When he arrived home from work one day 15 years ago, Tony Wawrzynski’s life was changed forever.
The Arizona home he shared with his girlfriend and 3-year-old son was empty. A baby bed and toys were left behind, but there was no energetic toddler grabbing at his leg.
“She’ll come back. She always does,” Wawrzynski, now 45, told himself.
When he received a phone call last week from a Georgia detective, everything suddenly changed again.
The “Mitch” he had searched for tirelessly for so long was the teenage victim at the center of a horrific abuse case. His Mitch was Mitch Comer, an 18-year-old allegedly locked away inside his home for several years at the hands of his mother and stepfather, and then put on a bus to California. Days after turning 18, Mitch weighed 87 pounds when he was found wandering in a Los Angeles bus station and was stopped by a former security guard, who took him to police.
In an interview Wednesday night with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Wawrzynski, who says he is Mitch Comer’s biological father, said until last week he hadn’t heard about a teenager held hostage in his home, deprived of adequate food and medical attention. Now, he can’t hold back the tears when he thinks about the abuse investigators believe his son endured.
Because he was so young when his mother left with him in tow, Mitch may not know anything about his father, Wawrzynski says. But he could never forget the little boy who never wanted to leave his side.
“How much of that he remembers, I don’t know,” Wawrzynski said. “What he’s been through … what he’s been through I can’t imagine he remembers much.”
What Mitch has been through allegedly includes abuse that his mother and stepfather, Sheila and Paul Comer, viewed as punishment for unruly behavior, according to their attorneys. Since their arrests at their rental home near Dallas on Sept. 12, the Comers have remained in the Paulding County jail without bond. On Monday, a grand jury indicted the couple on 10 charges, including seven counts of cruelty to children.
All of the alleged abuse could have been prevented, Wawrzynski says, if Mitch’s mother had returned the boy to him like he asked through letters never answered. It was one of those letters that investigators found in the Comers’ home that led Paulding deputies to Wawrzynski.
But letters weren’t the only way in which Wawrzynski tried for years to find his son. Numerous Internet searches and a private investigator cost money and turned up nothing, he said. Sheila changed her name, and she and Paul moved dozens of times in recent years, investigators have said.
Wawrzynski, an engineer in Reno, Nev., is also the father of two young sons. He says a Paulding investigator plans to have him undergo a DNA test to legally prove he is Mitch’s father. But the same investigator says Mitch is the smaller image of his dad.
Wawrzynski says Paul Comer is no stranger to him, either. He never knew him well, but Wawrzynski said he and Sheila previously worked with Paul Comer in Arizona. But he says he never imagined Comer would become his son’s stepfather.
“It’s been really hard on me, I mean, me and Mitch when he was a baby, we were really close,” Wawrzynski said. “We were inseparable. When Mitch was a baby, I was the one that fed him. I was the one that changed his diapers.”
He isn’t sure yet when he’ll have the opportunity to reunite with Mitch, who is in the care of a family in Paulding County. But he is eager for Mitch to learn how much he has been missed.
Through Facebook, Wawrzynski has found strangers who also want the best for Mitch, and says he’s overwhelmed by others’ desire to help. A fund has been set up at WestSide Bank in Hiram to benefit the teenager. And several in the Paulding community are planning a large fundraiser for Nov. 10 at Taylor Farm Park near Powder Springs.
Wawrzynski said he hopes to make the trip to Georgia to attend the fundraiser. Hopefully then he’ll see the son he’s missed for 15 years.
“I definitely want some time for us to be able to talk and for him to get to know me,” Wawrzynski said. “My hopes are definitely that I’m gonna have my son back.”