For five years, Leilani Masumoto lived a mother’s worst nightmare. In 2007, her two-year old child with special needs was kidnapped and taken across the border into a foreign country. She had no idea if she’d ever see her son Keoni again, but Masumoto never gave up hope. This week the pair shared an emotional reunion.
“As soon as he came, I just broke down in tears,” Masumoto told NBC News. “It was like, will I recognize my son? Will he recognize me? And when I saw him, that was it.”
Keoni disappeared when his father, Julio Rocha, abducted him and fled the country during a child-custody dispute. Rocha later abandoned the toddler at his grandparent’s house near Mexico City when he realized there was a felony warrant out for his arrest.
According to the San Diego District Attorney's office, the major break in this case came when a neighbor recognized Keoni from a missing children’s poster online. Authorities were then able to negotiate a voluntary return of the child by his grandparents.
“It was the most heart-wrenching return I have ever seen,” said DA Investigator Carole Snyder, who works in the Child Abduction Unit. “The grandmother and the aunt knew this would be the last time they saw Keoni. The boy’s mother, Leilani Masumoto, who had not seen her son in five years, bonded like they were meant to be as soon as they were reunited at the airport.”
Keoni may be home safe, but Rocha is still wanted for felony kidnapping charges in the United States. He is thought to be traveling in Virginia or North Carolina under the pseudonym Miguel Martinez. If you have any information that could lead to his arrest, please call the authorities at the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office at 619-234-4148.