Alabama child missing since 2002 found as young man in Ohio
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Thirteen years after he was allegedly snatched from his Alabama home at age 5 by his father, the young man has been found living under an assumed name with his dad in Ohio, in a case authorities say broke open when his Social Security number raised red flags during college applications.
Julian Hernandez's mother reported him missing from the Birmingham area in 2002 when his father left her a note saying he'd taken the boy, police said. After years of dead ends, officials said, the key tip came in Oct. 30.
Hernandez was doing well in school in Ohio and was applying to several colleges, but there was a problem with his Social Security number, according to police in Vestavia Hills, near Birmingham. He approached a school counselor, who was trying to help when she realized Hernandez was listed as missing by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, District Attorney Brandon Falls in Jefferson County, Alabama, told local media outlets.
Apparently, Hernandez had been living with his father, 53-year-old Bobby Hernandez, in Cleveland, on the city's west side, authorities said. Both were living under assumed names with a woman and two other children, according to officials, and Julian Hernandez probably didn't know he was listed as missing.
Bobby Hernandez has been charged with tampering with records in Ohio to get a driver's license in 2012, and police say he'll face additional charges in Alabama. He's being held in Ohio on a $250,000 bond.
"We are in the process of getting charges on him and when that happens, when he is adjudicated in Ohio, then he will be extradited back to Jefferson County," Lt. Johnny Evans of the Vestavia Hills police said.
Falls told local media outlets that he's seeking charges involving interference with custody — a felony carrying a prison term of one to 10 years.
Court records show that Hernandez was declared indigent in Ohio. A message seeking comment was left at court-appointed attorney Ralph DeFranco's office Thursday.
Prosecutor's spokesman Joseph Frolik said the investigation is ongoing, but he had no additional comment Thursday. A preliminary hearing is set for Nov. 12.
Lt. Kevin York said police in Alabama have been in contact with the young man's mother, who still lives in the Birmingham area. He said she has asked police not to release her name or address and has requested privacy. Police identified a spokesman for the woman, but he did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
"She was very happy that he had been found, quite ecstatic, but she was also somewhat hesitant because there had been so many false leads through the years," York said.
When she reported him missing, she told police that Bobby Hernandez had come over to watch Julian, Evans said. He left her a note saying he had taken him and that was the last time she saw her son, Evans said. The two were not married, and police tried to locate Bobby Hernandez but couldn't find an address, Evans said.
Officers received "hundreds of leads over the years of where he might be, from Florida to out of the country — Canada — and we followed up on every one of them, and they all turned out to be a dead end until I got the call Monday," Evans said.
What happens next, in part, will be up to Julian Hernandez.
"He is 18, he is an adult, so it's kind of up to him now as to whether he wants to come back," Evans said.
Hernandez has been in contact with his mother, Evans said, but he wasn't sure whether it was by phone, email or other methods. Evans said he doesn't know much about what the young man has been doing, but he's been told that Hernandez is a good student who seems well-adjusted.
"It seems to be he was taken care of," Evans said.
— Associated Press writer Lisa Cornwell in Cincinnati contributed to this report.