Police Will Not Comment On Runaway Children Case

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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW)-- Topeka Police confirm three children missing since Wednesday night have been found safe.

However, police could not give any updates Friday on the location of the three children or the investigation.

13 News was able to talk to the school resource officer at Landon Middle School, where the two eldest, Stephanie and Seth, went to school.

Officer Gene Dixon said he did not know Stephanie very well, but had met her. She was pulled out of school at the end of the first semester of the 2012 school year. Dixon describes Stephanie as quiet and that she wasn't able to get along with the other children as well as her brother, Seth.

Seth, Dixon said, is an "outgoing, polite, well-behaved" kid and has friends at school. Running away seems out of character.

"School behaviors and home behaviors are two different things," Dixon said. "They seemed fine at school, but what's going on inside the house, I have no idea."

No information has been given as to why the kids ran away.

"Sometimes these teens don't know how to verbally articulate what's going on at home, so doing something big like this definitely gets the attention of us, parents and the community. So i could see how this could've been a cry for help if something was going on that we didn't know about."

If there were problems in the Witten house, Dixon said, Stephanie might have felt compelled to take action.

"She could've gotten the younger kids, being the protective sibling, and took off."

When Seth returns to Landon in the fall, Dixon plans to reach out to him.

"I will follow-up and make that relationship closer so he feels more comfortable. If there is something going on, he can pull me aside and talk to me."

More than six police agencies, including a helicopter, were involved in searching the city for the kids.

Dixon said the fact that they were right in the area police were searching and did not get discovered is attributed to bad timing.

"How they were there when we were looking - I have no idea. They had to have gone somewhere at about the same time we were looking in the same area. We had multiple officers and a helicopter in the area following up on leads.


Lt. Chuck Haggard said the trio was located around 7:15 p.m. Thursday along the Shunga Trail at Gage Blvd. People riding along the trail noticed the children playing in the creek and contacted police.

Haggard said AMR personnel were examining the children to ensure they were all okay, then they would be taken to the Law Enforcement Center to be reunited with family.

"That they're alive and well and all in one piece, very happy," Haggard said. "That is the best possible ending."

In a news release, Capt. Jerry Stanley described the children's condition as "safe but hungry."

Stanley said the three had sleeping gear and little food with them, and that they were prepared.

Why the kids wanted to leave home is still under investigation, as police were interviewing the children around 8 p.m. Thursday.

"One kid running away, that's the norm," Stanley said, "we do have several of those unfortunately, but three from the same household, that is abnormal."

The mother, Kathrynn Witten, was seen leaving the Law Enforcement Center without her children.

Stephanie, 13, Seth,12, and Michelle Witten, 10, hadn't been seen since 9 p.m. Wednesday at their family's home in the 1100 block of SW Orleans. The children's parents called police just before 11 p.m. when they could not locate the kids.

Authorities spent Wednesday night and Thursday combing the neighborhood where the kids went missing in search of clues. Detectives watched surveillance video from nearby businesses, but didn't spot the missing children.

Police said a truck driver spotted three children matching the descriptions of the missing individuals Thursday afternoon around 1:30 p.m. The driver said they were near Burlingame and the Kansas Turnpike in South Topeka.

Officials do not suspect foul play, and believe the kids ran away on their own. Police said Thursday that the parents of the children had been cooperative, and that they were not suspects in the case.

The mother of the three missing children, Kathrynn Witten, told 13 News the youngest child, Michelle, was recently diagnosed with a form of autism.

Witten said Thursday morning she didn't know why the kids would leave now, because it is Michelle's eleventh birthday next week. She said they hadn't been fighting and she hadn't noticed anything unusual.

The three children were adopted by the Wittens about six years ago, and had been with the family for eight years total.

Kathrynn told 13 News that this sort of thing has happened before. Last year the oldest, Stephanie, staged her own kidnapping. She came home soon after and Kathrynn said she admitted what she did and said she was sorry. Kathrynn and police believe the three kids' disappearance is the same sort of incident as last year.

Kathrynn Witten spoke with 13 News before noon Thursday. Watch her interview, above.

Anyone with information about the incident is asked to call police dispatch at 368-9200, detectives at 368-9400 or Crime Stoppers at 234-0007.

Michelle Witten
Seth Witten