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Boy's abduction tied to religious beliefs

Thursday, October 01, 1998

By Tom Gibb, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

ALTOONA -- The little boy can barely talk. Yet, by Christopher Fink's reckoning, his first-born son, David, is a child chosen by God, a divine prophet.

But to Earl Fink, Christopher Fink's graying, truck-driving father, grandson David is no prophet; he's a 21-month-old slowly being starved by parents clutching self-fashioned beliefs that allow the youngster little but lettuce and watermelon.

Twelve days ago, Christopher and Kyndra Fink, both 23, snatched the child from protective custody at a Salt Lake City hospital.

Yesterday, the FBI was still trying to track the three -- Kyndra Fink, 8 1/2 months pregnant with their second child -- on a trail that went cold after a sighting Saturday 140 miles south of Salt Lake City.

Back in Altoona, the city where Christopher Fink grew up, his soft-spoken father sat in his back yard yesterday, crying when he spoke of his 21-month-old grandson, wasted to the weight of a 6-month-old.

Earl Fink could offer no explanation. He could only plead to a long-estranged son who couldn't even hear him.

"Please, Chris," Earl Fink said as his words became sobs, "contact authorities."

It was a message Christopher Fink's family is taking everywhere.

Yesterday, his younger sister and brother and a pair of aunts appeared with Kyndra Fink's sister and brother-in-law on the NBC daytime talk show "Leeza."

"Dateline NBC" prepared a segment. A crew for the tabloid show "Hard Copy" was setting up at midday yesterday in Earl Fink's kitchen.

But they got pleas, not explanations for Christopher Fink's behavior.

"I'd say he was misled, deceived -- even though it may be his own self-deception," Earl Fink said of his son's beliefs.

"He felt David was a prophet," Kyndra Fink's father, Dr. Dewain Lee, a Pocatello, Idaho, chiropractor, said yesterday.

Two days after Christmas 1996, Kyndra Fink gave birth to the child unceremoniously on the kitchen floor of an apartment, with her husband attending. Then, they tried to keep the baby spiritually pure, denying him anything but fruits, starchless vegetables and leafy greens.

"This diet of fruit is what Adam and Eve subsisted on in perfect repose and health," Christopher Fink wrote in a lengthy treatise posted on the Internet.

But Sept. 14, when child welfare officials in Salt Lake City took the child into custody, he was gaunt, sunken-eyed, only 16 pounds.

Five days later, the Finks took the child back, snatching him during a supervised visit and racing out of the hospital as a nurse's aide chased them.

"In their minds, I don't think they were hurting him," said Lee.

For Christopher Fink, it was another turn in a 15-year odyssey.

Earl Fink said his son was raised in an independent church in the Altoona area.

But Christopher Fink and his four younger brothers and sisters followed their mother, Cheryl Fink, to the local Mormon congregation after she separated from her husband in 1983.

"It was a desperate point in (Cheryl Fink's) life where she wanted to feel important," said Christopher Fink's 18-year-old sister, Shannon Breon of Altoona.

Cheryl Fink and her husband later divorced, and she took the children to live in Salt Lake City, church headquarters, then to short-lived homes across the West and Midwest.

Christopher Fink's beliefs turned severe sometime after 1995, when he broke with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormons, over church policy accepting abortion in cases of rape, incest or danger to the mother, Breon said.

"Chris preaches a lot, just like a missionary," she said, "and he's devoted to his beliefs."

He was so devoted, Fink told one Mormon splinter group in an e-mail last October that he had chased away almost everybody but Kyndra Fink, the Pocatello woman he married in 1995.

She, too, was raised a Mormon. Her father said she suffered dramatic emotional ups and downs and was treated with lithium. "There was some manic-depressive behavior," he said, although she was never diagnosed with that disorder.

She embraced Fink's beliefs after their 1995 marriage, then spurned her family, telling them in a phone call a few weeks ago, "until you come to the Lord, we can't associate with you," Lee said.

"I preach strong doctrines that condemn almost everyone I have met, so I have virtually no friends or acquaintances to share my hopes with," Christopher Fink wrote in a message to The True and Living Church of Jesus Christ of Saints of the Last Days, a Manti, Utah-based group that Fink rebuffed when he discovered one of its members had had an abortion.

He wrote of the Hale-Bopp comet as a sign of the second coming and created a Web page that promised "plain truth in regard to all things," lambasted modern-day Christiandom as lax, and rejected medicine and consumption of meat.

On the subject of diet, he said children raised on fruit are "far healthier and several times stronger" than other children. But he warned that child protective services would try to intervene.

"As CPS calls the police and other necessary forces to subdue the resistant parents and steal their children," he wrote, "one can expect another 'Waco' to ferment and stink in the nostrils of Jehovah."

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