News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

November 11, 2011

VIDEO: Grand jury indicts couple in kidnapping

April Bell, Nicholas Runyan accused in summer cross-county flight with 4-year-old

TERRE HAUTE — A Terre Haute man and a Prairie Creek woman have been indicted by a federal grand jury in connection with a July kidnapping in which they allegedly took a 4-year-old boy from his mother and crossed multiple state lines.

April Dianna Bell, 28, and Nicholas Lee Runyon, 24, are scheduled to stand trial on Jan. 9 at the federal courthouse in Terre Haute for their alleged actions that led to the cross-country search for the child, involving numerous local, state and federal police agencies.

U.S. Attorney Joseph Hogsett announced the indictments of Bell and Runyon on Thursday during a news conference in Terre Haute.

It has been more than three months since the incident that Hogsett called “not something we see every day.” The child was taken by two people who later told investigators that they planned to raise the boy as their own child, he said.

Neither adult seems to be related to the child, investigators have stated, but Runyon had been in a relationship with the child’s mother, entering the child’s life when the child was about 6 months old.

“As unique or as strange or bizarre as the facts of the case are,” Hogsett said, “the law is not as clear perhaps as we’d like it to be. It took a while to fully appreciate the investigation that went into this.”

Bell and Runyon also face Vigo County charges of criminal confinement. Prosecutor Terry Modesitt explained that state law does not consider the taking of the child as kidnapping, because no ransom was asked for the child’s safe return. That led to the class-B felony criminal confinement charge, which has a potential penalty of 6 to 20 years in prison for each defendant, if convicted.

Modesitt said he has approached the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council about requesting a change in state law to make criminal confinement in such child abduction cases a class-A felony. But for now, the federal charges will carry a harsher penalty, up to life in prison, if Bell and Runyon are convicted.

 The alleged kidnapping had a happy ending with the child being found unharmed, Hogsett said. The boy was returned to his mother’s custody following the ordeal that had city, federal and state police agencies in multiple regions trying to track down the couple and the boy.

The incident began July 26 after, police sid, the couple took the child under the false pretense of taking him to a birthday party for another child. Investigators allege that Bell and Runyon planned to abduct the child, according to letters that the couple left behind for family members.

Police picked up the couple’s trail after a family member reported that a credit card and debit card had been taken by one of the suspects and was being used for unauthorized tranactions in other states. Tracking those transactions led police across Indiana into Pennsylvania, West Virginia and eventually to Kentucky., where police said they found Bell and Runyon with the child at a motel.

Runyon and Bell were taken into custody July 28 after police located a white minivan matching the description of their vehicle in the parking lot of the Brookshire Inn in Pikeville, Ky. Police found that Runyon had dyed his hair red, Bell had dyed hers black and they had shaved the child’s hair, in an apparent attempt to alter their appearances.

The couple has been held in federal custody in Henderson, Ky., since the arrests.

Hogsett said an initial detention hearing for each defendant will be conducted at a future date.

Lisa Trigg can be reached at (812) 231-4254 or lisa.trigg@tribstar.com.

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