For over 20 years, all Maria Mancia had to remember her son, Steven, by was a blurry photo of him taken in 1995, when he was 1 year old. Steve had been kidnapped by Mancia's boyfriend, 54-year-old Valentin Hernandez, that same year, and had not been heard from since.
"I thought we were robbed," Mancia said of the night she came home to find her house ransacked and her son gone. "Then I noticed the only thing missing was Steven’s things and his clothes."
Mancia told the San Bernardino Sun that Hernandez's family would not tell her anything about where her son was or where her Hernandez may have taken him. She reported the kidnapping to the San Bernardino County police but had little to offer them in terms of identifying her son.
Hernandez took every relic of Steven's existence, including the baby's ultrasound and paperwork, save for the one photo -- a photo that a family member in El Salvador had kept. With little for police to go on besides the picture, the case went cold.
By 2016, Mancia faced the harsh reality that she may never be reunited with her long-lost son. Investigators Karen Cragg and Michelle Faxon of the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Child Abduction Unit dispelled that fear in February, when they knocked on Mancia's door to tell her the news that her son had been found.
Mancia said she was ecstatic. The same news was revealed to Steven, who had been tracked down in Puebla, Mexico. The now 22-year-old son had just enrolled in a law program.
Investigators first got wind of Steven after receiving a tip from the Department of Justice (DOJ), the San Bernardino Sun reports.
According to the website LittleThings, police weren't certain that the person they had located was really Mancia's son. They "used a ruse" to get Steven to take a DNA test by claiming they were investigating the disappearance of his father, who is presumed but not confirmed to be deceased.
Inside Edition reports that there is still a warrant out for his arrest.
"We didn't want him to know what was going on," Cragg told The Associated Press. "We didn't want to scare him off. We weren’t sure what the circumstances were down there. We had to tread very carefully."
Cragg asked the DOJ to process the sample quickly, knowing that it could take several months otherwise.
"They said it could take a month at the quickest," Faxon told the San Bernardino Sun. "The results came back in two weeks."
Steven reportedly had no difficulties crossing the border to visit his mother since he was already a U.S. citizen. Upon arriving, he was greeted by his mother, his 8-year-old brother, Daniel, and Daniel's 16-year-old half-brother, David.
"It was a shock," said Steven. "I didn’t know if she was alive or not and to get a call that says they found my mother and that she had been looking for me, it was like a cold bucket of water. But it’s good. It’s good."
Steven says he plans to continue his law studies in the United States.
The investigators said that tearful reunions like that of Mancia and her adult son are what makes their jobs enjoyable.
"That’s really why we do this," said Faxon. "For that moment and for today, when they finally met."