BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – What began as one teen applying for college turned to his discovery that he was a missing child.
In 2002, an Alabama 5-year-old boy went missing from his home in Vestavia Hills. Now, 13 years later, the boy has been found alive, safe and unharmed, living with his father in Cleveland, Ohio, thanks in part to encountering red flags while applying for college.
Julian Hernandez was in the custody of his mother when he was suspected to have been abducted by a non-custodial parent in 2002, according to police. His mother reported him missing from the Birmingham area after his father left her a note saying he’d taken the boy and never dropped him off at preschool.
Police 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,” Lt. Johnny Evans of the Vestavia Hills police said.
After 13 years of dead end leads, the case finally broke when Hernandez was trying to apply for college and encountered several red flags, said Jefferson County District Attorney Brandon Falls.
Hernandez had been doing well in school and was confused when experiencing problems with the college application process. He kept finding that his Social Security number didn’t match his name. His school counselor worked with him to determine why he was running into these issues when they discovered that he was on the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children database.
Hernandez had been living with his father, 53-year-old Bobby Hernandez, in Cleveland, Ohio. Both Hernandez and his father were living under false names with a woman and two other children, according to officials.
It’s likely that Hernandez didn’t know he was listed as missing until the college application process.
Hernandez’s father was arrested and charged in connection with the abduction, with the investigation ongoing, he may face further charges at a later date. Charges involving interference with custody, a felony carrying a prison term of one to 10 years, are also a possibility for Bobby Hernandez, according to police.
“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,” Evans said.
The teen’s mother is “ecstatic” that her son has been found, and is grateful for the closure in the knowledge that he is alive and safe. However, whether or not Julian Hernandez will reunite with his mother, is in part up to him.
“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.