Kyle Hogan's nightmare began in 2004 amid a child custody dispute with his estranged wife, when she took their daughter to her native Philippines and told him they weren't coming back, he said.
For the next eight years, Hogan, 43, of Hanover, doggedly sought to reunite with his daughter, seeking help from police and through the Anne Arundel County courts; at one point this year, his wife was charged with abduction, court records show. Just last month, with the assistance of the Maryland State Police and other police agencies, he and his daughter, now 12, settled into a new life together in Anne Arundel County.
"You certainly never get back time that's passed, but there's a lot of time ahead," Hogan, an engineer with a wholesale digital imaging lab, said of the reunion.
Tens of thousands of other parents across the country regularly wage similar battles. According to the Department of Justice's last comprehensive study, 203,900 children were abducted by a family member in 1999, compared with 53,200 children abducted by a non-family member.
"Not surprisingly," the study says, "family abductions were much more likely to occur in families where children were not living with both parents — the circumstance that gives rise to motives for family abduction."
In Maryland, family abductions account for the majority of the 500 or so missing-child cases the Maryland State Police Child Recovery Unit has handled since it was founded eight years ago, according to Cpl. Deborah Flory. She was a member of the three-person unit that recently took the lead in Hogan's case.
Still, what the coming years will be like for the family, and how the young girl — whom Hogan would not allow to be identified — will fair as she navigates her new life is far from clear, according to court documents and experts familiar with such cases.
"There's a huge range of how children adapt," said Geoffrey Greif, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work who has researched and written about the impact of family-involved abductions for years.
The charges of abduction and illegally detaining the girl out of state that were brought against Loretta Espino Cinco Hogan in March have been dismissed, and she called them "fraudulent" in court documents filed last month in the ongoing custody dispute.
Her attorney, Steven Shemenski of the Law Offices of James E. Crawford Jr. and Associates, said police have given inaccurate and misleading accounts of the case, implying the girl was rescued after being missing for years even though Kyle Hogan has always known exactly where his daughter was living.
"There are certain aspects of this case that, to me, don't make any sense," Shemenski said, noting that Kyle Hogan had visited his daughter multiple times in the Philippines and held her United States passport. (Her mother held her Philippines passport.)
Now that the girl is back in the United States, she will likely have to remain here, Shemenski said. But Loretta Hogan is upset about her daughter's life in the Philippines being disrupted, he said, and now wants the girl to live with her in Georgia.
"We're still asking the court in Anne Arundel County to return the child to her [mother] so she can live with the one parent who she has had a consistent relationship with," Shemenski said.
According to police, Kyle Hogan's reunion with his daughter was orchestrated by Flory's unit, the Anne Arundel County Police Missing Persons Unit and the county State Attorney's Office, with support from a broad spectrum of other agencies. The Office of Children's Issues at the State Department helped the girl get a new passport, and the Coweta County Sheriff's Office in Georgia assisted in arresting Loretta Hogan after an extraditable warrant was issued in March.
At the time of the girl's alleged abduction, the matter of custody between the Hogans was largely unsettled, which made it difficult for him to "find assistance through official channels," state police said.
But after Loretta Hogan failed to appear at multiple court hearings, Kyle Hogan was granted full custody of his daughter in 2006, court records show. An Anne Arundel judge issued a bench warrant for her arrest.
In 2010, Loretta Hogan, who until recently worked for a U.S. airline, was stopped by police at Philadelphia International Airport on the Anne Arundel warrant, and was told that her husband had been granted custody of their daughter, police said. But because that warrant did not allow for her to be extradited to Maryland, she was released, police said.
"I was discouraged," Kyle Hogan said, "not that I had given up hope."
While Loretta Hogan moved through several states — Maryland, Pennsylvania, Georgia — according to court records, her daughter lived with a maternal aunt in the Philippines. Kyle Hogan made contact with her via Facebook and email and visited her twice in 2010 through the aunt's cooperation.
"I tried to develop a strategy to reacquaint myself with my daughter," he said. But he also knew "reabduction is not the answer," he said.
In January, Anne Arundel police asked state police to become involved in the case, and Flory, whom Kyle Hogan calls his "bloodhound," obtained a new, extraditable warrant for Loretta Hogan. After being arrested in Georgia, she flew back to the Philippines to bring her daughter to the United States, Flory said.
In the past two months, Kyle Hogan said, he has been spending all his free time with his daughter, playing miniature golf, roaming around Six Flags amusement park and having dinners at home with his current wife, father, sister and nephew, who all live with him.
His daughter is shy but "bubbly," he said. "She's smiling, and she seems happy."
This pastFather's Day, Kyle Hogan spent the day with his daughter, nephew and ex-wife, walking around Washington and exploring museums, in part because he doesn't want Loretta Hogan shut out like he was, he said.
Still, the family dynamic is strained. In a petition to modify the June 8 court-ordered custody arrangement — in which Kyle Hogan retained his custody, and Loretta Hogan was given visitation rights — she criticized the police-led process by which father and daughter were reunited.
The girl has lived in the Philippines much of her life and has "firmly established roots" in the country, Loretta Hogan's petition states. It was not in her best interest to be "transplanted from the only home she has ever known and from a foreign culture to reside with people she barely knows," the petition states.
An August hearing is scheduled in the custody case.
According to Marsha Gilmer-Tullis, director of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's family advocacy division, concerns about a child being relocated are very real and critically important to address in such cases.
"We cannot have [children] located and recovered and just say, 'OK, this is really great,'" said Gilmer-Tullis, whose organization has connected Hogan's daughter with a psychotherapist. "It's very, very important that you have somone there who can help coordinate and make that process a little less traumatizing for that child, because we never really know how the child is going to respond or react upon being reunified with that parent."
Liss Haviv, executive director of the nonprofit Take Root, which seeks to give a voice to child abduction victims, agreed the family has a long path ahead.
"Often from the child's perspective, the moment of recovery can be more traumatic than the abduction itself," said Haviv, whose mother abducted her as a child. "Suddenly, she is thrust back to this parent and all around her are cheerers and the hallelujah chorus, people saying, 'Aren't you so happy to be back?' And for her, a new kind of trauma is just beginning."
Hogan said he will continue to focus on his daughter and share his story with other discouraged fathers missing a child.
"Never give up," he said. "There are avenues. It's a matter of finding the right people."
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