Mysterious disappearance of mother and two kids has law enforcement stumped

New York State

After two years of getting nowhere, Niagara County law enforcement officials implore community to help. News 4 Investigates revisits story from 2019.

NIAGARA COUNTY, N.Y. (WIVB) – Peter Diarbakerly calls the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office often to get updates on the effort to find his two children who disappeared with their mother about two years ago.

But he rarely gets an update that is worth sharing.

“I know he’s made contact numerous times,” said Sheriff Michael Filicetti, “but it gets hard when you have no information to tell him where his children are.”

“This is just a bad situation that’s getting worse,” the sheriff said.

The sheriff said his department has not received any fruitful tips on this case over the two years that Katie Riford and her children, Olivia, 10, and Mason, 3, have been missing.

The lack of movement in the investigation has the father frustrated and worried about his two children to the point where he is critical of the effort put forth by law enforcement officials, including the new district attorney.

“There’s been very little leads, if any,” said Peter Diarbakerly, the children’s father, who lives in Massachusetts. He was awarded full custody in February 2019 after the mother, Katie Riford, vanished with the kids.

“It’s been incredibly hard. Obviously, you can’t speak to them, you can’t interact with them. It’s a complete shame.”

The two were involved in a bitter custody battle in Niagara County Family Court that continued for 18 months. By then, Riford had already informed the judge by letter that she was unhappy with the proceedings and planned to go into hiding.

And she did, with her two children – at least that is what everyone believes.

News 4 Investigates first featured the story in the fall of 2019.

Law enforcement officials and a private investigator hired by Diarbakerly had suspicions that the three were hiding at either the home of Riford’s mother or the home of her two siblings’; they all live in the area.

But law enforcement officials still do not have concrete evidence that shows where Riford and her children are hiding. The sheriff also said that they have no proof that the children are in any imminent danger.

Therefore, search warrants for a house are not going to get approved until they have solid evidence that points to a specific address.  

“You can’t just knock on somebody’s door and go in the house because you may think somebody’s there,” Filicetti said.

“You have to actually establish some level of evidence.”

In addition, the sheriff said they are limited in options because the case is classified as custodial interference, which is a misdemeanor, and not kidnapping.

“There’s an exception in the penal law for that exact thing,” Filicetti said.

Niagara County District Attorney Brian Seaman declined an interview request but provided a prepared statement that beseeches the community to help find the mother and children.

“I have assigned an assistant district attorney to the matter, who continues to work directly with and support the sheriff’s investigators assigned,” Seaman said in his statement.

“If any member of the pubic has information concerning the whereabouts of Olivia and Mason, I implore you to contact the Niagara County Sheriff’s Department immediately.”

Riford’s brother and sister, who could not be reached for comment, told News 4 Investigates in 2019 that they were unsure of their whereabouts. They also accused various law enforcement officials, the judge and Riford’s former attorneys of working against their sister. In fact, they developed a public website that is critical of some of the key people involved in this case.

“How does a mom and two of her children disappear?” Filicetti said.

“She has to have help. My biggest concern is the welfare of the children. Where are they? Are they okay? We need assistance from the public. I know that in my heart that somebody is assisting her and the children, but we need help from the public. Somebody in the public knows where she is.”

Meanwhile, Diarbakerly has not seen his two children since Nov. 4, 2018. He believes that law enforcement officials are not doing enough to find them and are too hung up on the legal issue of custodial interference.

Diarbakerly said he has spent a “tremendous amount of money” trying to find his children and is willing “to do anything to make sure Olivia and Mason are safe.”

Diarbakerly said the sheriff seems open to doing more. But, he added, “they have handcuffs on them” that has prevented them from taking those additional steps.

Diarbakerly did not elaborate on the criticism, but instead called on federal law enforcement to step in.

“The main thing that I’m looking for at this point is for federal authorities to be involved,” he said.

“They have a lot more resources. There’s a whole playbook of steps that the county should have done that has not been done.”

If you have any information on the whereabouts of Katie Riford and her two children, call the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office at 716-438-3393.

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