Alert is called for missing disabled boy
By Bill Bryan Post-Dispatch
updated: 06/11/2003 11:27 PM
Police are searching for Christian Ferguson, 9.
Police raced against time Wednesday night to find a profoundly disabled 9-year-old boy whose father reported him kidnapped and whose chance of survival more than a day without medication is considered slim.
Publicly, officers called a St. Louis Area Regional Abduction Alert, the St. Louis region's equivalent of an Amber Alert. And they repeated the details they were told about a carjacker who drove away with Christian Ferguson in his father's SUV.
Privately, detectives questioned family members, too, and said they were considering all possibilities.
The father, Dawan Ferguson, 30, of Pine Lawn, called police about 6 a.m. Wednesday to say someone had driven off in his maroon 1999 Ford Expedition after he got out to place a call at a pay phone at Skinker and Page boulevards in St. Louis.
He said Christian, wearing a diaper and wrapped in a red and blue blanket, was still inside.
There was no sign of the child when police recovered the SUV about two hours later where Ronbar Lane dead-ends at railroad tracks in the city of Ferguson, about 5 miles away. Officers searched with dogs but found no sign of the boy.
Christian is described as a light-complexioned African-American with a short Afro haircut. He is about 4 feet tall and weighs about 75 pounds.
A nurse who had managed Christian's needs for about two years told a reporter that he would have been unable to let himself out of the vehicle or to communicate. She said he can walk, but very unsteadily.
The child suffers from a rare disorder that prevents him from digesting protein, and requires continuing medication and feeding through a tube in his abdomen. His former nurse said he was deeply impaired physically and mentally, and she warned that feeding him meat could put him into a fatal coma.
A source close to the case described the condition as argininosuccinate synthetase deficiency. He said the boy was in a "very brittle medical condition" and added, "If they don't find him within 24 to 26 hours, he won't be alive."
Experts say most children who develop the condition as newborns die quickly, although those who survive can be sustained for some time.
Ferguson told officers he was driving Christian to a hospital for treatment when he stopped at a pay phone to call a doctor. Investigators said they did not understand why he would do that when he had a cell phone with him.
He left police headquarters about noon, after asking for a lawyer. Police sources said he had refused to take a polygraph test.
Police said they have no suspect and did not describe Ferguson as a suspect. Officers said he works as a bounty hunter, tracking fugitives for bail bondsmen. He has legal custody of Christian and a second son, Connor, 8.
Ferguson could not be reached for comment.
Police said a woman who lives with Ferguson told them he had left the house with the boy about 4 a.m. Detectives said Ferguson did not account for the period from then until 6 a.m.
Theda Thomas, the boy's mother, said she was frantic to find her son: "He needs his medication, and he needs his food - if he doesn't get it, he's going to die." She called him "a loving and great child."
Thomas, who lives in St. John with her mother, works at Midwest Library Service and is studying elementary education.
She said Christian suffered a seizure the day after he was born and went into a coma. Doctors diagnosed his condition and were able to give him a relatively normal first few years. With successive seizures, his condition worsened.
In 2001, he was in a coma for several weeks and suffered serious brain trauma, losing his ability to speak, she said.
When the parents separated in 1994, Ferguson got custody of Christian and Conner.
Ever since, Thomas said, she has fought to get the boys back. She said she and Ferguson were in court as recently as Monday.
Margie Binion, a licensed practical nurse with Maxim Health Care, said she had tended to Christian for about two years until January, when his government subsidy for home care was cut.
Ferguson and his children live in a one-story brick bungalow with white awnings along a street in Pine Lawn where children ride bicycles and play on the sidewalks. Nobody was home Wednesday afternoon and evening.
Details of the troubles between Ferguson and Thomas are sealed in juvenile records of the St. Louis Circuit Court. But their allegations of abusive conduct against each other have spilled into suits that Ferguson filed.
In January 2001, Ferguson claimed in a suit that Thomas had been "verbally abusive" with staff and threatened a doctor while Christian was being treated at Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital.
Judge Thomas Frawley then ordered Thomas to keep away from the children except for specific visiting times.
Thomas later wrote to the hospital, court records show, saying Ferguson had "lied" that she was out of control and claiming he was unfit because he failed to respond properly after once discovering Christian unconscious.
Stephen Pollihan, the acting St. Louis police chief while Joe Mokwa is out of town, said police were moving as swiftly as possible since "time is of the essence." Pollihan acknowledged a delay in issuing a public appeal for help, at 10:30 a.m.
Heather Ratcliffe, Jeremy Kohler and Peter Shinkle of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.
Reporter Bill Bryan:
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