Absent parents in hiding

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WASHINGTON - Mystery still surrounds the case of David and Sharon Schoo, the Illinois couple who outraged America by leaving their two young daughters untended to take a Christmas holiday in Mexico. They were released on bail on new year's eve on charges of child abandonment, writes Rupert Cornwell.

Mr and Mrs Schoo were in hiding yesterday, according to their lawyer, still 'in complete shock' at the avalanche of publicity. A preliminary hearing has been set for Tuesday, at which they will plead not guilty, on the advice of their lawyer. 'This is not a simple case,' said Gerald Kepple, after the the couple had been released when a relative put up bail of dollars 10,000 (pounds 6,600). 'Of course they love their daughters'.

The Schoos were arrested on Tuesday at Chicago airport as they stepped off a flight from Acapulco. Eight days earlier, the plight of their daughters, aged nine and four, had been discovered when a bath overflowed in the surburban home where they had been left, causing an electrical short-circuit.

According to investigators, the children had been given several days' supply of cereals and television dinners. But their parents left no contact number, and had instructed the girls not to answer the telephone. The children are now in a foster home, barred from contact with their parents until the case is cleared up.