Local News

Volunteer Group Tracks Down Missing Children

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DURHAM — They travel all over the country with one mission, to find missing children. They are not police officers or sheriff's deputies. The people tracking down tips are volunteers working for free to find missing children.

Homefires is a group trying to track down two little boys who disappeared from Virginia.

More than a dozen members of Homefires fanned across the area Thursday looking for the relatives of a local painter and checking out some areas that the painter frequents.

The courts say his children belong with their mother who lives in Virginia.

Lenora Topp and Jeffrey Black are not police detectives pounding the pavement. They are volunteer private investigators and legal professionals working with Homefires, a new organization that helps find children across the country free of charge.

They chase the cases that law enforcement officials have trouble tracking.

"We are the missing link between law enforcement and the parents and the children to get them back home again," explained Black.

In this case, Homefires is looking for 5-year-old David Riddle and 9-year-old Matthew Riddle. They are believed to be with their father, Paul Ellis Riddle formerly of Fredericksburg, Va.

"The father is the one who is the non-custodial parent, and the mother wants her children back," said Topp.

Homefires says that with some advanced preparation, local law enforcement is getting comfortable when they swoop into town.

"When we first approach the law enforcement community, they're very hesitant with us until we sit down with them and describe what we're about and what we're doing," says Black. "Then they sit back and say, 'Well, you know, this is really a good thing.'"

"Certainly we've had reports of missing children. But we have never worked alongside a private investigating team such as this," said Lt. Charles Blackwood of the Orange County Sheriff's Department.

Since forming last November, Homefires has reunited two children with their families, and they think they are close to succeeding again.

Homefires emphasizes that it only finds the children and the abducting parent. After that, local law enforcement officials take over.

If you have any information about the Riddle children or their father, call(919) 683-1200.


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