Op-Ed

A son’s arrest in Venezuela, a mother’s ordeal

I remember the frantic early morning calls from my daughter after seeing a post on Facebook. “Mom, something has happened to Todd and Vivian in Venezuela.”

As I was trying to wake up enough to understand what she was saying, I reached for my own cell phone to see if could see the same information. Oh, no — there it was! My daughter-in-law’s parents had been posting the frantic news that our children had been arrested.

I immediately called them to hear the devastating news. Yes, my son, Todd Leininger, now 34 — born in Miami, raised in Indiana — had indeed been arrested, along with his wife, and charged with the most impossible of crimes. Spies, terrorists, hidden weapons of war, overthrow the government? Not my son, not my sweet, beautiful Venezuelan daughter-in-law!

This can’t be, I thought. They must be released immediately, the U.S. Embassy must step in and stop this injustice! I will contact my government representatives, I will call the embassy personally, I will contact every media source I can think of.

They will get them released, our “kids” will be home before we know it, I told myself.

That happened in April of 2014. My son is still in prison. His wife was released about 8 months later, but cannot leave the country.

Now, I get word that yet another American married to a Venezuelan girl has been arrested. Police say they found at an assault rifle and a grenade at the wife's home. (The Miami Herald reported last week that 24-year-old Joshua Holt was jailed on weapons charges. He had traveled to Venezuela to marry a woman he met on the internet and the two hoped to return to the United States, the report said.)

I feel chills run down my spine as I read the charges. They are almost identical to my son’s charges. Oh my gosh not again, this is crazy. I see this poor family doing exactly what I did over two years ago.

Try to get someone from our government to meet them, help them, contact the media, start a GoFundMe page, beg the U.S. Embassy for help. It’s so daunting and so time consuming and very confusing.

Of course, I hope their experience is a better and more productive one than I have had and that their son does not have to suffer as my son has. I have seen the complete impotency of the U.S. Embassy to protect its citizens in these Venezuelan prisons.

It’s as if the Venezuelan government is toying with them, giving them permission to visit my son on one hand, then telling them the day of or the day before, oh just kidding, “You can’t see him because we now have new regulations for requesting visitation so you have to reapply.”

(In 2014, Mrs. Leininger told the Herald that she had talked briefly to her son after his arrest and he admitted shooting someone, but that it may have been in self-defense. She also said that her son has Tourette Syndrome and obsessive-compulsive disorder, which requires anti-anxiety medication.)

I have had the frustration of trying to get my representatives to meet with me to no avail and basically watched my savings become depleted.

I have felt the daily heartache of knowing my son is hungry and ill and frightened.

And then suddenly I realize something else has happened; I have changed. I have become more suspicious, more jaded, hardened by this experience.

Our innocence has been shattered, our belief that there are people out there who can and will help us in these situations when they really can’t, people who we believe are honest and trustworthy when they really are not and I realize now that when we come out on the other side of this nightmare, none of us will ever be the same.

Barbara Leininger is the mother of Todd Michael Leininger. She lives in Indiana.

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