A California woman's nightmare ended after she was reunited with her two sons who were kidnapped and held for ransom in Mexico for over a year.
The Santa Cruz Sentinel reports the boys were abducted by a couple who told Sarani Hernandez, of Watsonville, they would bring her 9- and 11-year-old boys back from Mexico. Hernandez had left them there with their grandmother in 2011.
She did not hear from the couple – or her kids – again.
With the help of the FBI and local police, she was finally reunited with her children earlier this month when they arrived on a flight from Mineta San Jose International Airport.
"They just hugged each other for several minutes. Even the boys were crying," said Elizabeth Sousa, a Watsonville police officer who worked on the case, told the Santa Cruz Sentinel. "It was an incredible experience."
Police and U.S. Justice Department officials said the couple kidnapped the boys and then continually threatened her as they extorted money from her. During the months of the ordeal, Hernandez paid Salinas and Delatorre thousands of dollars in ransom and was told her children would die if she went to the authorities or Mexico in search of her children.
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 in the search.
The FBI and Mexican police found the boys in December in Ciudad Juárez. The boys were first taken to an orphanage and Mexican social services for temporary care, before being taken to El Paso, Texas.
"It was a town that she knew of, but she has no family here," Sousa said. "She came to Watsonville and came to us."
After working with social services in Mexico, the family was eventually reunited. The couple, Jesus Salinas and Patricia Delatorre, was arrested in January in Mount Vernon, Wash., and faces federal kidnapping charges in San Jose. A third suspect, Maria Guadalupe Valenzuela Castaneda, has not been found.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.