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Neighbors Have Trouble Believing Man Kidnapped Own Children

Aired July 14, 2003 - 19:14   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Another ongoing investigation to update you on. The search for a pair of children continues even as authorities fear the worst.
They worry a father, angered by a court ordered custody arrangement, may have killed his son and daughter after heading across country with them.

Fourteen-year-old Sarah Gehring and her 11-year-old brother Philip were last seen in Concord, New Hampshire. We're showing you right now the route the father is believed to have taken, cross country route, ended up in California, disappeared after a fireworks display on July Fourth. That was the last time they were seen in New Hampshire.

The father is in custody right now as police and FBI agents are retracing his route, which included stops in several states over the course of six days.

That is the picture of the man right there, who is in custody now.

Former neighbors and friends of the children's father, Manuel Gehring -- you just saw him there -- they're simply stunned. And I'm joined by two people who know the family.

Michael Blanchette is one of Gehring's neighbors in New Hampshire. His son, Patrick, is a friend of missing 11-year-old Philip Gehring.

We appreciate both of you taking the time to speak with us.

Now Michael, you knew this man, you were his neighbor. What was he like?

MICHAEL BLANCHETTE, NEIGHBOR OF GEHRING: He was very intelligent, very friendly. I knew him as a neighbor. I knew him through -- because the boys played together and we would take Philip places and Patrick would go with Phil and his father. I knew him from some real estate transactions.

COOPER: You actually sold him his house, right?

BLANCHETTE: Yes. I'm a real estate broker and he had actually rented at the complex for a year in a different unit and was looking to buy something and liked the community and approached me to see if I knew of anything that was for sale. And I did, and I brokered the deal and he bought a unit August of '99...

COOPER: What was his relationship like with his kids?

BLANCHETTE: ... and has been there -- As far as I could see it was great. I could not in a million years imagine that he would hurt his children or any children. I had no qualms whatsoever with Patrick going over and playing there or going out and he'd take them out for ice cream or the movies or something. I had no problems with that at all.

COOPER: Patrick, let me ask you. I know you spent a lot of nights over there, your thoughts about Mr. Gehring.

PATRICK BLANCHETTE: He was a really great guy. He couldn't bring just one kid to anywhere. He had to bring six or seven. I would -- I could never imagine him doing anything to hurt them. He never yelled at them. Never got angry. He was really nice.

COOPER: Did you know his wife, his estranged wife? They had been, I guess, having this custody battle going on.

PATRICK BLANCHETTE: Yes. His wife was a little bit more strict. But she was still nice.

COOPER: And Patrick, I understand, I think it's your 14th birthday today. I know you had planned to have Philip there at the party. It's got to be a tough day for you.

PATRICK GEHRING: It is. He was going to be there.

COOPER: What -- Michael, where do you think this is going to end up? I mean, in your gut what do you think has happened?

M. BLANCHETTE: Well, it may be just shock or being naive, but I just still can't help but wonder, knowing him as I have for a number of years, there must be something else going on, some ulterior motive, the story is not over.

The hope -- it's hard to keep up the hope, but it's still there because I can't imagine he would have done anything. And I still can't believe he would have done anything. And I think or wonder if there is something else to the story and hope that that's the case.

COOPER: Well, I appreciate both of you, Michael and Patrick, coming in, Patrick, especially on your birthday, appreciate you coming in and talking about your friends and Mr. Gehring. And we'll just have to keep following this and see what happens. We appreciate you adding in your thoughts. Thanks.

M. BLANCHETTE: I just -- I'm hoping that, if I may...

COOPER: Yes. Sure, go ahead.

M. BLANCHETTE: I don't know if Manny's going to see this but the main reason I want to be here tonight is if Manny sees this, Manny, you have called me at times for advice, for my opinion on a number of different matters. And if you see this, like we said one other time that we talked, remember, enough is enough. Now is the time to lay it out and tell us what happened. Because we need to know.

COOPER: I think there are a lot of people that echo those sentiments, as well. Appreciate, again, you coming in, Michael and Patrick, thank you very much.



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