CLEVELAND — The man accused of taking his 5-year-old son from the Alabama home of the boy’s mother in 2002 and creating new identities for both of them knew he’d be caught someday, the man’s attorney said Friday.
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Bobby Hernandez, 53, came to Cleveland and built a new life for himself and his son and began calling himself Jonathan Mangina. His son, now 18, was known as Jay or J.J., a neighbor in Cleveland said.
The ruse fell apart when the teen, a senior at a Cleveland high school, began the college application process and discrepancies were discovered with his Social Security number. That’s when a school counselor learned the teen was actually Julian Hernandez and that he was listed as missing by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The FBI became involved and Hernandez was arrested Monday.
Bobby Hernandez’s court-appointed attorney in Cleveland said his client believed he’d be caught. Hernandez is being held on a $250,000 bond after being charged Wednesday with tampering with records to obtain an Ohio driver’s license.
Alabama authorities Thursday charged him with interference with custody, which carries up to 10 years in prison if convicted. Hernandez is scheduled to be arraigned in Cleveland on Nov. 12.
Defense attorney Ralph DeFranco said Hernandez was initially placed on a suicide watch in Cuyahoga County Jail before being given medication to calm him.
“He’s pretty upset,” DeFranco said. “He obviously knows there’s going to be some consequences.”
Asked if Hernandez knew he’d be caught, DeFranco replied, “Absolutely. He knew it was coming. He just didn’t know when.”
Julian Hernandez, his life turned upside down and reporters flocking to his home overlooking downtown on Cleveland’s west side, is trying to find a new normal. He issued a statement Friday through the FBI that asks the news media to leave him alone.
“I ask that you respect my privacy and the privacy of my school, my school’s faculty, my friends and my neighbors,” the statement said. “At this point I just simply want to be normal! I want to go through my day like I did before this week, just being a normal 18-year-old. I have goals that I am striving to meet, so please, again, respect my request for privacy.”
The teen vanished from his mother’s home in the Birmingham area in 2002, his father leaving a note saying he had taken the child, authorities said. The teen’s parents weren’t married. Police investigated hundreds of possible sightings.
A police lieutenant in Vestavia Hills, the Birmingham, Alabama, suburb where Julian Hernandez lived with his mother before being brought to Cleveland, said it appeared that the teen didn’t know his actual birthday or his real name.
“How does he cope with going from somebody he thought he was to now somebody that’s completely unknown to him?” Lt. Johnny Evans said Thursday.
The teen and his mother have been in contact, Evans said, but he wasn’t sure whether it was by phone or some other means.
The mother’s family said in a statement: “Our family was overjoyed this week to locate Julian and learn that he is safe. We want to thank everyone for their prayers and support during Julian’s disappearance.”
Reeves reported from Birmingham, Alabama.
Copyright The Associated Press