Into the Jungle

 

Michelle was on the show recently, desperate for Dr. Phil's help to find her two daughters, Allene, 13, and Mollie, 15, who were abducted by their father a year ago.

After two weeks of e-mails between Harold and religious leader Peter Hoover, the trail leads to the country of Belize. Peter has relayed the possibility that Mike Hari and the girls could be in one of several Mennonite communities there. On day one, Harold meets up with Peter in Belize City.


"We still don't have any real assurances that Mike's here. We think so. But we know they could be in one of three communities," Harold says.

By day two, arrangements have been made to meet with some Mennonites who could have information about whether Mike has been in the area.

"Maybe we'll get some good news," says Harold from his car.

Peter introduces Harold to Ben Stoltsis, a Mennonite missionary who has been instrumental in getting their initial communication to Mike. Harold and Ben exchange warm greetings.

"He is the guy who has been passing on the messages down to Barton creek," Peter explains. "He, of course has a telephone, and so I talked with him, and the next morning I guess he went out and stopped somebody on the route, on the wagon."

"Yeah, there was one coming down," says Ben. "I just stopped him and I told him I had a letter for Mike Hari."

The searchers prepare to continue their journey. Before they depart, Peter lays out their itinerary. "We'll stop at the Hummingbird Mission on the way down," he says. "I'd like to get there before the sun goes down."


Eventually they arrive at Barton Creek, where Mike and the girls may have stayed when they first came to the area. While Harold waits in the car, Peter converses with some locals in a language only the Mennonites speak.

"They're very suspicious of anyone who speaks English," Harold explains. "So Peter is aiming to pave the way for us to have our next meeting, and we're just patiently waiting for Peter to do his work so that we can go in and meet the right people."


Eventually Harold approaches Peter and his new acquaintances. "When was Mike here?" he asks.

One of the locals says, "He didn't stay long here, just a night or two."

Later, Harold notes, "It was productive meeting these guys. Mike apparently was here six or seven months or so ago." Harold continues to drive as he explains, "We have good reason to believe, now, that Mike and the girls are in this very remote community in Southern Belize. We're heading south on a highway. It's going to take us to Punta Gorda, about three or four hours in the jungle. So we're getting deeper into the interior of this country each day."

Harold arrives at a colony called Pine Hill outside the village of Punta Gorda in the Belizian jungle where he finds Mike and the girls. He prepares to meet with Michael and the Mennonite elders to begin to negotiate Michael and the girls' return.

Harold, says, "We're not going to be able to bring cameras in because it's against their religious beliefs."


In a tape recorded conversation, Harold asks Mike, "Where are the girls?"

"They're around," says Michael, "but I'm not going to return them to their mother. What's going to happen if Michelle calls the police?"

"Trust me, Mike. That isn't going to happen," Harold says. "We could get the girls to Elmendorf if we have to. We've got options."

 

Mike wonders aloud what will happen when he gets to the border if there's a warrant out for him.

"I'll solve any problems," Harold assures him. "I guess what I'm saying to you is, Mike, you're in the driver's seat."

"But we need something in writing from her that it's all right for the girls to stay somewhere, not with either one of us, until the legal situation is worked out," says Mike.

 

"I don't know that I can get that paper today," Harold hedges, "but I do have this letter from Michelle, and it says: 'I will not interfere in Mollie and Allene's choice of religion, choice of dress ... their use of makeup, jewelry or hairstyle.'"

A Dr. Phil producer tells Mike, "We can all meet with Dr. McGraw. He's not on your side, and he's not on Michelle's side. He's on your daughters' side. And he sent us here to help them."

After tracking down the fugitive father, Harold describes his impressions. "When Mike first walked in, candidly, I felt relieved because I realized I had crossed the first hurdle, meeting him. And this journey has taken us through four or five states, three countries, and now I'm in the jungle. So, one's relief. Second is having him tell me that he's willing to go back with the girls this evening to the United States. I feel elated that we've been able to pull something off for Dr. Phil."

 

Back in his studio, Dr. Phil explains that Michael, Allene and Mollie have been living in a very conservative sect of the Mennonites. They have lived without running water or electricity, and the mode of transportation is horse and buggy. Video footage of their lifestyle is rare, since they shun all modern conveniences, especially television, radio and certainly cameras. In this colony, schooling stops at the 8th grade.

 

With the negotiations behind them, some Mennonites invite Harold and the search crew inside their house for a meal, and to show them their way of life.


Next, Mike gives a tour of his and the girls' recent accomodations. He begins by crossing the front threshold of a wooden shack. "The Belizian houses don't have double-thick walls," he explains. "They've just got single thickness of boards, and there are two reasons for that. One is that you want as much breeze to come through when it's hot, and the other one is that the place is just packed with termites." He explains how the girls have been adjusting to rural life. "They can, and they know how to make sauerkraut and cheese and all kinds of things."

A Dr. Phil producer asks, "Your girls, are they learning German right now?"

"Yeah," says Mike. "And that's our sheep, there, and our lamb. We just had a lamb born yesterday," he says, pointing across the property.

Early in the evening, Harold says, "The entire community is meeting Mike and the girls to tell them goodbye. We've not yet met the girls, but we are about to see them now for the first time." As members of the community gather, they sing a solemn song. "Close to 100 people are gathering. This will be a very emotional goodbye for the girls and for Mike."

 

By 6:30 the next morning, Harold has already been on the road for two and a half hours, along with the search crew and some new additions to the caravan: Mike, Allene and Mol

"It looks like we're going to have to go to plan B and take our chances crossing the border at another place," says Harold. Back on the road, he explains, "We're heading north toward the official border crossing which will lead us straight to the airport. I'm really concerned about getting Mike out of the country. He has no passport, he has an ID without a picture, and his birth certificate is in German."


They prepare to cross the Rio Hondo, which is the border between Belize and Mexico. Authorities greet them at the crossing.

An official looks at Michael's documents and asks, "What is this?"

"It's, uh, citizenship papers," Michael replies. "I don't have a passport. This is my notarized statement of U.S. citizenship. This is my United States I.D. card. See?" He hands over the card.

Harold remarks, "This is a tense situation because these border guards are hesitant about letting Mike into Mexico."

This crossing proves more successful than the river, and soon Mike and the girls are back on the road again " this time, on the Mexican side of the border.

"It looks like we're OK," says Peter. "I think it's about another 15 minutes or so to the airport."

Back in the States, Dr. Phil is hitting the road himself. "We just heard from the crew on their satellite phone, and apparently the trip through Belize, which has been very dramatic, has been successful, and we've been able to get them into Mexico at this point. So the idea now is to get into Miami and sit down with Mike and these two girls. I have no idea what I'm going to find, but it's time for him to face the music and answer some

questions here, so we're on the move."

Harold, the search crew, Mike and the girls all head toward Miami by plane. Harold says, "We still have a few more hurdles to jump, but I think we're close."

When they arrive in Miami, Mike expresses some concerns. "I'm worried that Michelle's not going to go along with what she's agreed to, and she'll take the girls, and run off with them, and put them in big city schools, and there won't be much I can do about it."