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The family of a boy who was missing for 13 years before being found safe in Cleveland this week said they are "overjoyed" that the child has been found.
Julian Hernandez was 5 years old when he was reported missing by his mother in Alabama in August of 2002. On Monday the Cleveland office of the FBI confirmed that he was living in that city with his father, who had been suspected of taking the boy all along, officials said.
"Our family was overjoyed this week to locate Julian and learn that he is safe,” a representative for the child’s mother said in a statement to NBC affiliate WVTM in Birmingham Thursday.
"We want to thank everyone for their prayers and support during Julian's disappearance," the statement said.
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Vestavia Hills, Alabama, police Lt. Johnny Evans said police have been actively investigating all leads to find the missing boy since he was reported missing, but police received a call from the FBI Monday informing them the child had been found.
"They received hundreds of leads over the years of where he might be from Florida to out of the country, Canada," Evans said. "We followed up on every one of them and they all just came to be a dead end until I got the call Monday."
The child’s father, Bobby Hernandez, was arrested and is charged with tampering with records for allegedly providing false information to get an Ohio identification card in 2012, according to court documents.
Evans said he believes the boy and his father have been living in Cleveland since around 2004.
Julian Hernandez did not know about he had been reported missing until he started applying for colleges and encountered problems verifying his identity, Evans said.
The FBI said it received a tip on Oct. 30 that a missing person from Alabama might be living in the area, and confirmed the identity.
"He did not know any of this until shortly before we found out,” Evans said.
Bobby Hernandez, 53, is being held in lieu of $250,000 bail, according to court records. An arrest warrant in Alabama was issued for Hernandez Thursday on a charge of felony interference with custody, the Jefferson County District Attorney Brandon Falls said.
Julian Hernandez disappeared on Aug. 28, 2002. The child’s mother said Hernandez was watching the boy, and she returned to a note saying he’d taken the child and that’s the last she saw of either of them, Evans said. They were not married, and Evans said he doesn’t believe there was a formal custody order.
Bobby Hernandez' court-appointed attorney, Ralph DeFranco, said the case is still in its early stages and could not comment on the allegations.
"He’s a little upset about the whole thing, worried, but he’s anticipating probably some consequences from this," DeFranco said.