From the Editor | No more Duncans and Jacks
Monday, September 21, 2009
No one knows for sure if two little boys with big eyes would be alive today if an Amber Alert went out nationwide as soon as their mom reported their dad not returning them home on time.
Instead, 26 long hours ticked by. A lifetime, I'm sure, for Jack and Duncan's mom, Amy Leichtenberg, who had been forced to seek orders of protection against her former husband in their contentious relationship and who knew intimately what demons hid behind a public facade.
I have to wonder what would have been the harm if the Amber Alert was issued even if Michael Connolly were simply running late because of daylight savings time, as the local police first suggested.
It's a question that fills the days and nights for Leichtenberg, an unassuming mom who lived in Algonquin before moving to downstate LeRoy.
Now Leichtenberg is living every parent's nightmare, the death of a child. The death of her boys was no accident. A legal system that places parental rights of potentially violent noncustodial parents over the safety of children is to blame.
From more than 20 years working at a daily newspaper before joining Chicago Parent, I knew Leichtenberg's dilemma too well. Distressed parents-both moms and dads-frequently called the newspaper requesting a story about judges placing their kids at risk, at least from their perspective. Some had documents showing physical and verbal threats they alleged occurred, yet they couldn't convince a judge to cancel unsupervised visitation with their kids. Others didn't have a case at all, just warring parents misusing the system to try to hurt each other.
As I listened, I always found myself wondering about the kids caught in the middle with very little, if any, say at all. They become pawns in the hands of someone who is supposed to love and protect them.
Leichtenberg tried to protect her boys. She had proof that their dad had problems. The court even documented his bizarre behavior yet forced Leichtenberg to send the children off alone with him to their death.
Destroyed by her grief but determined to make Illinois a place that better protects children from a similar fate, Leichtenberg has stepped reluctantly into the public eye.
"They will not die in vain as long as I have a breath," Leichtenberg told me recently.
As a mom-turned-advocate, she is working to pass a new law-the Duncan and Jack Law-that requires an Amber Alert to be issued immediately in situations where there is an order of protection and the children are not returned on time. Currently, an order of protection is not enough to enact an Amber Alert.
It's a proposal that lawmakers must approve without hesitation so, as Leichtenberg says, "there are no more Duncans and Jacks."