A Rialto mother who held on to the faint hope that she would someday see her son again following his abduction 21 years ago was finally reunited with him on Thursday, according to the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office.
Maria Mancia, 42, saw her son for the first time since he was a toddler after he cleared an immigration checkpoint between Tijuana, Mexico, and San Diego, according to a DA’s office news release.
The son, 22-year-old Steven Hernandez, had been kidnapped by his father, Valentin Hernandez, when he was 18-months old from the Rancho Cucamonga residence his parents shared, the release stated.
“The couple was having problems in their relationship at the time of Steve’s abduction,” said Karen Cragg, a senior investigator with the DA’s office. “The mother went to work one day, only to return home to an empty residence with the father and child gone.”
The elder Hernandez also took all of the child’s pictures and even an ultrasound photo, leaving the mother to get back a single grainy photo of the boy that she had once sent to relatives in El Salvador.
Since the abduction, Mancia had been looking for her son, but to no avail until Thursday. That was when the pair finally got to embrace in a long overdue reunion.
“To never see the child and to be reunited after 21 years: It was just an amazing, amazing moment,” Cragg said in the release. “She had never given up after all these years, but had accepted the fact that she may never know her son.”
San Bernardino County authorities had also worked over the years to try and locate the boy. Finally, in February, investigators received a tip that Hernandez was possibly living in Pueblo, Mexico.
“We weren’t positive we located the right person,” Cragg said. “So we used a ruse and told Steve we were conducting an investigation related to the disappearance of his father. During the conversation, we found several similarities in his history that matched that of our missing boy.”
Investigators took a DNA sample from Hernandez to see if he was the missing boy. That swab was analyzed in a lab, along with a DNA sample from his mother, according to the release.
On May 31, authorities confirmed the identity of Mancia’s son.
“We contacted the mother and she was overcome with emotion and very thankful,” said Cragg. “Maria never gave up, and neither did our office. Our committed teamwork paid off and we finally found Steve. To be able to return him to his country and his mother is an indescribable honor.”
The pair reunited in an emotional reunion, with mother and son crying as they finally embraced for the first time in two decades, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Authorities have received information that the father possibly died, but have been unable to confirm the tip.