Trapped family's father was "good to his children", online friends say; Son maybe visited Canada

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 2019Photo: Politie Drenthe/Twitter

Online friends of Gerrit Jan van D. are shocked by the accusations that he kept his children trapped on a farm in Ruinerwold for nine years. They describe him as a nice man who was "good to his children" to newspaper AD. The Telegraaf found - now deleted - posts on Facebook and LinkedIn that indicate that son Jan visited Canada in 2015 and earlier this year, indicating that he maybe was not being held captive, according to the newspaper.

Van D. and six of his now-adult children were found living in a hidden space on a farm in Ruinerwold last week. The farm was being rented by Austrian man Josef B. The police believe the family had been living there, in complete isolation from the rest of the world, for nine years. Van D. and B. were both arrested on suspicion of deprivation of freedom and harming the health of others. Van D. is also suspected of money laundering as a large amount of cash was found on the farm. Van D. was arraigned on Monday, B. last week. Both were remanded into custody as the investigation continues. 

The family was found after 25-year-old son Jan left the farm and asked for help at a local pub last week Sunday. According to the Telegraaf, in a 2015 Facebook post this same son wrote about his new job on his aunt's farm in Toronto. That post has now been deleted, according to the newspaper. He also said on LinkedIn that he was in Canada in May and June of this year. He described visiting the Rouge National Urban Park, saying it is "a very nice, quiet place to think and become calm". 

According to the Telegraaf, this may indicate that Jan - and maybe also his five siblings - was not being held captive. 

Friends Van D. made through various Facebook accounts, on which he posted about his religious views and his enthusiasm for gardening, also do not believe that the 67-year-old man held his children captive against their will.

“He loves his children dearly, and they love him”, an Albanian man said to AD. “They cared for him very well this past year, since part of his body became paralyzed.” He’s been online friends with Van D. for years, though he knew him as online persona John Eagles. “I think there’s a difference of interpretation here. If you have something you hold dear, you do everything to protect it. John’s children always had the opportunity to leave the house. The son finally did that.”

An American who is online friends with Van D. called the idea that he would harm his children "ridiculous and unfair", according to AD. "The Netherlands must know that his wife died of cancer 16 years ago and that he subsequently raised his children alone all those years. How could he have kept them locked up? He can barely walk." The fact that Van D. is now in custody, he calls "a fiasco".