The marriage between Sandra Grazzini-Rucki and her husband David had gone sour years ago. All the love the couple had initially felt was gone, and Sandra felt that David was abusive to the couple’s two teenage daughters as well as to her.
Sandra was aware that deprivation of paternal rights was illegal and carried a jail sentence, but she didn’t care. All she knew was that she had to protect her daughters’ innocence at all costs and was prepared to stop at nothing to achieve that goal. But there are two sides to every story…
Sandra, from Elko, Minnesota, decided in April to hide her daughters, 14-year-old Samantha and 13-year-old Gianna, from their father, while the three younger kids still lived with her. In total, David didn’t see or hear from his daughters for the best part of two-and-a-half years. But Sandra claims she had good reasons for pulling the stunt.
According to Sandra, she was forced to hide her daughters for an extended period for their safety as their father was allegedly abusing them. She told the press, according to a Star Tribune report: “We’d lock ourselves in the bedroom because we were scared. We just didn’t know how his behavior was going to be from one day to the next,” she said.
Sandra claims that her husband David abused her for 20 years and that she wanted to protect her daughters from a similar fate. She served David with divorce papers at some point, giving her full custody of the children, but David wanted shared custody on some level. To that end, he took Sandra to court as she had duped him into signing the paperwork.
Fearing that David’s plea to the court may be successful, Sandra went ahead and moved the two girls to a remote farm owned by some of her friends. Shortly after the girls went into hiding, they penned a letter to the court. “We were afraid for our lives … our father had abused us,” the letter read. The girls seemed to be in on the plan and didn’t want any contact with their father at that time.
In an interview given to the media, Samantha explained: “Our dad was abusive, emotionally, verbally,” she said. “Our mom was always our protector.” For more than two years, authorities searched high and low for the girls but to no avail. But Sandra’s story wasn’t wholly believable, and some serious manipulation was going on.
After more than two years in hiding, a friend of the family told investigators that he had heard rumors that the girls were living on a farm. The girls were found and given to their father while Sandra was arrested and charged with deprivation of paternal rights. She claimed she did it to protect her kids, but there was a lot more to this story than met the eye.
Not only was there not a single piece of proof that David had abused his wife during their 20-year marriage, but there was also no proof he had abused his children either. David’s lawyers claimed that Sandra was lying in a big way, and to prove that point they called Samantha, now aged 16, to the stand.
Having become a young adult, Samantha shocked the people in the courtroom when she said that her father had never hit her or abused her and that she’d never seen him hit anyone else either. What’s more, during the two-and-a-half years the girls were in hiding on the farm their mother didn’t visit them even once.
Out of Spite
The lawyers in court put a compelling case to the jury, claiming that Sandra hadn’t acted out of love for her kids at all but rather out of deep-seated spite for David. Once her marriage was over, she decided to punish her husband by denying him access to his kids and then taking them away completely.
The shoe was gradually switching to the other foot in this disturbing case of borderline child abuse. While David claimed he was tricked by Sandra into signing the divorce papers, experts and psychologists alike found that Sandra had brainwashed her children against David; telling them blatant lies so they would hate him.
Those same experts also noticed a pattern with Sandra, and before long it was one they couldn’t ignore anymore. During their numerous assessments, they found that Sandra had a personality disorder. Accordingly, the experts claimed, that disorder would make it difficult for Sandra to be reasonable during a tense situation like a custody battle.
Having gone through the legal system, Dr. Paul Reitman, a court-appointed psychologist and expert in the field of parental alienation, convinced the judge that Sandra was the problem here and not David. The judge ordered that Sandra move out of the family home and her sister Nancy move in to act as a temporary guardian for the children.
After a while, Nancy was unable to continue to care for the kids, and they were taken by police officers to David’s sister Tammy’s. Having arrived there, the kids ran away shortly afterward and were not seen by anyone for a whole month. Once the kids were located, the court gave David sole legal custody of them.
When the case was being heard in court, the judge said he wanted to make the questioning as “quick and painless” as possible. When Samantha took the stand, she explained that her parents had constantly been fighting before the divorce. “I heard a lot of screaming,” she said. “I just wanted it all to end.”
Samantha explained that when she was taken to her father’s sister’s house she totally “freaked out.” She explained that she went into the bathroom and called her mom. “I wanted her to help me,” she said. “It was my idea.” Samantha and her sister ran barefoot from the home into their mother’s truck that was waiting for them outside. It was then that the girls were taken to the rural horse farm to be hidden from their father.
For taking the girls away from her father for all that time, Sandra was sentenced to 34 additional days in jail, on top of the 133 days she had already served. She was also given six years’ probation and a fine of $944 for each daughter. But Sandra and her legal team maintained her innocence throughout the proceedings, claiming she did what any mother would do.
Paying the Price
Following her conviction, Sandra’s lawyers issued a statement outside the courthouse. “I’m paying the price for doing what any loving parent would do for their children, protecting them from harm,” it read. But David claimed that the girls didn’t need protection from him as he’d never abused them.
The women who helped Sandra with her plan, Dede Evavold, also found herself in court facing the long arm of the law. She was charged and convicted on six counts of deprivation of parental rights and was sentenced to six months in jail. The couple who owned the farm where the girls stayed, Gina and Doug Dahlen, are due to be sentenced in the coming months.
David’s sister Tammy, who looked after the girls for a short time before they went into hiding, took to social media to vent her outrage at what had happened to the family. “My family has/is going through HELL by people who have NO idea as to the truth of this family,” she wrote. “You have taken the childhood of two impressionable girls, and you will be held accountable for this.”
While police confirmed that the “unification process” for the family would now commence, David’s lawyer told Newsweek, “When I spoke with David, he said the news was anti-climactic, because he knows this is the start of a whole next step in getting them the help they need and finding out what happened to them the last two and a half years.” The whole family has been through a lot of trauma as it remains to be seen what the outcome will be for all the parties involved.