despite all the emotions, I had hope once I was here. traffic sounds Voiceover Holly needed to find a Dutch attorney.

Willing to take on her case. The first two she tried turned her down. But then one remarkable woman said yes. Els Lucas is famous in the Netherlands for taking on the impossible. Well in first instance, I laughed. Because I could not believe my ears. Someone coming from the States and ask asylum for protection in Holland. It was at the same time such a new thing, and I liked to look into it. So I said to the Legal Aid counsel in the center, send me the file.

When I first read the file, my gut told me that over my dead body she will be expelled. sobs It is 16 years ago, eh inaudible question from interviewer plaintive music Voiceover For Holly, as is the case for so many refugees, her life seemed like it was now being held in limbo. The asylum process is grindingly slow and numbingly complex, and there are no guarantees. The fact is that, at least at the time when Holly was here, people had to wait such a long time.

It could. take years before you had your final answer. Voiceover And indeed, they waited years. Holly and the kids made the best of it. Holly made 50 cents an hour scrubbing floors. The kids met people from all corners of the world, including children who had lost their parents to acts of genocide. These kids from the refugee center, they would say to Zachary and Jennifer that oh, you’re so lucky to have a mom like her. And I couldn’t believe they were talking about me, and I said well, you know,.

You can come home with us if you think. And I just took in these kids and I think you look at it a little bit like a fairytale or. this nice noble act that I did, but I didn’t. I was again selfish because I wanted, I didn’t like being alone and I just wanted. I don’t know. I don’t know how to explain it. A card from her to me. Can I look how my family is Yeah. Growing. Man offscreen Who is this Sherif. That’s when they first.

Man Who is it Describe who is in this picture. These are my children, this is the first boy. we took into our family. And that’s when I had my first Dutch baby. Voiceover And while the case for asylum moved slowly forward, Holly took some war orphans under her wing. Her children learned Dutch, and adjusted to their unconventional life. Holly began a relationship with a Dutch man and had the first of her four Dutch children. Meanwhile, the court in the Netherlands began examining medical evidence.

The American courts had basically ignored. I had her going to that doctor to have xray taken of the skull of her son. An xray was made of Zachary’s skull, and it was proven that there was. in his skull there was a fracture at the right side. The judge also was able to communicate with the children, because English, but Dutch was possible as well, and it shows a more complete view on what is at hand. Better than when you only look into the papers. You see the people sitting in front of you.

Wistful music Voiceover And so it was that in a distant land, a panel of three judges from the Netherlands listened to these American children speaking to them in Dutch. Speaking directly to the court in their own words. That is what it took for these children at long, long last, to simply be heard. After the years of struggle, asylum meant Holly and her children finally had a measure of safety and security. chatting and joking in Dutch She made friends, and found at long last a sense of community and stability.

Even though I lived in the projects in the town next door, this is where the children and I have spent our time for the last 10 years. We shop here, we know everybody, these are friends of my son Christopher. This is our town. bells chime Voiceover Holly and her three American children became fullyintegrated into Dutch life. Zachary and Jennifer grew up and attended the University of Leiden. Christopher has just graduated from high school and became a competitive cyclist. Holly expanded her family. She had four beautiful children with a Dutch citizen.

Madeleine, Elizabeth, Alexander, and Nicholas, a champion biker, just like his older brother Christopher. At home, their tiny rooms are proudly crammed with the awards that all the children have won. Holly finally seemed to have that wonderfully ordinary life she had so longed for. For the kids, school is just a short bike ride away. Almost a world away, really. They wear soft slippers to class, study hard. They all thrive. I have these amazing kids. Again I went about it the wrong way, but I always wanted to have a family.

I just wanted to have a loving husband and a house full of kids and. just a nice, quiet life. And I went about it the wrong way. I did get married, I had a husband, but you know, he was very abusive to me and the kids so I decided that I was better off not having a man in my life. Voiceover But then someone dropped a dime. Voiceover Date June 1st 2006. To Criminal Investigative Office, Legat Brussels. From FBI Squad 6, Minnesota Violent CrimeFugitive Task Force.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has received credible information that Collins and her nowgrown children are residing in the Netherlands. The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office has indicated that they will prosecute HollyAnn Collins should she be returned to the United States. Deportation procedures should be reviewed. Voiceover 12 years after their escape, the FBI began closing in on the kidnapper. They alerted authorities back in Minnesota and at Interpol. They reached out to Dutch authorities and finally they contacted the key eye witnesses to just what happened all those years ago.

Holly’s kids, who were now adults. phone rings So anyway, a couple of years ago, we were found, and. I’ve had different FBI agents on the phone. I’ve spoken to a few of them. But my favorite conversation were where one of them wanted to speak to me, and he wanted to make you ask me if I was actually abused. I said yes. He asked me if I had a good life. I said yes. And he said that. we talked in detail about it a bit and when he felt comfortable that.

I was healthy and happy and where I wanted to be, he said that he would take down my picture off of the internet, and he wished me a good life. I thought that was one of the. my favorite conversation I’ve had with an FBI agent. Voiceover Federal Bureau of Investigation June 28th, 2006. DOJ’s office of Internal Affairs informed me that while the Netherlands may arrest Holly pursuant to a legal request from the United States, they will most likely not extradite, unless there are allegations of ongoing physical abuse.

This is further compounded in light of the fact that Zachary Collins and Jennifer Collins are no longer minors. Voiceover This was a big story on both sides of the Atlantic. panel and Holly speak in Dutch But even though it looked like Holly could safely remain in the Netherlands, she decided she wanted to fight the charges against her. With her children grown and beyond the reach of the family courts, what Holly wanted most of all now was justice. But first, they would need a good lawyer. So Jennifer began a writing campaign.

To help her mother. People who knew me kept forwarding the copies to me, I don’t know whether it was 20, 50 or maybe even more times. People sent me have you seen this, have you seen this, can you do something And finally again I don’t know what motivated me. I reached out to Jennifer and just said maybe we should talk. Voiceover Attorney Alan Rosenfeld agreed to take Holly’s case for free. Minnesota attorney Tim Webb also worked on Holly’s behalf. In fact I remember my first call.

To the prosecutor’s office, suggesting trying to resolve it while Holly maintained her status of having asylum in the Netherlands and. that was rejected, which is probably what I would expect. Voiceover For Holly it began to look like the cost of coming home could be pretty steep. This is a case where if convicted, she faced two to four years in prison. A potential of that at least. Voiceover But Alan Rosenfeld persevered. And something quite remarkable happened. After 14 years a bitter custody battle that turned into an international kidnapping case.

Comes to an end. 14 years later, Holly Collins is back in a Hennepin County courtroom this afternoon where the most serious charge against her was promptly dropped. Voiceover All state charges were withdrawn, save one charge of contempt of court. For which Holly would serve 40 hours of community service at a battered women’s shelter. The Federal kidnapping case was closed. Voiceover July 27th 2009. Request to close captioned case. It is recommended that captioned case be closed due to the agreement at the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office.

For her to turn herself in and plead guilty. Voiceover Despite the unique twists and turns in the Holly Collins story, the saddest thing of all is that much of what happened to her in family court happens often, and happens all over the country. It’s one of the problems in my work is that for all of my clients, I understand this is their life and this is their children, this is their life but they’re all the same. I mean it happens over and over. So there was nothing extraordinary to me.

About being in court with an innocent person who had been treated like a criminal. Voiceover According to a study published by the National Institute of Justice Journal, alleging domestic abuse actually reduced the chances of receiving the kinds of protections such allegations should warrant, such as supervised visitations with the alleged battering spouse and protected child exchanges. We’re taking a stand today. How many of you are mothers who have had your kids taken away by the family court system crowd cheers Voiceover For all the impact.

That the problems of the family court system is having on the lives of families all across America, it remains an issue the mainstream media simply does not cover. Not even when there is a protest in front of the White House by women whose children were abused or murdered. When parents turn to the courts for help, they find themselves in a catch22 nightmare of family court where everything they do, even if it’s the right thing, turns out to be the wrong thing, and they cannot protect their children,.

They’re forbidden to protect their children. It is illegal to violate a court order and take your children and run. And I have never advised a client to do that, and I would never advise a client to do that. That said, I think there are laws higher than the laws that get handed down by judges or the rulings that get handed down by judges. And if a judge ordered me to turn my child over to someone who I knew was abusing them, I can’t say that I would do that either.

Voiceover The Battered Mother’s Custody Conference, held each year in Albany New York, is one of many organizations concerned with reforming the laws and improving the family court system. I didn’t run with my children because I thought I’d get away with it. I mean, I actually knew I would fail. But I had to prove to them one last time that I tried absolutely everything to get them safe. Now please, I’m not advising anyone to do this. I have to be very careful about what I say.

This was before 911, and the security now, I think it would be impossible to do. I know it would be impossible to do the way we did it. But I’m not going to apologize for making the wrong decision because this was the right decision for my children. audience applauds haunting music Voiceover In the eyes of the family court system, HollyAnn Collins was found to be a kidnapper. An alienting parent. An unbalanced hysteric, putting her kids at risk. But in the eyes of those who knew her best,.

Holly Collins was and is something else indeed. I think my mother’s a hero. She. didn’t kidnap us, she merely finally did what we had asked her to, which was to help us get away from our father. And. she’s definitely my hero. I wouldn’t even like to begin to imagine what my life would be like if we were still in the States, if I had grown up with my father. I think we were, my sister and I were given a second chance. Because my mom had the guts to do what she did.

Wistful music The fact that she got them out and that they are the strong, just very strong, secure and emotionally sound young adults that they are, that’s a miracle. That’s an absolute miracle. Well, I think you should say she’s a lioness who took care of her children. It was so necessary to go the way that she did. And see her children now. They have grown up to be. very. wellrespected citizens. So did she do the right thing Absolutely, she did the right thing. The court did not support her,.

So they’re wrong. I’m sorry, they’re just wrong. She did what she needed to do, and she saved her children and have you met them They are awesome. Fabulous, wonderful citizens of this earth. hopeful music I was at the beach with the kids and Jennifer was bouncing around that she had found a shell and a starfish and I thought, my God, they’re happy! They’re happy kids! This is the first time I’ve realized that my children are happy. And. Yeah, it’s strange that they just keep blossoming and.

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