RENO, Nev. - A Reno man who hasn’t seen or heard from his son in 15 years is fighting to get him back. Tony Wawrzynski has been searching for his son Mitch for a decade and a half.
“Fifteen years ago I was living in Phoenix and I came home from work one day and my girlfriend and 3-year-old son were gone,” Wawrzynski said. “She’d packed everything up and moved out and that’s the last I’ve seen of her or him.”
He did what he could to find them but said his options were limited.
“I tried to go through the courts but I was an unwed father so there wasn’t much the courts could help me with,” Wawrzynski said. “I did searches but what we’ve found is they moved almost three times a year every year for the past 15 years so it’s like they didn’t want to be found.”
Then a few weeks ago Mitch turned up at an LA bus station. He told police his stepfather had driven him from Georgia to Mississippi and put him on a bus to California with $200 and a list of homeless shelters. It was his 18th birthday.
“There was a retired police officer working as a security guard at the bus station in LA,” Wawrzynski said. “He found him and said Mitch told him he was 18 but he looked 12 years old, he was that malnourished.”
Mitch told police about years of abuse in the home of his mother and stepfather, Sheila and Paul Comer. The two are facing kidnapping and cruelty charges.
“He was pretty much locked in a room for years; he was so malnourished he still had his baby teeth at the age of 18,” Wawrzynski said. “They say his skin was translucent from not being in the sun for so many years, you could literally see right through his skin.”
Mitch was escorted back to Georgia and is currently living with a foster family. Wawrzynski says he’s already showing signs of improvement but there’s a long road ahead.
“I’m working with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and in every abduction situation like this they told me there’s an abduction story,” Wawrzynski said. “That’s where the abductors try to explain to the child why his father isn’t there, because he’s some kind of monster and that’s something else we have to deal with right now; he’s got 15 years of poisoning in his head from his mother and stepfather.”
He’s filed paperwork but hasn’t yet been able to see or talk to Mitch. All he’s been able to do is send a letter and wait for a response.
“From what I’m told, he doesn’t know they found me,” Wawrzynski said. “Right now I’ve got a lot of the best people in the business working on this, helping me with this and we’re having trouble just getting our hands on a birth certificate let alone anything else. It’s a little reassuring to me because I was trying to do this all on my own and wasn’t getting anywhere; now I’ve got all these professionals helping and they’re not getting any further than I was.”
Still, he’s not giving up hope.
“I just want my son back,” Wawrzynski said. “The anger hasn’t really hit me yet; I’m just so concerned about his mental and physical health right now.”
Paperwork has been filed and Wawrzynski says in the meantime he’s taking things one day at a time. He says he’s committed to helping Mitch move on with his life no matter how severe the damage.
“I’m his Dad, who else is going to do it?” Wawrzynski said.