The FBI has arrested a Shasta woman on charges of kidnapping two children last year – one from the campus of Father Flanagan’s Boys Town in Nebraska – giving them new names and taking them to live in her Northern California home.
The suspect, Sylvia Clara Simonsen, 57, made a brief appearance in federal court in Sacramento Friday afternoon and was ordered held in Sacramento County Main Jail pending a preliminary hearing set for June 7.
A criminal complaint and affidavit filed in court describe a bizarre sequence of events in which Simonsen allegedly kidnapped the children, possibly because she believed she was rescuing them from abuse.
“I know she didn’t kidnap anybody,” her sister, Sue, said after court. “It was just rescue. She saved them.”
Simonsen’s sister said she did not want to discuss the case in detail for fear of causing difficulty with her sister’s defense, and she declined to talk about a typewritten manuscript the FBI says was found at Simonsen’s home that described a young woman being “sexually abused in Illuminati ritual ceremonies at the ages of three, six, nine, twelve and fifteen years old.”
The manuscript also describes how the girl, named Sylvia Clara Amanda Simonsen Solheim and referred to as “Amanda,” “managed to rescue 158 people in 41 years.”
“It is unclear how much of the narrative is fiction versus fact, but the narrative was found in Simonsen’s bedroom,” court documents say. “Agents also found a sweatshirt in Simonsen’s closet bearing the words, ‘Mothers of Lost Children’ in large bold font.”
Court documents say Simonsen traveled to Iowa, sometime last year and picked up a boy identified in court papers as “P.O.” at a motel after being told the boy was being abused by his father.
Simonsen told an FBI agent after her arrest that she had been told about the abuse by a Davis woman she identified as Connie Valentine, court papers say.
Valentine is listed as a co-founder of the California Protective Parents Association, which says on its website that it was created “to ensure there would be an end to abuse in our family courts and children could be safe at home.”
Valentine could not be reached Friday, and Catherine Campbell, the association’s executive director, said Saturday that Valentine had no comment and that her group had not worked with Simonsen.
The court documents say “Valentine arranged the place at which Simonsen would pick up P.O. and Simonsen drove from California to Council Bluffs, Iowa, to meet P.O. at a Motel 6.”
Simonsen renamed the boy “Josh” and took him back to her Shasta home, court documents say, where she told people he was Valentine’s grandson.
At the time of his disappearance, he and his sister had been ordered by a Ohio judge to go live at the Boys Town complex in Nebraska for treatment because “of the harm the juveniles’ parents had inflicted on them over a period of years,” court documents say.
The boy was missing by the time of that September 2018 order, court papers say, but the girl was sent to live near Omaha, Nebraska.
The girl, identified in court papers as “C.O.,” then vanished from Boys Town in October; court papers say Simonsen told the FBI she went to the campus, found the girl there wearing a name tag with her real name and got close enough to whisper, “I know your brother.”
She convinced the girl to follow her out to her car, where she asked if she wanted to go see her brother, and the girl agreed, court papers say.
The two children ended up at Simonsen’s home, where she called them “Joshua” or “JP” and “Sarah,” and listed their names on a chore chart that was posted on a wall in the home, court papers say.
Authorities in Nebraska continued their search for the children and posters of them were placed on the website of the National Center for Missing and Endangered Children.
In February, law enforcement got a tip that the two children were living with Simonsen at her Benson Drive home in Shasta, court documents say.
Authorities converged on the home the next day, but the children were not there, although authorities found evidence they had been, court papers say.
Agents interviewed Simonsen’s sister in March and got a cell phone number for Simonsen, court papers say. Her sister, Sue, also told agents Simonsen had visited her for about a week with two children matching the description of the missing siblings.
By late April, agents had received court permission to begin tracking her cellphone and located it near Williams, Arizona, court papers say. Two days later, on May 1, they tracked it to a Super 8 Hotel in Quartzsite, Ariz., and found Simonsen, the children and some other adults in Room 127, court papers say.
Simonsen agreed to talk to the FBI without an attorney, according to the documents, and “indicated that she did not consider her actions to be ‘kidnapping’ because she felt that kidnapping involved people taking children in order to harm them.”
“Simonsen stated that she knew what she did was illegal, but did not consider it harmful,” the documents say.
“Simonsen is not a parent to P.O. and C.O. and the FBI believes she is not a blood or legal relative of any kind to them,” court papers say.
The documents add that Simonsen told the FBI “that she traveled across multiple states to pick up both minors, returned with them to California, and then went on the run across state lines to avoid law enforcement detection, knowing that the FBI was looking for her.”
Simonsen now faces a kidnapping charge that could net her 20 years to life in prison.
Correction: Due to an editing error, a previous version of the story’s headline said Simonsen was accused of abuse. Simonsen is charged with kidnapping the children, but not with abuse.