Steve Hernandez pictured in the only photograph Maria Mancia had of her son for the last 20 years
SAN BERNARDINO, Calif.– Thursday morning, after clearing the immigration checkpoint between Tijuana, Mexico, and San Diego, 22-year-old Steve Hernandez was accompanied by district attorney investigators to the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office to see his mother Maria for the first time since 1995.
Steve Hernandez wipes a tear from his mother's eye after seeing her for the first time in 20 years.
According to Senior Investigator Karen Cragg, who is assigned to the Child Abduction Unit, Hernandez was abducted by his father Valentin Hernandez from their Rancho Cucamonga residence in 1995 when he was 18-months-old. Since that time, 42-year-old Maria Mancia (who eventually relocated to Rialto) has searched for her son to no avail.
“The couple was having problems in their relationship at the time of Steve’s abduction,” said Sr. Investigator Cragg. “The mother went to work one day, only to return home to an empty residence with the father and child gone.”
Valentin Hernandez, 54, had taken all the pictures of Steve, along with any other paperwork identifying the child—even an ultrasound.
According to Cragg, Mancia had to write her aunt in El Salvador requesting a photograph she had sent her of her son.
“That became the only photograph she had of Steve for the last twenty-one years,” said Sr. Investigator Cragg.
Over the years, following Steve’s abduction, investigators from the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Child Abduction Unit tracked several leads in different parts of the United States.
Information surfaced that the father and abductor was no longer alive—although his death remains unverified. As a result, Valentin Hernandez currently has a $750,000 warrant in the system for kidnapping and child abduction.
In Feb. 2016, investigators received a tip that Steve Hernandez, a United States citizen, was possibly living in Puebla, Mexico.
“We weren’t positive we located the right person,” said Sr. Investigator Cragg. “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.”
Cragg and Investigative Tech. Michelle Faxon worked to get a DNA sample from Steve in order to find out if he was in fact the missing boy. After extensive coordination and planning they persuaded the Department of Justice and Mexican officials to assist in the collection of a DNA sample from Steve in Puebla, Mexico. That swab, along with the mother’s swab, was sent to the lab for analysis.
On May 31, Sr. Investigator Cragg was advised that “Steve in Mexico” was in factthe missing child from 1995.
“We contacted the mother and she was overcome with emotion and very thankful,” said Sr. Investigator Cragg. “She had never given up after all these years, but had accepted the fact that she may never know her son. 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.”