SPARWOOD, B.C. - With the resilience of a three year-old, Kienan Hebert is back to playing with his brothers and sisters, happily running around as police continue their search for a suspect who snatched the boy from his Sparwood, B.C., home and mysteriously returned him there unharmed five days later.
His weeping parents appeared before the media Sunday to thank all who supported them during the gruelling hours and days following their son's abduction last Wednesday, including police and community volunteers.
But the boy's father, Paul Hebert, had a special thank you for "the person" who brought his little boy home Sunday morning. Police allege that person was the abductor — convicted sex offender Randall Hopley.
"To the person who returned Kienan to our family I'd like to say thank you," Paul Hebert sobbed. "It was the right thing to do. I thank God that Kienan was returned unharmed."
RCMP Cpl. Dan Moskaluk said medical personnel assessed the boy and found him unhurt, in good spirits and happy to be reunited with his family.
Moskaluk's announcement generated a loud cheer from several of the volunteers who had searched for Kienan and had packed the tiny tent where the news conference was taking place.
Paul Hebert — who appeared almost stoic before the media over the five days since his child vanished — had difficulty speaking.
"Thank you, thank you," he managed to say before breaking down in tears. His wife, Tammy, sat beside him, tears running down her face.
Police received an anonymous call around 3 a.m. local time Sunday morning telling them where to find the boy.
Moskaluk said the most troubling thing was that the caller told police they could find Kienan in his own home.
"Taking the child undetected and then placing him back undetected certainly is a chilling prospect," Moskaluk admitted.
The family wasn't home at the time and were staying with a neighbour. The house, which had been surrounded by yellow police tape since the boy's disappearance, had been thoroughly searched by investigators.
After the boy's return, the police tape was placed around the entire block. Later in the day investigators were scouring the house once again for more forensic evidence.
No one saw Kienan taken some time last Wednesday morning and no one witnessed his return.
"This young boy was returned by an abductor. In 26 years of policing I have never seen this," said an emotional Moskaluk. "The little guy appears to be in good health. Little guys like this are very resilient.
"To the rest of the world 9-11 means New York. 9-11 to me means Kienan Hebert."
Moskaluk also had a message for Hopley.
"Randall, if you're listening, you need to reach out to the police," he said.
"We're not going to put any other children at risk. We want this to be completed."
Roadblocks were set up on the highways in and around Sparwood. RCMP officers stopped hundreds of vehicles, checking in back seats and ordering drivers to pop their trunks to make sure that Hopley was not catching a ride.
Word of Kienan's return spread quickly throughout Sparwood, a coal mining town of about 4,000 surrounded on all sides by mountains and trees. The community had mustered hundreds of volunteers to search the area around the Hebert home.
"I'm rather ecstatic right now. When we heard the news first thing this morning we were already up planning for today's operations. In this case, a little boy being brought back — man, it's excellent," said search and rescue spokesman Jeff Smedley.
Sparwood's acting mayor Sharon Fraser paid the Hebert family a visit early Sunday morning.
"I've never heard of this happening. I've never heard of a child being abducted and then returned right back to the home. So to me it's nothing short of a big miracle," said Fraser. "It just scares the heck out of you period."
Former Sparwood mayor David Wilks, now the Conservative MP for the area, worked as an RCMP officer in Sparwood before entering politics.
Wilks, who attends church with the Hebert's, said he remembers dealing with Hopley in his policing days and admits the circumstances are disturbing.
"Is there another child next? He's still out there," shrugged Wilks.
"He has the uncanny ability to get into a house and back out with everyone in it and not only take a child but deliver the child back," he added.
But Wilks had been optimistic that Kienan would be delivered home safely.
"I felt that he would not harm him but for whatever reason he wanted him to be with him."
The boy's father called his pastor shortly after Kienan was found Sunday morning.
Pastor Ron Rutley of the Sparwood Fellowship Baptist Church gave thanks for Kienan's safe return in his Sunday morning sermon.
"It's just like a dream. Lord we thank you that Kienan is home safe. We pray for him right now," said Rutley.
"Lord we come before you with bittersweet hearts. Sweet for you have heard our prayers and answered them and bitter because we struggle to understand why those prayers had to be uttered at all."
On Saturday, the boy's parents brushed away tears as Moskaluk confirmed that their son was kidnapped from his home in this scenic close-knit mountain community. The boy has a history of sleepwalking, and many were hoping he had perhaps just wandered away.
Clasping his wife's hand tightly under the table, Paul Hebert had a message for Kienan's suspected captor saying they only wanted their son returned unharmed.
Police said a second abduction attempt happened at another home on the evening Hebert went missing. A suspect tried unsuccessfully to lure another child out of the home.
Hopley, 46, was convicted of sexual assault in the mid-1980s and was given a two-year federal prison sentence.
An incident in November 2007 led to charges of break and enter, unlawful confinement and attempted abduction, and the indictment for the case indicated the victim was under 16 years old.
B.C.'s Criminal Justice Branch has confirmed Hopley pleaded guilty to break and enter and was sentenced to 18 months in jail, while the other charges were stayed.
Crown spokesman Neil MacKenzie said Hopley admitted at trial that he attempted to abduct a 10-year-old boy, who was in foster care at the time. Hopley claimed he was acting on behalf of the child's parents.