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Christopher Samples abduction in 2002

An armed robbery May 1, 2001, was just the beginning of a more than two-year saga perpetrated by a Hager City man.

Mark Samples, a decorated U.S. Navy veteran, stormed the Red Wing Credit Union with a handgun and escaped on a bicycle with nearly $70,000 in May of that year. He dropped a handgun and much of the cash during his getaway, but eventually made his way to an area near the Mississippi River where he had stashed scuba gear.

He stayed submerged for several hours.

Nobody was injured during the robbery and Samples was later arrested and charged with the crime.

But the story didn't end there.

Samples, free on a $25,000 unsecured bond while awaiting sentencing in federal court, took off with his 2-year-old son, Christopher, instead of returning the boy to his mother in Pepin after a weekend visit.

The resulting 15-month manhunt ended Sept. 12, 2003, when the FBI announced that it had arrested him and returned Christopher to his mother, Jennifer Bjork.

During a cheerful press conference at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Pepin, an FBI agent credited a tipster with the Samples' capture in a house in East Rochester, Ohio, located about 20 miles southwest of Youngstown.

Following several days of surveillance, members of the FBI convened on the house and arrested Samples without incident.

Christopher's abduction rocked the small, close-knit western Wisconsin town just 30 miles south of Red Wing.

Tattered signs that read "Bring Christopher Home" stood along the shoulders of Highway 35. Cars with faded photos of the boy taped to the rear windows cruised village streets. Students still wore ribbons to class, proving that it was hard to keep hope down.

Christopher began attending preschool and adjusted well to life back home with his mother and grandparents.

"He's adjusted so well," Bjork said. "It's familiar to him."