Tuesday January 19, 2010
Published on Thursday, July 26, 2001
By Alyson Raletz
Kansas State Collegian
All she wants is to get her daughter back.
Claudine Dombrowski, a Manhattan resident, is fighting for the custody of her 6-year-old daughter, Rikki, who is currently living with her father in Topeka.
Dombrowski said she divorced her husband, Hal Richardson, in February 1996 because of severe and repeated domestic violence towards her and her daughter.
During the following years, Rikki went back and forth between living with her mother and father.
In August 2000, a judge awarded sole custody to Richardson.
She went from being a full-time mother to only being allowed supervised visitation one hour every Thursday and Saturday. She has to pay $9 for each visit to her daughter.
She said she suspects Rikki is still being abused at her ex-husband's home.
"When I look at her now, she's almost unknown to me," she said.
"Her eyes are sunken in and she has lost her smile. She is dead inside. There is no more spirit left in her."
Richardson had no comment.
Richardson's lawyer, Don Hoffman, said he could not comment on many aspects of the case because there are matters still pending in the courts, but Rikki's safety is not an issue.
"Her safety has never been seriously questioned the entire time she has lived with Richardson," Hoffman said.
Dombrowski is waiting for the Topeka courts to set a date for a custody hearing where she will try to win back her daughter. She said she is trying to get as many people as possible to attend the hearing because she feels it will help her case.
"If we have enough of a turn out, I know I will get her back," she said. "I think the judge will do the right thing and follow the law."
One way, she has been rallying support has been through a Web site that includes letters and documents she has gathered that show the injustices of her case, she said.
Her cousin, Katrina Mukherjee from San Antonio, runs the site for her.
"It started out by just posting some e-mail attachments to a Webs ite, and then it became a mission," Mukherjee said.
She first posted the site on July 13, a Friday. Then, she said, she sent e-mails to everyone and anyone she could think of with the site link.
"When everyone got to work that Monday and checked their e-mail. That's when the response to the site exploded," Mukherjee said.
The site receives 2,922 hits a day and has had 9,187 individual visitors, she said.
The site has also had visits from 18 different countries.
Besides information about the custody battle, the site includes several graphic photos displaying a battered Dombrowski and her daughter.
Mukherjee said the photos get people's attention.
"You can hear her say that your ex-husband beat her," she said. "But how do you believe what she said? This is not a thwarted mother or some drug addict mom messing with the system. This is real."
She said she feels bad if the pictures trigger bad memories for other battered wives, but hopefully they will be motivated to help.
"Sometimes it gets really frustrating," she said. "But our whole reason for doing this is that someone somewhere, will get the message, care and be in a position to actually help."
Already Dombrowski has been flooded with e-mails from children's advocate agencies, battered women and others who are offering assistance. Senator Kent Glasscock has even written a letter offering assistance, Mukherjee said.
Along with the onslaught on responses, there have been problems. After its first weekend, the there was an attempt to hack into the site and Dumbrowski's computer received eight computer viruses through e-mails that supposedly offered help, she said.
"I think we are pissing a lot of people off with the site," she said. "That's OK. It's an emotional issue. As annoying as viruses are, we have dealt with them. You can't expect everyone to be on your side."