WATSONVILLE, California – AA California woman and her two sons are back together after the boys were kidnapped and held for ransom in Mexico for more than a year.
The Santa Cruz Sentinel reported on Thursday that Sarani Hernandez, 33, of Watsonville, and her 9- and 11-year-old sons were reunited earlier this month.
The boys, both U.S. citizens, were abducted in 2011 by a couple who told Hernandez they could bring the children back from Mexico, authorities said. Hernandez had left them in the state of Michoacan with her mother.
But police and U.S. Justice Department officials said the couple instead kidnapped the boys and took them to the city of Ciudad Juarez. There, together with Maria Guadalupe Valenzuela Castaneda, they extorted thousands of dollars from Hernandez, threatening to kill her, authorities said.
Hernandez, a Mexican national who was applying for U.S. citizenship, not only feared for her life. She was also concerned about being deported if she approached authorities. But last year she moved from Washington state to the Northern California city of Watsonville, where she asked the police for help. Local police contacted the FBI, which worked with Mexican police to find the boys in December.
After working with social services in Mexico, the family was eventually reunited in March.
"They just hugged each other for several minutes. Even the boys were crying," Watsonville police officer Elizabeth Sousa told the Sentinel. "It was an incredible experience."
The couple, Jesus Salinas and Patricia Delatorre, was arrested in January in Mount Vernon, Wash., and faces federal kidnapping charges in San Jose. Castaneda remains at large.