April 3, 2008
By Marianne Apfelbaum
After a massive search last Thursday evening at Williston Central School, a young child — reported missing by his mother — was discovered to be safe in the care of a family friend. The boy had never been at the school, according to police.
Scores of Williston residents, along with police and fire officials, descended on the school at 6:30 p.m. to search for the boy.
His mother, Jennifer Guczek, 26, of Williston, told police she had parked her car at the back entrance of the school, and left her 4-year-old son locked in the car while she went in to pick up her daughter. When she returned to the car, she told police her son was gone. She alerted school officials, who called police.
Police and fire officials, including the Vermont State Police Canine team, sprung into action, quickly mobilizing to search the school, school grounds, waterways and nearby bike path.
Word quickly spread and town residents attending activities at the school and at Dorothy Alling Memorial Library gathered to help with the search. Parents and children yelled the child's name in the school's hallways and classrooms. Some huddled in small groups, visibly shaken, discussing where they should look next.
As part of the investigation, an "Amber Alert process was being formulated," according to police, and a criminal investigation was started in case the child had been abducted.
"Being a grandparent … just the fear of what might have happened … I just thought the worst, that he was kidnapped," Williston resident Ken Kaleita, a former New Yorker who helped with the search, told the Observer this week.
But Kaleita was impressed with the response to the emergency.
"In Vermont, it seems everybody pulls together. It's a really great place to live," he said. "But I was disturbed afterward (to learn) that the mother might have a DUI."
Guczek was taken to the Williston Police Department for a debriefing at 7:12 p.m., where police "immediately recognized that she was under the influence of alcohol," according to police reports.
A subsequent blood-alcohol test registered .139, and Guczek was charged with driving under the influence and released to her family with a citation to appear in court, according to police. The legal limit in Vermont is .08.
Guczek had told police that she brought her son with her to the school, "even recalling a conversation with him to stay in the car, not open the doors, etc.," according to Police Chief Jim Dimmick, responding to the Observer's questions in an e-mail.
In fact, police say the child was never with Guczek at the school, but instead at a friend of Guczek's the entire time. The friend's mother works at the school, and at some point during the search called her son to ask if he wanted to come and help, according to police.
"He then indicated that he had the child," Dimmick wrote in his e-mail.
Shouts of relief filled the air minutes later when the man showed up in the school parking lot with the child in his arms, about an hour after he was reported missing, and just as it was getting dark.
"Williston Police feel Ms. Guczek felt strongly that her son was actually missing and made the report based on what she felt had occurred," according to a press release from Dimmick.
No other charges have been filed against Guczek, but the Department of Children and Families was notified of the incident, Dimmick said in an e-mail.
Guczek could not be reached for comment.
Police say Guczek has no prior convictions for driving under the influence, but according to a police affidavit, she was charged and convicted in July 2004 for retail theft at Wal-Mart. The affidavit notes that Guczek, who was at the store with her two children, then ages 4 and 3 months, was "concealing items into and under her baby's blankets."
The affidavit states that Guczek went to the register and paid for some of the items, and left the store without paying for the others that were hidden. Wal-Mart loss prevention personnel confronted her outside the store, and she said she "forgot to pay for the items," which were valued at more than $100, according to the affidavit.
Police responding to the scene said she was evasive, the affidavit states.
When police threatened to call Social and Rehabilitation Services (now known as the Vermont Department of Children and Families), Guczek called her parents to come and care for her children, the affidavit notes. Police also discovered a bag of marijuana and four other "controlled substances" in her purse, according to the affidavit.