July 05, 2007
'The kids loved her'
B&B owners defend alleged kidnapper
By Ian Elliot
Whig-Standard Staff Writer
A Kingston couple who own a bed and breakfast found themselves unwitting witnesses to a high-profile international child abduction over the holidays.
Mary Jo and Mark Formosa, who run the Briar Patch B&B on Bath Road, had as their sole guest over Christmas Allison Quets, along with her 17-month-old toddlers, Holly and Tyler Quets .
What they didn't know was that Quets, who lived in Florida, had given the children up for adoption after fearing she could not care for them following a difficult pregnancy.
The 49-year-old had been fighting their adoptive family to regain custody and left with the children while on a two-day Christmas visit that began on Dec. 22.
She was the target of a search by both the FBI and Canadian police after she didn't return the twins home to their adoptive parents in Raleigh, N.C., on Christmas Eve.
Quets, a systems engineer with defence contractor Lockheed Martin in Orlando, gave the children up for adoption a short time after they were born in Florida, but retained visitation rights.
Florida state law does not allow time for a birth mother to reconsider her decision.
"She was so remarkable with those kids and clearly she loved them very much, and they loved her," said Mary Jo, sitting at the same table where the Formosas had long breakfasts with the family each morning that they were there.
"And the kids loved her, you could see it. Every time she would leave the room and the kids couldn't see her, they'd start to cry and ask for her."
"You never would have suspected anything was wrong," said Mark.
"She was so gentle with those kids, she'd take them for long walks in the afternoon in the double stroller that she had, and the kids would chase our two cats around the house in the evening.
"We saw what she was like with them. Someone stays for one day, you might not know, but she was here for five days and we really got to know her well in that time."
The two were so taken with the family - they said the five days that Quets and her children stayed was "a joy" - that they made plans to meet up again in Ottawa, where Quets was travelling to sublet a house.
She cut her scheduled eight-day stay in Kingston short by three days when the house became available early. She was arrested in Ottawa on Friday, a day after leaving the city, after someone apparently recognized her from the media coverage and tipped off police.
The Formosas, who were watching TV at a neighbour's that night, were shocked.
"All the news was about Saddam being hanged, but there was something on the bottom of the screen about a woman with twins being arrested, and I said, 'That's funny, we just had a guest with twins stay with us,' " said Mary Jo. "But then they had a report on it and when we saw her picture, and we said 'Oh my God.' "
The two read through the massive amount of press coverage the case had garnered since the children were reported missing - along with heated debates about her actions on Internet bulletin boards and adoption sites - and said they felt for Quets, who was trying to get her children back.
"This mother wants her children and she spent $400,000 of her own money, her whole life savings trying to get them back," said Mary Jo, noting Quets owned a house in Florida but kept an apartment in Raleigh, N.C.
"I mean, she had visitation rights to the children, she wanted to be in their lives and she wanted them back. What kind of person holds on to children when their birth mother obviously loves them so much and wants them back?"
Quets's Canadian lawyer, Jeff Schroeder, made the same point to reporters when his client, looking tired and dazed, was in an Ottawa courtroom yesterday morning and had her bail hearing put over to tomorrow.
"One thing I do know is that there was never any amber alert issued concerning this case," said Schroeder, referring to the alert authorities issue when they fear abducted children may be harmed by the person they are with.
"There has never been any suggestion that Allison posed any danger to her children."
Quets is being held at the Ottawa Carleton Regional Detention Centre awaiting extradition. She could face a variety of federal and state charges after fleeing with the children, including international parental kidnapping, and could lose her access to them.
The children were taken into custody by the Ottawa Children's Aid Service, and they have since been returned to their adoptive parents in North Carolina.
The Needham family released a statement thanking the police and other Canadian and U.S. authorities for their work.
"We returned home from Canada with Holly and Tyler on Sunday and have been able to celebrate a wonderful Christmas and New Year," read the statement.
The statement asked that the media respect the family's privacy, adding a reminder that adoption cases are sealed to protect the privacy of adopted children.
The Formosas say Quets was open about all aspects of her life and her difficult pregnancy, but never hinted or gave any indication she was on the run.
The couple say Quets came to Kingston so she could show her two North Carolina children what a northern Christmas looks like, and booked the small bed-and-breakfast on Dec. 9 after finding its website.
"I called her about a week before she came to ask her if she had been checking the weather forecast and if she knew it was still 50 degrees here and no snow," said Mary Jo with a laugh.
"She said she understood, and that she was from northern New York and it didn't matter."
"We did get a little dusting of snow while she was here," said Mark.
"The kids got a kick out of that."
Her sister, Gail Quets, who lives in Louisville, said Quets became weak during her pregnancy from hyperemesis, a severe form of nausea, and she had to be fed through a tube.
Fatigued and disoriented and afraid she would not be able to take care of them, Quets gave her children up for adoption just weeks after they were born, a decision she immediately regretted.
"She's not a crazy, unstable person," Gail Quets, who had not spoken with her sister since her arrest, told the Charlotte News- Observer.
"She's a well-meaning, upright citizen who was driven to the brink. I think she must have given up and felt she couldn't get justice in the state of Florida. I think she thought this was a last-ditch effort to save her children."