Johnson: Sibling of infant abducted 23 years ago holds fast to hope

By Bill Johnson
Denver Post Columnist
Posted: 11/20/2009 01:00:00 AM MST

If you have kids, the story just draws you in. Of course, it happened so long ago. Still, I can't imagine losing a child that way, and for these many years being suspected of killing him.
The story is the disappearance of 7-month-old Christopher Enoch Abeyta from his crib in his parents' Colorado Springs home 23 years ago, among the most sensational, still-unsolved crimes in city history.
Police fixated on Bernice and Gil Abeyta, who at the time had briefly separated. She had failed a pair of polygraph examinations, which she and the family attributed to stress and her withdrawal from medication.
Police soon persuaded the city to drain Quail Lake in the Cheyenne Hills neighborhood where the family lived, in search of a body they never found.
Through it all, the Abeytas reconciled, never left Colorado Springs or, certainly, ever stopped trying to find out who kidnapped Christopher.
Come Nov. 28, the infant boy if he is alive will turn 24 years old.
The family will celebrate his birthday with a "Hope Floats" balloon release at Quail Lake Park, the same lake authorities drained in search of the baby.
The event is the brainchild of Denise Alves, who in 1986 was the 15-year-old sister of Christopher "He was a surprise baby," she says and is the family's lead mover in the search for her brother.
"Dad is 67 now, and Mom is 66. They have devoted the last 23 years to this. They are tired," she said.
The wife of an Air Force fighter pilot, she moved back to Manitou Springs from South Carolina about four months ago with her four children after her husband was deployed overseas for a year.
She has cataloged and scanned the stacks of boxes containing every lead and tip her parents collected over the years, and is appealing to Colorado Springs police to reopen the case.
Denise is convinced her brother is alive. She was asleep one bedroom over from her brother the night he went missing. She remembers clearly, she says, the "pure, 100-percent panic and fear" in her parents' eyes that morning. She never once suspected them.
She now runs the website her parents established years ago. She works with the retired detective they hired shortly after Christopher's disappearance.
We talk about the case for a long time. I finally ask her if she has suspicions of what might have happened.
"I have a suspect, is all I can tell you. My belief is the kidnapper was an acquaintance of the family," she says firmly. "We have investigated this."
Police remain noncommittal. Denise Alves says she understands this.
"I don't want to lose focus, either, on who might have done this in the way detectives back then focused solely on my parents. But I am determined 100 percent to figure it out."
She gets the irony of selecting Quail Lake for the event. But she picked it solely because she remembers walking him there, putting him on the park swings.
Her parents and five older siblings will attend and speak briefly about Christopher and the case, what she calls the family's "23 years of misery."
"I dream of the day I'll meet him," she says. "I want him to know he comes from a loving family, of all the work we put into finding him.
"I just know he's out there."