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Loved ones baffled by Finks

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No one who knows Christopher or Kyndra Fink - either since childhood or in more recent years - seems to have answers to the questions that surround this young couple.

Why would they deliberately starve their infant son? Is that in fact what they did?Why was that son, David, born on the floor of a Price apartment with no access to medical care? And why at the age of almost 2 can't David Fink walk or talk?

Why did they live a hand-to-mouth sort of existence with no consistent source of income or permanent residence, occasionally depending on the kindness of strangers for food and shelter?

What is known is that in the past three years, the Finks, both 23, have cut off ties with friends and family members who could not abide by their stringent, self-crafted religious and dietary beliefs.

Until now, they have rarely been separated.

But now, Chris and Kyndra are in jail. David and his newborn brother, Elijah, are in the custody of the Utah Division of Child and Family Services and are living in foster homes.

Chris and Kyndra face first-degree felony charges of kidnapping and aggravated assault stemming from the alleged Sept. 19 abduction of David from state custody at Primary Children's Medical Center, where the 16-pound boy was being treated for malnutrition.

On Thursday, prosecutors added a class A misdemeanor charge of child abuse to the list of offenses.

Chris Fink vehemently denies starving his son. He cries conspiracy and claims others had stolen the boy. He and Kyndra were rescuing David, he says. Saving his life.

That Chris Fink would lead a nomad's life is no surprise to his aunt, Debra Hall of Altoona, Pa. That is the way he was raised.

Man of the house

"It would seem normal to him not to have roots, just to live from day to day. He never had a secure home," said Hall, whose sister is Chris' mother, Cheryl Gardner.

"(Cheryl) was unsettled herself. She moved those kids all of the time. They've fended for themselves since they were little."

Cheryl Gardner was married for 20 years to Earl Fink. They had six children. The first, a boy, was born with health problems and died at 2 days old, Hall said.

"I'd say after that (Cheryl) was never really the same," Hall said.

Earl Fink, a truck driver, traveled constantly. Chris is their second child.

"Chris was told early that he was the man of the house," Hall said. "A lot was dumped on him."

Gardner moved her kids from Pennsylvania, to Texas, to Utah and to countless other places, Hall said. Occasionally, she would drop back in on Altoona, where her family would help her find an apartment and get Chris, his brothers and sisters back in school.

Lacking in discipline, the Fink kids were a troublesome lot.

"They were always getting in trouble, for stealing, for being out after curfew, for truancy, mostly minor stuff," Hall said. "But they were always very intelligent."

Chris in particular showed an aptitude beyond that of his peers, she said. He read at an early age and was hooked on computers by age 11.

But he never seemed to connect with other children. "He was a loner type," his aunt said.

He dropped out of school at about the 10th grade.

Over the years, Gardner's siblings and parents considered approaching the state of Pennsylvania to adopt the five Fink children - Chris and his siblings - and give them a more stable home. But afraid of destroying what family relations existed, no one ever pursued it, Hall said.

"I guess maybe we should have," she said.

A plethora of opportunity

Kyndra Fink's own upbringing could not have been more opposite.

Born Kyndra Lee to Maryl and Dewaine Lee of Pocatello, Idaho, she was the fourth of six children.

Her father is a well-known chiropractor in the town of about 40,000. It was a traditional LDS family home with conservative values and a plethora of opportunity for the children.

The Lees were the very picture of stability.

As a child, Kyndra sang in the church and school choirs, traveling with the Gate Cities group to perform in Japan, her father Dewaine Lee said.

She was involved in church activities, played volleyball and had parts in school plays.

"She was very friendly, outgoing," he said. "She did all the typical teenage things."

Her best friend and companion at high school football games, parties and movie theaters said Kyndra was often the one who instigated the fun.

"She had this bubbly personality. She was the one saying, `C'mon, let's go.' She was not someone that was easily led," said the woman who has asked only to be identified as Elisa.

Kyndra's life also included the normal teenage rebellions and family strife, her father said. With some counseling and support, she settled down, studied massage therapy and started a business alongside Lee.

After high school, Kyndra and Elisa shared an apartment until Elisa got married. Kyndra was always daydreaming about getting married in the temple, her friend said.

"She just really wanted to get married. She even got engaged a couple of times. But then she broke it off."

In fact, Kyndra was engaged to another man when she met Chris, Elisa said.

"I'm not even sure where she met Chris. All I know is I went to her apartment one day and his whole family was living there. They had sleeping bags sprawled out on the living room floor, and they would go to the laundry room and read scriptures," she said.

Huddling in the desert

Within a week, Kyndra announced she was moving to Arizona with Chris and his family.

"It was totally spontaneous," Elisa said. The next time their paths crossed, Kyndra told Elisa she'd come back to Pocatello to get married. She and Chris were married two days later by an LDS bishop in a Christian bookstore.

Elisa stood by her best friend's side, although she doubted the re-lationship would work. In Elisa's view, Chris totally dominated the relationship and Kyndra followed meekly, deferring everything to him.

"She was very vulnerable when they met. I just felt that she had been totally swayed by these people," Elisa said. "She wasn't even herself."

Those feelings about Kyndra deepened as Elisa read the letters Kyndra sent from Arizona. Page after page was filled with religious doctrine and anti-abortion rhetoric. Other than writing that they were "huddling in the desert" to stay warm at night, Kyndra included no specifics about her life.

Elisa returned the letters to Kyndra, asking her friend to stop condemning to a life in hell those who didn't share her extreme views. Frustrated, Elisa eventually stopped writing and mourned the loss of an important friendship.

"You couldn't reason with her," Elisa said. "I decided I was done with her."

Finally, there was a phone call on the eve of New Year's 1997. It was just a few days after David was born. The Finks were living in Helper.

"I decided that I would try to talk to her and after five minutes if she started in with me, I would just hang up," Elisa said.

On the phone, Kyndra seemed happy, cooing at her new baby. But it wasn't long before the proselytizing began.

"We argued for an hour and a half. She kept saying, `What am I going to do with you? I just can't get through to you,' " Elisa said.

"I kept asking her where she read things to get her opinions, but she always said it came from Chris, that he read it somewhere. It was like she'd just disappeared."

Only a shell

Lee describes his daughter in similar terms.

Only a shell remains of the Kyndra he and Maryl raised. When Lee saw his daughter on Sept. 13 - just days before she and Chris took David from the hospital - she sat meekly next to her husband with a glassy look in her eye, he said.

"She's broke. There's no light there," he says sadly. "She just kept asking where her baby was. I told her that's the way I had felt for the past two years not really knowing where she was or how she was doing."

Ironically, just before Chris and Kyndra were about to step further away from mainstream society and cross the boundaries of the law, Lee was feeling more optimistic about their chances as a family.

Chris was enrolled in trucking school at CR England in West Valley City and had almost completed the program.

"Being a truck driver was the only goal I ever remember (Chris) having. He wanted it because it's what his father did," Lee said. "He had about three weeks to go."

Despite everything that has happened, Lee still holds some regard for his daughter and son-in-law.

There is no question, he said, that they love their children, or that the choices they made - from David's diet right down to the alleged kidnapping - were done out of that love.

"I don't think they did anything that would purposely hurt David. I know they love him and their other son," said Lee. "I think they probably would have died out there for fear of losing him.

"In some ways," he said, "they have a greater dedication to their family than many of us."