A California man decided to leave his wife for unspecified reasons, and in the process snatched up their 3-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son.
Although the details of the incident were not forthcoming, then-husband Faustino Utrera told the mother that she would never see them again, and then disappeared with the children. That was fifteen years ago, and the devastated mother has been searching everywhere for her two children ever since.
But as fate would have it, she trolled Facebook back in March and happened to chance upon her daughter, now 18. The girl, apparently still living with her father, resided in Central Florida, a long way from her original home in San Bernardino, California.
Elated, the mother added the estranged daughter as a friend and they began to exchange messages. After getting the details she needed, the mother immediately contacted San Bernardino Deputy District Attorney Kurt Rowley.
"We did some additional investigation until we located Mr. Utrera and the kids in Florida," Rowley said.
Utrera was arrested, Rowley added, and the two kidnapped children were placed in the custody of the Department of Children and Families (DCF). With the father facing prison time, the mother was granted custody of the two teens.
But the damage had already been done. It wasn't a tearful, joyful reunion. Once her two toddlers, the kids were almost grown and had become total strangers.
"There is no relationship there," said Carrie Hoeppner of DCF. "You don't have that immediate joyful reunification. If in fact that is what will progress, it will take time. These children will have to build a relationship, and that is something that will not happen overnight."
The two teens will eventually be able to return to their home in California.