Houston — Eight years after her baby boy disappeared, Auboni Champion-Morin is looking forward to embracing the child authorities believe is her son.
“I want to tell him that I love him,” Champion-Morin, said Thursday, her voice cracking and wiping away tears, after an emergency court hearing gave the state at least temporary custody of previously missing Miguel Morin. “It’s frustrating. I’m so tired of waiting.”
Experts say the child also may experience frustration, though for entirely different reasons. Miguel will be meeting a mother and father who are complete strangers to him, and the woman he has known as is mother is now accused of kidnapping him when he was 8 months old.
“Obviously this is a joyous time for mom, but this child has probably been delivered quite a jolt,” said Bob Lowery of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
Lisa Rose, an investigator for child protective services, described Miguel as normal height and weight, well-mannered and happy, though he apparently didn’t attend school. He also believed that his name is JaQuan and that he was 6, not 8. He didn’t know his last name and thought his birthday was March 26, not his actual birthday of March 1.
Miguel’s parents agreed in court to provide DNA to confirm the child is theirs. Child Protective Services officials in Houston said the DNA results might be available in time for a March 28 hearing set by a judge. It’s also possible the parents might be able to have a supervised visit with Miguel before that.
CPS spokeswoman Estella Olguin said that will depend on what’s in the interest of the boy, who is now in foster care.
“We’re going to have to go with what the therapist recommends. Of course it’s heartbreaking. I’m sure the parents want to see him. But for him, his family is back in St. Augustine.”
That town about 150 miles northeast of Houston is where the woman accused of kidnapping him, Krystle Rochelle Tanner, was jailed. According to Champion-Morin, Tanner was a friend who lived in the same Houston apartment complex eight years ago and was close enough to be named godfather to Miguel.
“That’s my mama,” the child said when shown a photo of her.
The case has generated comparisons to other high-profile situations where abducted children were returned home after long periods away. Elizabeth Smart was taken from her Salt Lake City bedroom in June 2002 and found nine months later. Jaycee Lee Dugard was kidnapped while walking to a school bus stop in 1991 in South Lake Tahoe, Calif. She was missing for more than 18 years until August 2009.
And in Missouri, Shawn Hornbeck went missing while riding his bike near his rural home in 2002. More than four years later, authorities made the startling discovery that Shawn and a boy who had been kidnapped four days earlier were being held in a St. Louis County apartment.
One big difference in the Texas case is Miguel’s age. Smart was 14 and Dugard and Hornbeck both 11 when they went missing. Gwen Carter, a Harris County Child Protective Services spokeswoman, said older children, or people who were reunited at an older age, are more capable of processing such shocking personal information and putting it into context.
Miguel now must deal with the loss of the woman who raised him and get used to his birth mother. He’s also left to question his identity, said Linda Shay Gardner, a Bethlehem, Pa., attorney who has worked with families in more than 200 abduction cases nationwide.
“He’s going to be thinking, `Wait a minute. If this is my mom, who am I now?’ And he may be angry,” Gardner said. “Now you’re plopped into this new place, and you don’t understand any of it.”
Olguin said besides the evaluation from a therapist, he’ll undergo a medical evaluation and be enrolled in school.
Police identified Tanner as a suspect shortly after the boy disappeared, but investigators soon lost track of her. Relatives said she had vanished, too.
When the boy was reported missing, Houston police declined to issue any sort of alert that might have drawn tips. In court, an attorney suggested the boy’s parents were uncooperative with investigators and were difficult to reach.
Champion-Morin disputed the allegation.
“I feel they’re trying to push it all on me,” she said. “They didn’t do anything.”
Victor Senties, a spokesman for the Houston Police Department, said the case was handled as a suspected kidnapping and assigned to homicide detectives. He said the department is now investigating why the matter was closed, but he would not elaborate.
The case got new life last summer, when Tanner took the boy to a St. Augustine hospital for a leg injury. She could not provide his name or Social Security number, raising doubts among the hospital staff, who contacted child welfare investigators.
Tanner was expected to appear in court next week. She does not yet have an attorney.