Autistic boy reunited with mother in San Diego after 5 years

Father allegedly abducted Keoni Rocha

SAN DIEGO - An autistic boy who was two years old when his father allegedly abducted him to Mexico has been reunited with his mother in San Diego, ending a five-year search, authorities said Thursday.

Julio Rocha, 37, allegedly abducted his son in 2007 after the boy's mother requested full custody.

An arrest warrant has been issued for Julio Rocha, charging him with felony child abduction.

The San Diego County District Attorney's Child Abduction Unit is contacted when a child is taken from his or her parent or rightful guardian in violation of that person's right to custody. Investigators in the unit work with Mexico and other countries to track down children and get them home safely.

In Keoni Rocha's case, investigators were able to negotiate his voluntary return with his grandparents at the Mexico City airport last week.

"It was the most heart-wrenching return I have seen," Investigator Carole Snyder said. "The grandmother and the aunt knew this would be the last time they saw Keoni. The boy's mother, Leilani Masumoto, who had not seen her son in five years, bonded like they were meant to be as soon as they were reunited at the airport."

When asked how it felt to be reunited with her son, Masumoto replied, "Awesome!"

The day Rocha took their son is seared into Masumoto's memory.  

"While I was at work, it kept nagging me and like butterflies in the stomach, but warm ... I kept trying to call his phone," Masumoto said.

Masumoto said when Rocha finally answered, he told her that he was taking Keoni to Mexico.  

"He goes, 'There's no way in hell that I'm going to let you keep Keoni.' He said, 'You're a no good mother. You're unfit,'" she said.

For the next five years, the District Attorney's Child Abduction Unit worked to locate Keoni. They were difficult years for Masumoto.  

"If I watched something on TV that showed a little child, it would remind me of him and I'd just sit in my room and cry," she said.

The unit finally got a break a few weeks ago when a girl in the town of Ecatepec saw a wanted poster and recognized Keoni as the little boy that lived across the street from her. Keoni was living with his grandparents, and negotiations to return Keoni got under way.

Last week, the joyful moment at Mexico City's airport.  

"When I saw him, my mouth dropped. I was speechless for a good two or three seconds. When I saw him, I just started crying. I hugged him, gave him kisses and stuff," Masumoto said.

Julio Rocha remains at large, and Masumoto admits she's worried he might try to take Keoni again.  

But for now, she's overjoyed to be back with her precious Keoni.

Last year, the District Attorney's Child Abduction Unit conducted 150 investigations and recovered 75 abducted children from around the United States. In addition, the unit worked 30 cases involving children being abducted from, or taken to other countries, including Mexico, Germany, Argentina, Colombia and Dominica.

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