Deborah Sanders was 2 years old when her father took her from her mother's arms. Seven years later, the girl's father is in jail on contempt charges, but her mother still asks: "Where's Deborah?"

Judge Marjan Staniec ruled two weeks ago that Deborah's father, Odell Sheppard, will remain in jail until he answers that question. But Sheppard insists he doesn't know where his daughter is, and his lawyer says he is being jailed unfairly.In the meantime, Deborah's mother, Norell Sanders, continues to live the same nightmare.

"I wonder if she's alive. I wonder if she's in school, if someone's taking care of her," Sanders said. "I wonder every day."

Deborah's mysterious odyssey began Sept. 29, 1984, when Sheppard arrived at Sanders' Chicago apartment. The two were not married and didn't live together.

Sheppard has said he simply took the girl to visit relatives in Tennessee, returning her to Sanders sometime in December.

Sanders says there was an argument and a struggle, although there were no witnesses to one.

She contacted police and reported her daughter missing, and Sheppard was arrested in July 1985. He eventually served 18 months of a three-year sentence on a child-abduction charge.

He was freed when his sentence was up but was ordered to return to court within a few days with his daughter. When he showed up in court alone, he was jailed on contempt charges and has been held ever since.

By the judge's reading of the law, Sheppard may be held as long as the court believes incarceration may induce him to reveal Deborah's whereabouts.

But Sheppard's lawyer, Steven Glink, insists that his client doesn't know where the girl is.

"I can't help but feel that it's because he's the man that he's presumed to be lying," said Glink. "My feeling is that it's because he's a man and the judge wouldn't believe a mother would lie in a case like this."

Sanders, meanwhile, returns to court periodically for hearings to make sure that Sheppard stays in jail until he talks.

Sanders, a part-time employee at a fast-food restaurant, says she has tapped all of her resources trying to get her daughter back, but she won't quit.

"This is my daughter," she said. "I could never give up. I'm just going to try to continue to get her back."