Day in, day out, we hear horror stories on the news about identity theft, and more often than not, it involves the use of someone’s social security number, along with other pertinent data, that allows these crimes to happen. But imagine if your social security number turned out to be the key to your own identity: an identity you had never even questioned before.
Such was the case for Julian Hernandez, who had never known himself by his real given name. This was because back when he was five years old in 2002, his biological father Bobby Hernandez, not married to his biological mother, had abducted him from Alabama where he was then living, and moved with him to Ohio, where he raised the boy.
Julian – whose “alternate” last name was reportedly the rather odd choice off “Mangina” – was reportedly then raised well by his solo dad, never knowing that his mother was alive and well just three states to his south. In fact, Julian was a very good student and was applying for college when he made the shocking discovery that his social security did not match the name he knew himself by, and instead was the number for one Julian Hernandez.
Helped by a school counselor, he further found his name on a registry of missing children, where it was noted that Julian had been missing for 12 years at the time of his discovery. No doubt shaken to the core, Julian nonetheless contacted authorities, who in turn called his overjoyed, but surely amazed, mother with the news.
Authorities showed up at his father’s house and arrested him, and he was remanded to custody on $250,000 bail while awaiting charges. And this is where the case got complicated.
Because while Bobby Hernandez was charged, it wasn’t with what you would expect: namely, kidnapping and taking a child across state lines. Instead, he was charged with aggravated identity theft for creating a fictitious name for himself and getting a false ID card after he abducted his own son.
Why not kidnapping? Because Ohio law doesn’t have a clause to prosecute a biological father from taking their own child over state lines, and since Julian had been well cared for, no abuse charges could be filed either.
Hernandez Senior was nonetheless sentenced by an Ohio judge this past April to four years in prison to be followed by five years of probation. And we can only imagine the struggle for his son, who had never known his father as anything but loving and kind.
“Even if other people can’t, I forgive him for what he’s done. I love him and I want him to be a part of my life,” Julian said at the sentencing.
The fascinating and bizarre case raises a bevy of moral, ethical, and legal questions that even King Solomon would have trouble untangling. After all, even though Julian hadn’t suffered any ill effects from the abduction, his mother and family had suffered terribly, of course, never knowing if he was even dead or alive for more than a decade.
Showing exactly how high-profile this case became, renowned attorney Gloria Allred represented the distraught mother. Allred shared a statement from her in court about how Julian’s disappearance had impacted her life.
“I considered suicide,” Julian’s mother said in the statement of the horror of never knowing what had happened to her boy the day he disappeared.
But for young Julian, the tragedy has only compounded his already complicated and hard-to-digest findings on his actual identity.
“…taking him away from me is [like losing my mother] all over again,” he said at his father’s sentencing.
And his dad, sobbing and breaking down, could only apologize and say, “Julian was the most important person in my life.”
Sadly, in what should have been a happy ending for this twisted tale, it seems that no one has really come out a winner.
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