CORRECTION: Jesse Dunn is the adoptive father of Lewis and Kaylee Dunn. This story originally incorrectly described his connection to all three children.
Since early June, law enforcement and family members have been looking for three children believed to be traveling with a man suspected of child pornography and sexual abuse of a child.
On Monday afternoon, an Amber Alert was issued to help with that effort — hours after family members held a rally at the Statehouse pushing for the alert.
Jason “Travis” Simon, 37, of Caldwell, has a warrant out for his arrest on a charge of sexual abuse of a child — the result of an investigation that began in late May, after someone contacted the Ada County Sheriff’s Office with evidence Simon was producing child pornography.
Simon is believed to be traveling with his girlfriend, Sarah Joy VanOcker-Dunn, and three children between the ages of 6 and 10 years old.
About 4 p.m. Monday, an Amber Alert was issued for 10-year-old Lewis “Louie” Dunn, 9-year-old Kaylee Dunn and Kaydn Simon, 6. Louie and Kaylee are VanOcker-Dunn’s adoptive children, and Kaydn is Simon’s son, officials said.
Natalie Benson, the biological mother of Louie and Kaylee, said she is greatly relieved that the Amber Alert was finally issued, but frustrated because “we’ve been asking for it since the first day.” Within a couple of hours of the alert, the family got encouraging tips about a sighting in Reno, Nev., she said.
Benson was among about a dozen people who stood on the Idaho Statehouse steps Monday morning, calling for law enforcement to issue an Amber Alert for the children. They held signs and chanted.
“I want to get it out there,” said Jesse Dunn, adoptive father of Lewis and Kaylee. “I think if there was an Amber Alert we would be able to find our kids, and that’s the most important.”
Caldwell Police Sgt. Damon Rice said Monday his department made multiple efforts to issue an Amber Alert, but were told this particular incident didn’t qualify, in part because the children are believed to be with their custodial mother.
Later that day, Idaho State Police decided to issue the Amber Alert after learning that VanOcker-Dunn is now being sought on a felony charge of custodial interference, ISP spokeswoman Teresa Baker said. She did not have Dunn’s permission to take the children out of Idaho.
Baker said the incident still doesn’t meet some Amber Alert criteria — notably because the children were not abducted and generally there is a 12-hour window for issuing an alert — but the $150,000 custodial interference warrant was enough to justify an alert.
“Of course our main concern is to do whatever we can to find the children,” Baker said.
Benson said although she wants to see arrests in this case, she is far more concerned about getting the children back to safety.
VanOcker-Dunn “could drop them off at a truck stop, a hospital,” Benson said. “But make sure those kids are safe. I mean, yeah, we want justice for our children, don’t get me wrong. But our biggest concern right now is the children.”
“All three children are believed to be in imminent danger due to the circumstances,” Idaho’s Amber Alert states. The alert was later extended to Nevada, where the suspects were last spotted.
Simon and VanOcker-Dunn are believed to be driving a gold 2006 Pontiac Montana sports utility vehicle with the license plate 2CJN683. VanOcker-Dunn’s hair might now be dyed bright red, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
They were last seen in Sparks, Nev., on Sunday, June 12, according to the Amber Alert. They also were reportedly sighted Wednesday, June 8, in Arcada, Calif., near Eureka. On June 2 they reportedly bought camping equipment in Emmett and investigators were looking into whether they were camping in Gem County.
Anyone who spots the pair is asked to call 911 or Caldwell police at 208-454-7531. Anyone with information on the case is urged to call the Sheriff’s Office at 208-577-3734 or to email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Idaho State Police, ACSO and CPD have been working with local and national organizations to find the children and get them home, Sgt. Rice said.
Jesse Dunn thanked the community for showing its support.
“The community is doing absolutely everything they can. It’s phenomenal: The help and resources the community has done for us to locate our children,” he said. “The groups and organizations have really stepped up in this and done way more than I ever could have thought. We want justice for the children, but we want their safety more.”