Caldwell dad reunited with kids after they were missing for 16 days

Posted at 5:20 PM, Jun 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-21 19:21:04-04

Jesse Dunn is breathing a sigh of relief now that his two children - 9-year-old Kaylee and 10-year-old Lewis - are back in his custody after a multi-state Amber Alert and weeks of searching.

“Oh my gosh, it's been really hard. No parent should after have to go through it. It's been overwhelming. It’s been difficult,” Jesse said.

The children were taken out of the state by their adoptive mother, Sarah VanOcker-Dunn and her boyfriend Jason "Travis" Simon. Investigators believe the couple took off in anticipation of a warrant being served. Simon was wanted for questioning for sex abuse of a child.

"My first initial reaction to that is just as any loving father would have. I want my child safe and I will protect her in any way or fashion possible," Dunn said.

Although an Amber Alert was issued eventually in Idaho and Nevada, Dunn says  there were major frustrations along the way, slowing down the process.

“Oh the frustrations were overwhelming. Every turn I tried to do, we got denied because we didn't meet criteria for the Amber Alert. If this doesn't meet it, then what does?” Jesse explained.

With continuing attention from the media, and a growing platform on social media, the Alert was issued but Dunn says it took way longer than it should have. It wasn't issued until after Dunn organized a rally at the Idaho Statehouse and met with members of Governor Otter's office.

Days later, the children were spotted by a motorist in Colorado and both Simon and VanOcker-Dunn were arrested.

Jesse flew down to Colorado, was able to spend Father's Day with his kids, and drove back to Caldwell arriving after 3:00 a.m. Tuesday morning. Kaylee and Lewis are now adjusting back to their daily life.

Jesse said that he is thankful the children were unaware of the fear and outrage sparked surrounding the kidnapping. Both kids, according to Dunn, thought they were on an extended camping trip.

Now, Jesse hopes that he can become an advocate for revising Amber Alert standards to ensure that a family won’t undergo the fear and hopelessness that he did.

“I don’t think our assets were used to the best of our ability,” Jesse said as his kids played in the park behind him. “I think if we got it way quicker than day 11 we could’ve had them home a lot quicker than day 16.”

Both kids had birthdays during the 16-day stretch their father had to miss out on. 

"Those were the two hardest days for me," Dunn said.

As a way to celebrate as a family, and thank the community for being so active, the family plans to host a large birthday bash for the kids at Memorial Park in Caldwell in the coming weeks.

For more information about this event, visit here.