Metro-East News

After days of worry, Jennifer Derleth waits to hear daughter’s voice

Mother of kidnapped Madison County girl waits to talk to daughter again

In this September 2016 video, Jennifer Derleth, the mother of the Madison County teen who was kidnapped with her newborn son, waits for her daughter to call her once her plane lands in St. Louis. Katherine Derleth, 13, and her infant son, Christop
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In this September 2016 video, Jennifer Derleth, the mother of the Madison County teen who was kidnapped with her newborn son, waits for her daughter to call her once her plane lands in St. Louis. Katherine Derleth, 13, and her infant son, Christop

Jennifer Derleth said that for a week all she could do was worry and hope that her abducted 13-year-old daughter and infant grandson would be found safe and returned to Illinois.

“I was so scared,” she said Sunday in an interview, “all I wanted is for them to come home.”

Finally, on Sunday night, the 38-year-old sat on a side porch at a mobile home in Granite City, tethered to an oxygen tank that must follow her everywhere because of a persistent lung infection. She had been told Saturday by a caseworker in West Virginia that her daughter, Katherine, and infant grandson, Christopher R. Derleth, were safe and would be on a flight home Sunday. The last time she had spoken to Katherine was on Sept. 17, a Saturday. She remembered her last words to her daughter, “I love you. I miss you.”

On the porch she told a reporter, “That’s what I always say to her.”

Two days after that call, Katherine’s stepfather Christopher Derleth, 39, who is Jennifer’s husband, was charged in Madison County with kidnapping and child abduction. After a multi-state search, the three were located Saturday at a remote camping site in a rural area near Charleston, West Va., by sheriff’s deputies who had been tipped off after Derleth used a credit card at a convenience store. The children were in good condition, authorities said.

Jennifer Derleth said she received the call from a caseworker in West Virginia about her daughter and grandson and was assured they were OK. But she didn’t get a chance to speak to Katherine, she said.

On Sunday night she was nervously awaiting the call from the caseworker who had accompanied the children on the flight from West Virginia.

Derleth, who is very soft spoken, was asked about Katherine, whom she described as a very quiet girl who had a heart pacemaker installed when she was only 8 months old but seemed to be in good health. On that last call before the children went missing from a foster home in Carpenter, Illinois, where they were removed to recently, Jennifer said her daughter told her that she had been out jogging, just three weeks after giving birth.

“I told her she shouldn’t be doing that, but she said her doctor told her it was all right,” she said.

As for questions about baby Christopher’s father and why the children were placed in a foster home, Derleth said, “I don’t want to talk about that right now.”

She said her daughter, like herself, was a quiet person. “She won’t talk unless she’s asked a question until she gets to know you,” Derleth said, “And then it’s all right.”

As for Katherine’s favorite things, two that are at the top of her list are cooking, especially making pizza, and megastar pop singer Taylor Swift.

“She just loves Taylor Swift,” she said.

Katherine has been receiving home schooling at the foster home, her mother said. Mother and daughter talked each day until Katherine went missing.

“Every night we would talk,” Derleth said.

Katherine never really liked dolls or teddy bears, her mother said. “But I guess now, Christopher is her teddy bear.”

George Pawlaczyk: 618-239-2625, @gapawlaczyk

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