“He’s been a perfect father,” Hernandez’s court-appointed attorney, Ralph DeFranco, told reporters after the arraignment. He later told The Washington Post: “I just meant he couldn’t have done any more. The young man is a senior, he’s a straight-A student who played sports; he was planning to go to college.”
“It’s gratifying that this young man turned out as well as he did,” DeFranco said.
In 2002, police said, Hernandez took then 5-year-old Julian Hernandez from his Birmingham-area home, where he lived with his mother.
Hernandez had agreed to take the boy to preschool, according to a poster from the Charley Project, a missing-persons database. Instead, Hernandez packed his son’s baby blanket and stuffed orca whale, drained his own bank accounts and hit the road, it said.
It was apparent that Hernandez had abducted his son during a custody dispute, police confirmed.
Authorities immediately started searching for the boy, who was about 3 feet tall and weighed 43 pounds. He had brown hair and big brown eyes. “His left cheek is dimpled,” the missing-persons poster read.
It noted that he may stutter.
For years, DeFranco said, Hernandez had been living in Cleveland under the alias Jonathan Mangina.
Asked whether Hernandez was aware that he had abducted his own son, DeFranco said last month, “Sure, he did.”
“There was an anticipation that there might be activity on the mother’s part to do the same,” DeFranco said about the abduction. So, DeFranco said, Hernandez “picked him up from school and came here” to Ohio.
The break in the case came a few months ago when Julian Hernandez, now 18, tried to apply for college and his Social Security number did not match his name, Jefferson County District Attorney Brandon Falls told NBC affiliate WVTM. A school counselor spoke with the teen and discovered he was listed in the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children database, Falls told the station.
“We applaud Julian Hernandez for his courage in taking the first steps to find answers about who he is,” the center said in a statement.
Police said teen did not know he had been abducted.
Agents approached Bobby and Julian Hernandez last month and took the elder Hernandez into custody, FBI spokeswoman Vicki Anderson said. He was charged with numerous crimes.
In March 2012, Bobby Hernandez had provided false information for an Ohio state identification card, according to a criminal complaint.
Vestavia Hills Police said authorities in Jefferson County, Ala., have also obtained an arrest warrant for Hernandez for interference of child custody, which is a felony. He will be extradited to Jefferson County and held without bond, according to the prosecutor’s office.
Hernandez’s attorney, DeFranco, said Hernandez knew the day of discovery would come.
“He anticipated there would come a time when this would happen — and it happened,” DeFranco said about the incident coming to light. “He understands what the situation is and he feels very badly the whole thing happened.”
Hernandez is being held on $250,000 bond, according to court records. He is due back in court Dec. 10.
When police in Alabama called Julian Hernandez’s mother last month to tell her that her son had been found, she was hesitant to believe it.
“Really?” she told police. “Are you sure? Really?”
She had gotten her hopes up many times over the years and been let down, police said. She wondered whether this time would be different.
“Once she finally realized it was him, she was excited — she was ecstatic,” said Vestavia Hills Police Lt. Johnny Evans.
A representative for the teen’s mother said in an email that the family was relieved that he had been found unharmed.
“Our family was overjoyed this week to locate Julian and learn that he is safe,” according to a statement. “We want to thank everyone for their prayers and support during Julian’s disappearance.”
DeFranco said the teen had traveled to Alabama over Thanksgiving to reconnect with his mother.
After his father’s arrest last month, Julian Hernandez pleaded with the media to leave him alone, according to AL.com.
“I ask that you respect my privacy and the privacy of my school, my school’s faculty, my friends, and my neighbors,” he said through the FBI, according to the news site. “At this point, I just simply want to be normal.”
He added: “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. Please, no more spotlights, no more cameras, no more reporters sneaking into my school or showing up at my house and no more microphones in my face. I just want to be left alone.”
Anderson, the FBI spokeswoman, could not confirm details about the case but said “obviously Julian was not listed as Julian Hernandez or it would have be easy to find him.”
Robert Lowery with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children said that the case is a reminder to others who are searching for missing children to “never give up hope.”
“There are thousands of children who still need to come home and Julian serves as a beacon of hope for their families,” he said in a statement.
Evans said that it is rare for authorities to see such a resolution.
“To me,” he said, “this is what it’s all about — reuniting families.”
This post, originally published on Nov. 5, has been updated.