Luba Shipman had reservations about sending her 3-year-old daughter Deonna with her father for a visit last Wednesday, but she always expected the child to come home.
Now, Luba is facing every parent’s worst nightmare: her daughter is missing.
Luba and her ex-husband, Jeffrey, shared joint custody of the little girl since their divorce three years ago. While Luba had physical custody, Jeffrey was allowed visitation. Both parents filed petitions seeking to modify the order earlier this month in Onondaga County Family Court. Deonna went to her father’s for her scheduled court-ordered visitation on Wednesday July 11. She was supposed to return by 5 p.m. Thursday July 12.
She never came home.
“He has her passport,” Luba said. “He could have left the country. I have no idea of where they could be.”
Luba said that her ex-husband is unstable and possibly suicidal. “He has a long history of chronic advanced depression and bipolar disorder,” she said. “If he doesn’t take his medications for a long time, he makes irrational decisions.”
Luba said that Jeffrey told her after their last court appearance that if he couldn’t have Deonna, no one could. Understandably, Luba is terrified for her daughter’s safety.
“He does possess two guns,” Luba said. “I know he’s desperate I’m afraid he might take both their lives. His mind just isn’t working right.”
NYS Missing Child Alert issued
On Monday July 16, four days after Luba was supposed to see her daughter again, the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Department issued a New York State Missing Child Alert. According to Deputy Herb Wiggins, public information officer for the sheriff’s department, Luba called them around 5:30 Thursday night to report her daughter missing. Since that time, Wiggins said, the department has done everything in its power to find her.
“We are taking all steps possible to locate the missing child,” he said. “We’re really pulling out all the stops. All of the detectives are really busy trying to find her.”
Wiggins confirmed that Jeffrey Shipman might be suicidal. He said the department had no indication either way as to whether he might hurt Deonna.
A bitter battle for a sweet child
Luba said Deonna is a typical 3-year-old.
“She’s a really very happy kid,” she said. “She’s outgoing and friendly, not shy at all. She is bilingual — she speaks English and Ukrainian. She likes to dance and go to the playground and play with other kids. She likes her ‘Barney’ tapes. She’s just a very normal, happy kid.”
Since the Shipmans divorced, Deonna has had regular visitation with her father. The visitation was uneventful, Luba said, until June 3.
“She revealed some things about what was going on at her father’s,” she said. “I called Child Protective Services and they started an investigation.”
CPS investigated the matter and decided the accusation was unfounded; by law, the agency does not discuss unfounded accusations. But Luba thinks the reason it was unfounded was because her daughter would not repeat the allegations to the CPS worker.
“The system is overworked,” she said. “They don’t know how to really get through and make it clear to a 4-year-old. There are so many holes.”
The next step, Luba said, was to have Deonna evaluated by a psychiatric professional.
First, however, Luba filed a petition with Onondaga County Family Court to modify the existing custody order and provide for supervised visits between Deonna and her father. Jeffrey Shipman filed a counter-petition asking for sole custody of the girl. At the family’s last court appearance, Jeffrey told Luba, “If I can’t have her, no one will.”
“I took it lightly,” she said. “I thought he was just angry.”
At that appearance, the judge refused to grant either request. Visitation was to go on as scheduled. Luba said she risked losing custody of her daughter if she failed to comply with the existing order, so she sent her daughter off on July 11.
“I never thought he would do something like this,” Luba said. “He’s never crossed the law line. He had to be really desperate.”
Luba said she had made an appointment with a child psychiatrist for Deonna. She said she thought the prospect of the truth coming out drove her ex-husband to take the child and run. He has not been in touch with his attorney, his family or his friends. Most upsetting to Luba, however, is that he hasn’t been at work since last Tuesday.
“I’m really concerned that he didn’t show up at work,” she said. “His job is very important to him. He’s spent 15 years at that job. To walk away from his job I knew that he wasn’t coming back.”
While she has no inkling as to where he might have gone with their daughter, Luba has theories about who might be helping him.
“Deonna revealed very recently that her father was taking her to a place where there were just men like him and little kids like her, but no mommies,” Luba said. “He’s been involved in a men’s rights organization. I’m afraid they’re hiding him. I just want to say to them, if you know where he is, if he’s underground, please let us know.”
She also suggested that Jeffrey might try to change Deonna’s appearance, cutting or dyeing her long blonde hair or disguising her as a boy.
“Please, if you see anything or anyone that looks anything like her, just call the number,” she said.
Luba also had a message for her ex-husband: just bring her back.
“If he reads this, I just hope he’ll think about what he’s doing,” she said. “I just hope he returns her as soon as possible. Think about her safety. Just bring her back and we can raise her together.”
Missing: Deonna Shipman
Deonna Shipman is blonde with blue eyes. She weighs 35 pounds and is 3’3″ tall. She was last seen wearing white light-up sandals, purple pants with multicolored flowers, a purple shirt with a strawberry on the front and stripes on the sides and blue stone earrings. She has a red birthmark at her hairline on the back of her neck. Deonna is fluent in both English and Ukrainian.
Jeffrey Shipman, 46, is 5’11” tall and 220 pounds. He has brown eyes and brown hair. Shipman is wanted for custodial interference. He may be driving a green 2000 Dodge Caravan with New York plates, license plate number BHG 4492. The sheriff’s department warns that he may be armed and has suicidal tendencies.
If you think you may have information, call 911 or 1-800-FIND-KID (1-800-3463-543).
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.