Last week news broke that a boy who had been reported missing in Alabama in 2002 had been found living in Cleveland with his father who had abducted him. Julian Hernandez, now 18 years old, stumbled on that backstory when he was applying for college scholarships and had trouble verifying his social security number. A school counselor helped Hernandez locate his name on a database with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Authorities were alerted. His father was arrested. There's a whole lot we don't know about the case right now — Hernandez is being represented by Jones Day, his mother by Gloria Allred — and both sides are asking for privacy. What little we do know is that Hernandez took to Reddit to anonymously ask advice when he discovered his true identity and wrote that "I'm not angry at my father in the slightest. I remember that he used to ask me 'If I ever committed a terrible crime, would you still love me?' I still do, even after learning everything."
Julian Herandez at the age of 5
There are very few people who have any semblance of understanding of what Julian is going through. One of those people might be Clevelander Melissa Medina. She got in touch recently to share her story. This is not to say the stories are identical or even parallel, nor that the reasons Medina's father did what he did are in any way similar to the reasons Julian's father did what he did. It's simply to pass along the feelings and thoughts of someone who has been down a version of this road.
By Melissa Medina
I lived the same type of lifestyle that Julian Hernandez lived. I was born in New York City and was abducted by my father at the age of four. He fled to Cleveland and we lived in a near west side neighborhood not too far from Tremont and Castro’s house of horror. I did not find out I was kidnapped until I was in my mid-twenties.
I was born at Mount Sinai Hospital in the Bronx and all I can remember is being on an airplane and flying up above the clouds telling my dad “look daddy, it’s snowing in Cleveland” and my dad just looked at me, smiled, and he told me that wasn’t snow – we were way up above the clouds.
I never knew why my daddy and I came to Cleveland, and my mother was never discussed. My paternal grandmother followed shortly thereafter. She migrated from NYC 6 months after we left to help my dad raise me. I ended up living with her the majority of my childhood and she was the mother I never had. Every once in a while I would notice how all of the other children at school always had their moms around and it would stir up curiosity in me, so I would ask my grandmother questions about my mother, but she would never entertain that conversation with me.
When I became a teenager I begged my dad to tell me about my mom, especially since he and my grandmother would make comments about how strongly I resembled her. I begged to see a photo of her, to hear a story about her, or just anything related to her. All that my dad would tell me was that it wasn’t a very good situation and that's why we ended up here.
Fast forward to my senior year of high school. A good friend of mine loved to read over the classifieds section in the PD (who does that in high school? but whatever). So as she’s perusing the paper she comes across an ad that says “Anyone knowing the whereabouts of Melissa Medina please contact ###-###-#### and when she showed it to me I immediately got chills. I took the paper home with me and showed my dad, and he didn’t seem surprised – which was probably even more shocking to me. He told me that he instantly knew who it was. The area code was for a phone number in Puerto Rico. He told me it was my mother. "Go ahead and call her if you’d like.” At that moment I was so overwhelmed with emotion. I thought to myself, “Wow, after all of this time of yearning to know my mother, I finally have my chance – but why am I feeling so hesitant and fearful now?” Eventually I called her and it was very awkward. I honestly can’t remember if she told me that my dad kidnapped me or not because all I really remember is her telling me negative things about my dad in an indirect manner and I really didn’t want to hear that. She made arrangements to fly into Cleveland several months later and I met my mother for this first time on my 19th birthday. As quickly as she appeared into my life, she disappeared. I tried hard to keep in contact with her, but she just wasn’t feeling it.
Fast forward once again to my mid-twenties. I was having a phone conversation with a woman who I still consider my aunt, but she’s actually my uncle’s ex-wife. Out of the blue she decided to ask me, “Melissa, do you ever wonder how you ended up in Cleveland?” I said, “Yes, titi (that’s how Hispanics say auntie) but I am tired of never getting a straight answer from anyone, so I just give up.” She said “I’m going to tell you the truth.” She told me my mother and father and a tumultuous relationship. The details aren't worth going, but basically my aunt told me my dad was going insane because I was his everything and he wanted to make it right. He snatched me up and never looked back. I was astounded to hear that, so of course I confronted my father immediately with that story… and he told me that it was all very true. At that moment I was overwhelmed by the love that my father had for me. He would do anything to protect me. He explained what was a bad situation in New York and the problems that my mother was having — drugs, mainly. After I met her, I was also slowly introduced to her side of the family and several of her family members have confirmed that she has battled drug addiction for a good majority of her life.
I’m sure Julian is struggling with a wide variety of emotions and I have been praying for him. I know firsthand that it’s extremely overwhelming to try to cope with this type of adversity.