By Ronda Kaysen
Imagine this happening to you: Your estranged husband kidnaps your two young children and flees to Mexico. The authorities can do little to help, since he has left the country. Fifteen years go by with no sign of your babies.
And then, one day, you find a Facebook profile of a girl who bears a striking resemblance to the toddler you haven't seen in more than a decade. Stunned at the thought that this could be your daughter, you send her a note. She writes back, saying she's happy in her life and wants nothing to do with you. Then she cancels her Facebook account. You contact the police. They track your son and daughter down. They're living with their father in Florida. He's arrested for kidnapping, but your children have been filled with lies for 15 years and revile you.
This is what happened four months ago to a California woman named Prince Sagala when she tracked down her children.
During her one and only supervised visit with her kids -- in a public library -- her son sat with his nose in a book and her 17-year-old daughter gave curt, one-word replies to her questions, the Associated Press reports.
"She doesn't know me; her father's in jail," Sagala said. "I guess she does blame me for this. She doesn't know the truth. I told her, 'You can see me right now; I'm not that person like what you thought for 15 years, like what your father told you.'"
Sagala's side of the story is heartbreaking. She said that her husband, Faustino Fernandez Utrera, was abusive and that she had planned on seeking a restraining order. Then he called her at work one day, said he was taking the kids to the park ... and vanished. A friend of his called later that night and told her Faustino had gone to his native Mexico. She searched for her kids, to no avail. He had indeed left the country, and Mexico would not extradite him. Eventually, Prince remarried and had two more children, but she longed for her missing kids.
Utrera, meanwhile, sits in a jail cell awaiting trial. But he has his own version of the past 15 years, and it paints a very different story of Sagala. In his version, she was mentally unstable and was having an affair with his brother at the time he took the kids. He's shown letters he received from her over the years, and claims she called and sent money to Mexico -- and showed pictures of her kids in her church. She knew where her children were, he says.
But the police believe Sagala and think they have a strong case. "In her interviews with us, we feel that she has been very candid," Deputy District Attorney Kurt Rowley told the AP. "In child abduction cases, you'll get two very different stories. But having taken all that into account, there isn't any question in our mind that the acts that were done qualify as the crimes that were charged."
This is such a sad, sad story. Two kids are suddenly without the only father they've ever known, and have been taught to revile the mother who's spent so many years dreaming of this day.