Memories live on a decade after a Pepin boy returned home after being held captive by his father for 15 months.
PEPIN, WIS. – Christopher Samples doesn’t talk much about the national attention he received a decade ago as a victim of parental abduction.
He prefers instead to be known as Christopher Bocksell, a regular 14-year-old high school freshman interested in karate, track, band, friends, family and achieving a high grade-point average.
Just being a typical teenager is difficult for Christopher in this Pepin County village of about 850, where the mere mention of his name triggers discussion of a real-life drama.
The story hasn’t ended. Christopher recently was forced to testify in a public family court proceeding that he did not want any contact with his biological father, Mark Samples.
Christopher, who prefers to use his mother’s remarried last name, recalls little of his experience with Samples, who secretly kept the young boy for about 15 months in a rented residence near East Rochester, Ohio.
On the afternoon of Sept. 12, 2003, law enforcement agents, who had been surveilling Samples’ hideout after receiving an informant’s tip, took Samples into custody and found the boy inside.
Christopher’s mother, Jennifer Bocksell, a teacher in the Pepin school district, clearly remembers the call from the FBI.
“It’s still pretty fresh; everybody was just wild at school,” she said with a smile. “At first, I didn’t believe it; it had been a year and a half. There really aren’t words to describe that feeling.”
Christopher, who was 4 years old when he was rescued, remembers bits of his stay in Ohio — a few neighbor kids he played with — and his first airplane ride, the one that reunited him with his mother.
A visit, then abduction
In 2002, while Samples was separated from Jennifer, he was allowed a Memorial Day weekend visitation with Christopher.
He failed to return the boy to her in early June.
Jennifer didn’t see Christopher for 15 months. Samples dyed his hair and went under an assumed name. He likely lived on money he received via bogus credit cards.
‘Going to keep pushing’
Jennifer appeared on national television shows, went on a bus trip to St. Albans and was involved with missing children’s groups in search of her son. She started with the support of family, and it grew to countless others in the Pepin area and across the country.
“We were never going to wait or take chances that someone else would find him,” Jennifer said. “We were going to keep pushing to find him. After all, who can sleep when you don’t know where your child is? What else are you going to do?
“Knowing that so many were there to help us made the journey so much more valuable,” she said. “For me, after a while, it allowed me to sleep because I knew that even when I was sleeping, someone was praying, sending out a poster or making a ribbon.”
Karna Marks, pastor at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Pepin, recalls the massive effort to locate Christopher.
“We live in a broken world, and community is the way that God is knitting a broken world back together,” Marks said when asked to reflect on the 10th anniversary of Christopher’s return and the community’s involvement. “That’s what happened.”
Jennifer and Christopher, along with their strong support system, take glimpses into the past but focus on the future.
“We’re hoping his story provides hope for other people, and maybe, you never know, but maybe somebody will be found by this story,” Jennifer said. “That would be kind of cool, wouldn’t it?”