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Mother of abducted boy issues a tearful plea for his safe return

ST. PETERSBURG — Nothing about Paul Martikainen seemed suspicious when he showed up in St. Petersburg nearly two months ago to retrieve a boat a friend purchased.

The 35-year-old Palm Bay man made friends with other Salt Creek Marina boat owners, sharing beer and doughnuts as he lived on the sailboat while refurbishing it. He spoke fondly of his son and asked about basic boating tips, the boaters recall.

He certainly didn't seem like the kind of guy who would abduct his 3-year-old son and take off with him in the boat, braving the Gulf of Mexico with no sailing experience. But that's what authorities accuse Martikainen of doing after escaping a supervised visit with the boy at a Cocoa park on Saturday.

By Monday, Cocoa police, the FBI and the U.S. Coast Guard were still searching for Martikainen and the boy, Luke Finch. Luke's mother issued a tearful televised appeal.

"Please," said 29-year-old Christa Finch, "just bring Lukey home."

Finch didn't elaborate on how Martikainen and the boy got away from the court-appointed supervisor. But interviews with authorities and witnesses suggest what happened before and after the abduction.

About 4 p.m. Saturday — a few hours after Martikainen left the park — Gabriel Guzman and Sam Mageramov saw Martikainen sailing away from Salt Creek Marina.

As Martikainen was leaving, a dinghy attached to his boat came loose, they said. They helped him tie it back — not knowing what the man on the boat was accused of doing.

At one point the boy emerged from inside the boat, Guzman said, but Martikainen told him to go back. The boy didn't seem scared, Guzman said.

"We should have saved the boy," Guzman said. "We could have saved him had we known."

In recent weeks, Guzman said, Martikainen started asking basic boating questions, such as how to tie certain types of knots.

Debra Van Skiver, who works for Neptune Towing and Recovery near the marina, said she sold the 1977 32-foot Bristol to Martikainen for $6,109 during the third week of October. He told friends he was purchasing it for someone in Arkansas. He was going to fix it up and transport it to his friend, he said, though Martikainen had no sailing experience.

He appeared to be living aboard the boat as he worked on it, said Ted Suratt, whose boat was docked next to Martikainen's.

Van Skiver said the boat has a sleeping cabin, kitchenette, compass and VHF radio. Martikainen purchased a GPS before Thanksgiving, she said, but had no EPIRB, a device that helps rescuers locate boats in distress.

The boat had adult life vests but no child vests, and Van Skiver didn't know if Martikainen bought one.

"This is a man with not a lot of sailing experience," Van Skiver said. "It is impossible to take care of a child and sail a boat without multiple people."

Authorities believe the abduction was planned because the boat was recently painted gray — covering identifying numbers and making it tough to see in the water.

Martikainen was ordered to have supervised visitation because of previous allegations that he physically abused the boy, Cocoa Police Department spokeswoman Barbara Matthews said. The visits have been ongoing for about six months, his ex-wife said. The allegations were verified by a Department of Children and Families investigation just days before the child disappeared, said DCF spokeswoman Carrie Hoeppner.

DCF said there was no reason for the state to intervene because the mother had primary custody and the child was under the supervision of a judge.

DCF said it conducted several investigations of Martikainen this year, but the only one it could comment on was the most recent, which verified the abuse. DCF closed its investigation Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

Records show that Martikainen and Christa Lee Finch got a marriage license in 2004 in Palm Beach County. A wedding was held at Great Outdoors in Titusville in Brevard County on Dec. 3, 2004.

They filed for divorce in July 2005, Florida Today reported. She was pregnant with Luke, and Martikainen agreed to give up his parental rights as part of their divorce agreement, the newspaper reported.

The two began living together again in September 2006, then separated in January 2008, Today reported. He filed for joint custody because he said he had developed a bond with Luke.

Martikainen has an arrest record that includes driving without a license and failing to go to court multiple times in the 1990s. In 1999, he was arrested in Palm Beach on a felony charge of trafficking the drug ecstasy.

In February he was charged with child abuse and domestic battery.

The Coast Guard said it was searching for Martikainen and his son during patrols Monday. A bad storm is expected to move across the gulf from Texas on Wednesday.

Times researcher Carolyn Edds and staff writer Jamal Thalji contributed to this report. Emily Nipps can be reached at nipps@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8452.

Police seek help

Paul Martikainen is described as being 5 feet 11, 176 pounds, with blond hair and green eyes. Luke Finch is described as 2 feet 9, 33 pounds, with blond hair and blue eyes. According to the Amber Alert, the child was last seen wearing a blue sweatshirt, blue pants and black and red fire engine sneakers. Cocoa police ask anyone with information to call (321) 639-7620 or dial 911.

Mother of abducted boy issues a tearful plea for his safe return 11/30/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 1, 2009 10:33am]

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