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Baptist pastor & wife wait for reunion with daughter, son kidnapped 20 years ago

SAN JOSE, Calif. (BP)–A Baptist pastor and his wife are waiting in California in hopes of reuniting with their daughter and son, kidnapped nearly 20 years ago by their maternal grandparents.

Mark Baskin, a bivocational Baptist pastor in Georgia, and his wife Debbie traveled to San Jose after her father’s arrest Feb. 2 on kidnapping charges stemming from the 1989 disappearance of the Baskins’ then 8-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son.

At the time of the abduction, Baskin was a student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. Debbie Baskin’s parents were keeping the couple’s two oldest children for the initial months after their move to Louisville.

On Feb. 9, the Baskins were still in San Jose hoping to visit with their daughter, now 28, and son, now 27.

“We love you” and “we’re praying you’ll want to talk to us,” Debbie Baskin told her children via the media, addressing a crowded conference room of reporters Feb. 4 at the San Jose Police Department, as reported by The Mercury News in San Jose.

Of her father, Marvin Maple, extradited back to Murfreesboro, Tenn., and being held without bond, Debbie Baskin said, “… if I can be brave enough, I would like to face him.” She acknowledged, “There’s no punishment that can give us back 20 years” without their son and daughter but she had learned to “walk in forgiveness” over the years as she raised a third child with special needs, now 25, and an adopted son, now 16.

Debbie Baskin’s mother, Sandra, reportedly died two years ago.

Mark Baskin told the media, “We hope [the two children] can believe the truth. That’s weighing on us right now.” Baskin, who earned a master’s degree in church music from Southern Seminary in 1997, became the bivocational pastor of Normantown Baptist Church in Vidalia in January, previously serving as minister of music at First Baptist Church in Twin City, Ga. He and his wife also are schoolteachers.

The children, whose names were changed to Jennifer and Jonathan Bunting after they were kidnapped by their grandparents, had not come forward to meet with their parents as of Feb. 8.

The daughter, a nurse, had been living with her grandfather in a San Jose townhouse. The son, who is married, also lives in the San Jose area. Both are college graduates, according to news reports.

The daughter “was tore up when she was on the phone,” said detective Dan Goodwin from Murfeesboro, Tenn., where the Maples lived at the time of the kidnapping. Goodwin and fellow detective Bill Sharp had worked on the case more than a year.

Goodwin said the daughter would need some time to think about meeting her parents.

“This is an emotional bomb in her life,” Goodwin said. “All of a sudden a man she knew as her father has been arrested for something that happened so long ago.”

The daughter was home when Maple, who went by the name of John Bunting in San Jose, was arrested at 9 p.m. Monday, Feb. 2, at the townhouse.

The kidnapping culminated months of strife between the parents and grandparents as the Baskins moved to Louisville in the late 1980s.

The conflict escalated to accusations by the grandparents against their daughter and son-in-law of child neglect and sexual abuse, enabling the Maples to win temporary court custody of the children. The Baskins were cleared of any wrongdoing after enduring a yearlong investigation, which also entailed accusations by the grandparents against social workers, mental health workers and attorneys. The day before the children were to be returned to the Baskins, the grandparents disappeared, along with the young son and daughter.

Debbie Baskin told the media Feb. 4, “My father said he would kill them before he would ever let us see them.”

The case had been in the media over the years, most recently on the TV show “Unsolved Mysteries” in December and in an article in the San Diego Union-Tribune on Jan. 12. Also in December, someone reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that the Buntings had been seen in San Diego.

According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, Maples read the article online and, while drinking at a neighborhood bar and grill, talked about it to an acquaintance who, in turn, soon talked about the case with another individual. Within two hours, Maple was being arrested.
Compiled by Baptist Press editor Art Toalston.

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