A California mother, Maria Mancia, whose son was abducted in 1995 reunited with him on Thursday after 21 years.
The last time Mancia saw her son was when he was just 18 months old and only had a single photo of him.
Her son, Steve Hernandez, who is now 22 years old, was found living in Puebla, Mexico, by investigators in the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Child Abduction Unit and on Thursday morning was brought to the U.S. to meet his mother for an emotional reunion.
The SBC District Attorney’s Child Abduction Unit had been looking for Hernandez through the years, searching for him in several states until investigators received a strong tip in February that he was in Mexico.
According to authorities, his father, Valentin Hernandez, is said to be missing and believed to be dead.
Investigator Karen Cragg, who led the search, said they had to approach Steve Hernandez delicately.
“We used a ruse to contact him. We told him we were investigating his father and we needed his DNA to help locate his father,” Cragg told The Associated Press on Thursday. “We didn’t want to scare him off. We weren’t sure what the circumstances were down there. We had to tread very carefully.”
According to police reports, Mancia and Valentin Hernandez had been living with their son Steve Hernandez in Rancho Cucamonga, California, in 1995 but were having relationship problems. Mancia said she came home from work one day to find both the elder Hernandez and their son missing and all of their photos of the boy, including an ultrasound gone as well.
She immediately reported the boy missing and the investigation had been active ever since, first with the Sheriff’s Department, then with DA’s investigators.
Once investigators located Steve in Mexico, DNA sample was obtained in February to acertain that he was truly Mancia’s son.
Once they got a positive match, Cragg drove straight to Mancia’s house to give her the good news.
“She began to cry. She said she couldn’t believe he was still alive.”
Because Steve Hernandez is a U.S. citizen, there were no immigration troubles returning him to the U.S., Cragg said. He had no personal documents at all, but his mother had his birth certificate and more.
The boy’s father had told him that his mother abandoned the two of them.
Steve Hernandez said:
“I lived all these years without my mother, then to find out she’s alive in another country, it’s emotional.”
He said he plans to stay in the U.S. and hopes to attend law school, which he already started in Mexico. He hugged his crying mother and wiped tears from her eyes.