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Kienan Hebert near his home in Sparwood, B.C. September 12, 2011.John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Randall Hopley was sitting quietly, unshackled, when Paul Hebert entered a spartan RCMP interrogation room to meet the man who had snatched his three-year-old son, Kienan, and plunged his family into a week of agony.

An RCMP officer introduced the two men: "This is Paul Hebert, Kienan's father."

Mr. Hopley looked up, and nodded. Mr. Hebert, who was torn between anger at Kienan's abduction and gratitude for his safe return, stuck out his hand. "Thank you," he said, "for bringing Kienan home safe."

So began an extraordinary 90-minute encounter last September in Cranbrook, B.C., a meeting aimed at prying a confession out of Mr. Hopley, who had been Canada's most wanted man after Kienan Hebert was snatched from his bed in the family's Sparwood home in the southeast corner of the province. Police had tried, and failed, to get Mr. Hopley to co-operate in the hours after his arrest in Alberta.

Then they turned to Mr. Hebert, asking him to come for a "quick meeting" with Mr. Hopley, who by then was held in the RCMP detachment in Cranbrook, where coincidentally the Hebert family, including Kienan, was headed to escape the media attention at home.

Police hoped Mr. Hebert could get through to Mr. Hopley, since the family's public plea for Kienan's safe return had worked. Within hours, Mr. Hopley had returned Kienan to the deserted Hebert home, four days after the Sept. 7 abduction.

Mr. Hebert recounted that meeting in an interview with The Globe and Mail shortly afterward, working just from his memory of the conversation with his son's abductor. RCMP Staff Sergeant Lorne Craig, the Elk Valley detachment commander who headed the investigation, broadly confirmed Mr. Hebert's recollection of events. Mr. Hopley declined a request for an interview.

On Monday, the 46-year-old pleaded guilty in Cranbrook court to the abduction of a person under 14, and breaking and entering for the purposes of committing an indictable offence; a third charge, of kidnapping, was stayed. He will be sentenced on July 18 and 19.

Seeking to break Mr. Hopley's silence, Mr. Hebert, an experienced real estate salesperson, used a negotiation strategy that often gets people talking: quiet. "Randall, would you talk to me?" Mr. Hebert eventually asked.

"Yeah, I'll talk with you, but I'm not talking with these guys anymore," Mr. Hopley said, referring to the police.

The details of the kidnapping came tumbling out. Mr. Hopley said the abduction was premeditated. He was familiar with the region, had scouted a vacant cabin at the quarry near the Crowsnest Lake Bible Camp – where he would finally be arrested on Sept. 13. Mr. Hopley scrubbed the place clean, sweeping out mouse droppings, so "it would be safe for kids." And he stocked the cabin with clothes, games and the staple foods of childhood: Hamburger Helper, Nutella, ice cream and pudding cups.

On Sept. 6, 2011, Mr. Hopley said his goodbyes, most notably on a sudden visit to his mother, Margaret Fink, whom he hadn't seen in a year, and then set off very early the next morning to cruise for kids.

After botched attempts at other residences, he wound up at the Heberts' two-storey home, where a ground-floor patio door was accidentally left unlocked, and with a large family tucked inside, noises in the night tend to go unnoticed.

Mr. Hopley opened the door to Kienan's room, normally shared with his six-year-old brother Calub, who on that night was sleeping with his parents. Mr. Hopley grabbed Kienan, a T-shirt, three blankets and walked out the same way he came in.

These were all fascinating revelations to Mr. Hebert, but his singular purpose was to find out if Kienan had been abused. "What was your favourite thing to do with Kienan?" Mr. Hebert asked.

Mr. Hopley sat and thought about it. "When the train came by," he said.

Puzzled, Mr. Hebert and the Mountie looked at each other.

"What do you mean when the train came by?" Mr. Hebert said.

"Well, every time the train would come by Kienan was like, 'Train! Train!' and would run to the window," Mr. Hopley continued.

That put Mr. Hebert at ease. He knew Kienan, and Kienan loved trains. And if he was being touched in a bad way, there was no way he would have been thrilled by the passing of a train. He also thought about how Kienan had been behaving since his return. When Kienan saw a picture of Mr. Hopley, his reaction was curious. He called the man in pictures and on television "Jason."

The officer interrupted and asked again whether Mr. Hopley had handled Kienan in a sexual way. Mr. Hopley seemed offended by the suggestion. "No. He's too young. That would really screw him up. I'm not into that. I'm impotent anyways even if I would try. I'm impotent."

In 1985, Mr. Hopley was sentenced for two years in a federal penitentiary for sexually assaulting a five-year-old boy. That was the last time he was convicted of a sexual offence. He said he knew it was wrong. He said he didn't want to be a pedophile. He certainly didn't want to be someone who people thought had now molested a toddler.

"This was a three-year-old boy," Mr. Hopley said. "It would be wrong to do anything to him like that. It would be wrong. It would be sick. It would wreck him. And that's not something I want to do. I wasn't trying to hurt him. I took good care of him."

Mr. Hopley filled in the blanks about how and why he abducted Kienan – and why he returned the toddler after a dramatic public plea from the Hebert family.

"When you did your plea, you asked to bring him into a busy parking lot or into a busy area," Mr. Hopley said. "I didn't want to do that, because I didn't want him to get kidnapped. So I brought him to a safe place, which was his home."

"It was safe until you came in and took him," Mr. Hebert shot back. "You know, you're the boogeyman that came for real."

"Yeah, I know," he replied.

The conversation meandered, but it also covered motive. Mr. Hopley's peculiar plot was to kidnap a child – any child – to punish the biological mother of a 10-year-old boy he was charged with attempting to kidnap in 2007. The earlier kidnapping charges were dropped because of insufficient evidence, but Mr. Hopley was convicted of break and enter and sentenced to 18 months in jail to be followed by three years probation. He was still on probation when Kienan disappeared. Mr. Hopley was the one who went to jail, not the woman whom he alleged put him up to the crime for $2,800.

The police officer left the room; they had the confession. But the conversation between father and abductor continued, turning to faith and the future. Mr. Hebert went from victim to counsellor.

"Everybody hates me," Mr. Hopley said.

"Everybody hates you?" Mr. Hebert replied. "It's not about what other people are going to think of you. It's what you're going to think of yourself when you're out. You think people are happy that I'm forgiving you? I'm the one that should be angry with you, but I'm not."

Mr. Hebert told Mr. Hopley he'd even help him if he could.

The men talked about how Kienan's kidnapping hurt two families, not just one. Ms. Fink was devastated by the accusations leveled against her son.

"Your mother loves you," Mr. Hebert said. "What I can do for you is I can go talk to your mother and just tell her that you love her. Do you want me to do that?"

"Yes," Mr. Hopley said. Mr. Hebert would keep that exceptional promise.

Then, after another handshake and another thank you, the meeting was over. Mr. Hebert walked out of that small room, and back to Kienan.