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NEW CASTLE Father keeps looking for girl



Published: Fri, May 4, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



An apartment complex manager believes she saw the 13-year-old girl April 26 in San Antonio, Texas.

By LAURE CIOFFI

VINDICATOR NEW CASTLE BUREAU

NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- It's the waiting and the not knowing that are the worst for Don Sluder.

Sluder, 30, of New Castle, is searching for his 13-year-old daughter, Amanda, who left home April 20. His 10-month-old son, Brandon, had also been missing, but was found unharmed last week in San Antonio, Texas.

Sluder and his fiancee, Cindy Spradlin, drove 1,600 miles to San Antonio last Friday night after getting word that police had found Brandon with his mother, Stephanie Atchley, who does not have custody of the child.

Faces charges: Atchley, 27, was arrested in Texas and faces two charges each here of interference of custody of children and concealment of the whereabouts of a child for Brandon and Amanda.

Lawrence County District Attorney Matthew Mangino said Atchley waived extradition at a hearing this week in Texas and should be escorted back to Lawrence County sometime next week.

Sluder said he believes Atchley has placed Amanda with someone she knows in Texas but refuses to reveal the location.

Sluder said he and Atchley were never married and have had an on-and-off relationship for the past 15 years.

The relationship ended nearly two years ago, just months after Atchley became pregnant with Brandon and moved to New Jersey, he said.

Amanda was sent to live with Sluder in New Castle a few months before Brandon was born and Atchley followed a few days after his July 1 birth, Sluder said.

Atchley and the children moved into Sluder's Neal Street home and Sluder moved to Sharon with his fiancee.

"It seemed like [Stephanie] was going to straighten up and take care of the kids," he said.

He took custody: But police say late last year Atchley asked a neighbor to watch Brandon while she went to a doctor's appointment and she never returned. Sluder was given temporary primary custody of both children.

Atchley returned to New Castle in March, got a job as a receptionist at the Super 8 Motel in Shenango Township and asked to see the children.

Sluder agreed, allowing Brandon to stay overnight at the motel with Atchley. Both turned up missing the next day, police say.

Amanda remained with her father until April 20 when she also turned up missing, they said.

Sluder said he returned home early that morning from working a midnight shift and found pillows stacked under Amanda's covers to make it appear she was in bed. She left a note saying she was running away with her friends, but Sluder believes she left to be with her mother.

Sluder's fiancee, who spent the night at the house with Amanda, said the 13-year-old appeared normal before going to bed that night.

Possible communication: Sluder believes Amanda and Atchley were communicating via the Internet and Atchley was telephoning Amanda's friends to entice her daughter to join her in Texas.

It's not clear if or how Amanda reached Texas.

Police found Atchley and Brandon after Atchley's brother in Arkansas received a call from Atchley and passed on the telephone number from his caller identification to authorities.

Sluder says he's convinced Amanda is in San Antonio because the manager of the apartment complex where Atchley was staying recognized Amanda's photograph.

"She said she saw Amanda [April 26]. Amanda was jumping around on a balcony and they had to tell her to turn her radio down twice," he said.

After collecting Brandon from a child welfare shelter in San Antonio on Saturday, Sluder and Spradlin spent two days unsuccessfully driving the streets and walking through malls in San Antonio looking for Amanda.

"She's 13 years old, 1,600 miles away from home and her mother is in jail. There is nobody out there for her. Nobody is going to care about her," Sluder said.

They returned to New Castle when it became apparent they weren't going to find her.

Sluder has been working with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and her picture is on the center's Web site. The group is also helping him mail out fliers with Amanda's photograph throughout the San Antonio area.

Sluder said he spends every day telephoning police for information on Amanda's whereabouts, while caring for Brandon.

"It's been a total nightmare," he said. "Any man that's fighting for his kids, I really feel for them. It's hard."




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