BEDFORD, Texas – Twenty-year-old Stephen Michael Palacios came across a newspaper story recently about a boy allegedly abducted by his father in 1993. Palacios, it turns out, was that boy.
After learning about his past, Palacios persuaded his father to turn himself in — even accompanying him to a lawyer's office this week — and will soon be reunited with the mother who desperately searched for him for 17 years.
"I am so excited," his mother, Dee Ann Adams, 40, told the Waco Tribune-Herald. "I'm really not even sure how I feel right now. It has been such a long time, and I had to move on. I had other kids I had to take care of. I am happy, and I am hoping we can rebuild our relationship, but the main thing is that I am in shock right now."
Palacios could not be located for comment Friday.
He was 3 when he disappeared after a visit with his father, Stephen Palacios Jr., a high school Latin teacher and basketball coach in Waco who had been granted visitation rights after the couple's divorce. A warrant for the father's arrest was issued, and over the years detectives chased several leads.
As recently as 2006, investigators put a Palacios family wedding under surveillance in Waco, but the elder Palacios didn't show. Later that year, they had missing-person photos of the son mailed to 80 million homes in the U.S.
Then the grown-up son saw an Aug. 29 article in the Waco newspaper about the alleged abduction, according to his mother. In the story, police asked for the public's help in solving the case. The article included a photo of Palacios as a toddler.
"I was told that Stephen Michael somehow saw the article in your newspaper and told his dad that he wanted to meet his mom," his mother told the newspaper. "Stephen Michael told him, 'I want to meet my mom and I want you to do the right thing and get this taken care of now.'"
On Thursday, father and son went to a Houston lawyer's office, where the older man surrendered to federal authorities on charges of interference with child custody.
Authorities have not said where father and son had been living all these years, whether they were using aliases and what the father had told the son about his past. It was unclear how much the son knew before reading the newspaper story. Nor was it clear how he realized the story was about him.
The father's attorney, Paul Nugent, told the paper that his client "has always acted out of love for his son and by what he thought was in his son's best interest."
"He is a good man, and if he has made some mistakes in judgment, he will have to deal with that now," Nugent said.
Richard McCall, an attorney who represented Adams in the divorce, told The Associated Press that Palacios is a "narcissistic, self-centered, controlling guy" and rejected his claims of acting in his son's best interest as "a bunch of bunk."
Reached by the AP at her home in the Dallas suburb of Bedford, Adams said she was overwhelmed and declined to say when she would be reunited with her son. Adams, who remarried and has several other children, told the Waco paper that her ex-husband "stole 17 years from me."