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Kidnapped boy and mom reunite after 5 years - Jan 04, 2013








Keoni Rocha, 7, sits with his mother Leilani Masumoto on Thursday at their home in San Diego, California. The two were reunited after 5 years apart. Keoni was allegedly kidnapped by his father and taken to Mexico.

SAN DIEGO — It had been five years since Leilani Masumoto had seen her son, who was just a toddler when authorities said his father kidnapped him from San Diego and whisked him to Mexico.

Now, the mother-son reunion that often haunted her dreams was about to come true.

As she waited for him at the Mexico City airport, she worried: “Will he even recognize me? Will I remember him?”

The 7-year-old boy she greeted was taller, but unmistakably her son.

“When I saw him I just broke down in tears,” she said Thursday.

The reunion last week was made possible with help from an enterprising young woman in Mexico and the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office Child Abduction Unit.

Keoni Rocha was abducted by his father, Julio Rocha, in 2007 after the boy’s mother requested full custody, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

The break in the case came recently when a student in Mexico was doing online research for a school project and came across a poster from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children with information about the boy and his father.

She recognized the boy as a neighbor who lived across the street, and she contacted authorities.

Investigators from the county’s Child Abduction Unit worked with Mexican authorities and were able to negotiate with Keoni’s grandparents for his return at the Mexico City airport last week.

The grandparents had said they were in failing health and could no longer care for the boy, who is autistic and doesn’t speak.

“It was the most heart-wrenching return I have ever seen,” said district attorney investigator Carole Snyder. “The grandmother and the aunt knew this would be the last time they saw Keoni.”

Snyder said the boy and his mother “bonded like they were meant to be as soon as they were reunited at the airport.”

Masumoto said it took her son about 20 minutes to warm up to her, but the pair have been inseparable ever since.

At their apartment Thursday in Point Loma, mother and son wrestled on the floor and snuggled on the couch.

The two are still learning how to communicate — he was raised around Spanish, and she speaks English. She is discovering her son all over again, such as his love of airplanes and his favorite food, a rolled-up tortilla with mayonnaise. She is working on finding a good school that works with autistic children.

Keoni’s 37-year-old father remains at-large. A felony arrest warrant for child abduction was issued for Rocha in 2009. He is believed to be living in the United States. He may be using the alias Miguel Martinez. Anyone with information can call investigators at (619) 531-4345.

The Child Abduction Unit is contacted when a child is taken from his or her parent or guardian in custody disputes violating San Diego County court orders.

Last year, the unit conducted 150 investigations and recovered 75 children taken from around the U.S. The unit also handled 30 international abductions, working with governments in countries such as Mexico, Germany, Argentina and Colombia.

Masumoto offered words of encouragement to other parents who have had children abducted in custody battles.

“Don’t give up. It does take time,” she said. “You’ve got to have patience, faith and hope.”

Kristina Davis


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