Trapped family’s father “demented” say “dismayed” relatives

Police at a farm on Buitenhuizerweg in Ruinerwold, where a family was found living in seclusion for nine years, 15 Oct 2019
Police at a farm on Buitenhuizerweg in Ruinerwold, where a family was found living in seclusion for nine years, 15 Oct 2019. (Photo: Politie Drenthe/Twitter)

The family of Gerrit Jan van D., the father who was found living in a hidden room on a farm in Ruinerwold with six of his children, is dismayed by the events surrounding Van D., they said in a statement to RTL Nieuws. They haven't had contact with Van D. since the 1980s and had no idea what he was up to. "The father of G.J. is demented and stays in a closed institution."

Van D. had four children on top of the six found living with him in Ruinerwold. Dino, Shin and Marjan broke away from the family some years ago, and he has another son from a previous marriage, according to the broadcaster. This statement is not from them, but from other family members. The three escaped children will release their own statement at a later date, RTL writes. 

"The family has taken notice of the events in Rinerwold with dismay", the statement reads. "Mr. G.J. van D. broke all ties with his immediate family in the 1980s. He told us not to make any attempt to find his place of residence." Eight years ago three of Van D.'s children fled and made contact with them. The family had no idea that Van D. had other children. 

"At present, it is the express wish of the family to support the discovered family", the family said. "We will give the regional police all the information needed to clarify the background of this drama. The family appreciates privacy and has no need to give heed to the sensationalism of a number of press media." The full statement, translated from Dutch, can be read at the bottom of this article.

De Stentor spoke to a number of people who knew members of the Van D. family when they lived in Zwatsluis years ago. Most of them were only aware of two or three children.

A pub owner who lived close to the home Van D. and his kids lived in can only remember one son and one daughter. "She was a very normal girl, did an internship at the flower shop and went to school at Agnieten College. She always walked with their dog", he said. The son also seemed like a nice, normal guy. He never saw young children. "What I found very strange is that the father always drove his van backwards into the alley right to the door. Maybe the children got in and out of the car then? No idea."

Gerben van Dalfzen told the newspaper that he played football with Van D.'s son. "A very nice boy, who suddenly experienced a remarkable development. First he had long hair and weird clothes. But suddenly he cut his hair and looked very normal. He went to the gym, was in a band and was a completely different boy." According to Van Dalfzen, he only ever mentioned a brother and a sister, never other siblings. "He was dating the most beautiful girl from Zwartsluis, he was a very handsome boy. It was clear to me that he didn't like being at home."

Another family told De Stentor that their son was friends with Van D.'s son and he regularly visited their house. "A very sweet, calm, caring boy", the mother said. "He ate here quite often. It was clear that he was not used to eating at the table." It was clear he didn't come from a warm family, the couple said. 

In conversations with him it became clear that his mother died. "He told our son that he had a brother and a sister. He also said that his father had to go to Austria because he was sick. He absolutely could not get along with his father and left at the age of 14. He later said he was going to live with his uncle Josef in Meppel. I took him there regularly. He never wanted me to drop him off at the door. It was on an industrial estate."

On Thursday a meeting was held for the residents of Ruinerwold, to update them about what is going on in the investigation. The locals are full of questions and feelings of guilt, mayor Roger de Groot said to RTL Nieuws after the meeting. "They wonder: how did this happen in our village, how did we miss this?"

According to De Groot, Ruinerwold is a community that looks after each other. "I was able to reassure the residents and tell them that the care for the family is well organized. There are so many questions now. For example, about what we could have done. It's great that we could share these feelings."

A doctor examined the family and they appear to be physically healthy, the police said after the meeting. "It looks like they've had some form of education. They can speak and write at a good level." 

The police announced on Thursday that Gert Jan van D. was arrested as a suspect. He is suspected of deprivation of freedom and harming the health of others - the same as Josef B., the tenant of the farm who was arrested earlier this week, is suspected of. B. was arraigned on Thursday and remanded into custody for at least another 14 days. 

Full statement from Van D.'s family, translated from Dutch:

The family has taken notice of the events in Ruinerwold with dismay. In the past few days a family member informed us of the identity of the family found. Mr. G.J. van D. broke all ties with his immediate family in the 1980s. He told us not to make any attempt to find his place of residence.

Eight years ago, three children of G.J. van D. fled the family in Hasselt and contacted their brother from a previous marriage, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins. The family has since remained unaware of the existence of other children. The mother of G.J. van D. died in July 2017. Investigations by two notaries to find out the whereabouts of G.J. van D. via the basic persons registration and the register for non-residents did not produce anything.

The family was also informed that if GJ van D. were to be traced, the family would be kept unaware of his place of residence (AVG legislation). At present, it is the express wish of the family to support the family found. The father of G.J. is demented and stays in a closed institution. We will give the regional police all the information needed to clarify the background of this drama. The family appreciates privacy and has no need to give heed to the sensationalism of a number of press media.

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