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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Two teenage girls found after more than year on the run with their mother will return to their father's care, though they may investigate abuse allegations against him, Utah authorities said Monday.
Police had long suspected 16-year-old Sydney and 15-year-old Danielle Wolferts were in hiding with their mother, but couldn't track her down until someone called 911 early Sunday morning, said Orem police Lt. Craig Martinez.
The three were found in an apartment, and their mother Sonja "Michelle" Wolferts was arrested on suspicion of misdemeanor custodial interference, housing assistance fraud and filing a false report.
Michelle Wolferts tells KUTV news in Salt Lake City that she moved around the area, staying with friends in an effort to protect her daughters from breaking down emotionally or attempting suicide.
She says the girls did run away when she reported them missing during a visit in July 2014, but they returned shortly after and asked to stay with her in secret.
"They needed to have a say because they've never been listened to," said Michelle Wolferts. Her oldest daughter Brittany Wolferts tells KUTV that her teenage sisters have been physically and mentally abused.
A lawyer for their father, Brian Wolferts of Topeka, Kansas, the abuse allegations have been thoroughly investigated by authorities in two states and dismissed.
"These children ought to have the right to love both parents and have healthy interactions with both parents," said attorney Ron D. Wilkinson. Brian Wolferts has legal custody of the teens, and the court found emotional abuse on the mother's part, Wilkinson said.
The girls haven't been in school or gotten therapy they need during the 18 months they've been in hiding with their mother, he said. Brian Wolferts is talking with state child welfare authorities and is proceeding carefully so he can do what's best for his daughters next, he said.
Police are taking the abuse allegations seriously and could open a new investigation, though Sydney and Danielle Wolferts haven't yet communicated with police, Martinez said.
"The courts have said that's who they're going to be with. We can't stop that from happening," said Martinez. The process of returning them to their father's care is expected to begin in about a week, he said.
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