EDMONTON – It was a spring day in 1988 when four-year-old Huy Sam was kidnapped from Geno’s Café in the old Gameland Arcade. Sam’s mother was working, busy dealing with customers when her son vanished.
“I have some very vivid memories of that day, walking into a situation of a very distraught lady, worried unbelievably about her son,” recalled retired Edmonton police detective Vern Colley.
Colley was a downtown sergeant at the time. He was one of several officers called to the kidnapping, in the area of 107 Avenue and 107 Street, around 3 p.m.
Officers were doing a final sweep of the restaurant when they found a book on a nearby table. They were able to lift fingerprints off the book that belonged to Steve Frank Vickers, who was registered in the city’s social services system.
Police pulled a photo of the suspect and showed it to Sam’s mother, who confirmed the man had been in the restaurant earlier that day.
“He was a frequent visitor to Geno’s,” Colley explained Wednesday afternoon.
Colley says the search led police to a nearby apartment building, which Vickers had moved into just days before. When he entered the suite, Colley says the boy was laying down with Vickers at his feet.
Members grabbed Vickers and took him into custody. Sam was sent to hospital to be checked out, then returned to his family.
The now 29-year-old says he remembers only bits and pieces of the 13-hour ordeal.
“Interacting with that person and seeing things when I was walking towards wherever I was going. And then just seeing static on the TV.”
Sam, who is now a father, says he speaks about the incident with his family from time to time, and often wonders what became of his abductor.
“It’s intense for sure, but what was going on in his mind? Why would he want to do this kind of stuff? I bear no anger towards him because he might have been in a bad time of his life.”
Over the past two decades Sam says he often thought of Colley, the man who saved his life. And after connecting on Facebook, the pair finally met face-to-face Wednesday evening.
“I can’t put in to words what it feels like to meet somebody who was in such peril had we not been there,” Colley said.
“So surreal. Not many of us who are police officers get that opportunity to go back and see, this many years (later), how they’re doing and what are they doing and are they married or what profession are they in. It is surreal.”
“Unreal,” Sam said of the experience, “very unreal because I didn’t think I would ever get to meet him in person.”
Vickers, who was schizophrenic, was found not guilty by reason of insanity and was put into custody in Alberta Hospital.
With files from Tom Vernon, Global News.