Michigan man holds on to hope for abducted sons' return

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Eric Haan continues to live a nightmare.

Twenty-eight months ago, his wife took their two young sons — Pablo and Joshua — during a family vacation in Mexico and he hasn't seen them since, Haan said.

"It's absolutely crazy," the 47-year-old from Frankfort said. "I haven't gotten any word about them at all. I don't even know if they're alive."

Haan told The News last week that he has taken his case to Mexico's Supreme Court. He's also launched an online petition asking the court to return his sons to him.

Haan said adding to his heartbreak, Pablo, his oldest son, will turn 5 on Saturday. Joshua will be 4 in September. It will also be Haan and his wife's 7th anniversary May 17.

Carlos Alvarado, an attorney in Leon, Guanajuato, Mexico, who specializes in international parental abduction cases, said the forced separation devastates families.

"I think it's the worst violation of a child's best interests a mother or father can (commit)," Alvarado, who is helping Haan with his case, said in an email. "But it happens a lot and all around the world."

Last year, more than 600 American children were reported to be victims of international parental abduction, according to the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs.

That compares with 1,492 American children in 2010, according to the federal agency.

Experts said the statistics can be misleading.

"We hear about 1,000 children are abducted from the U.S. every year, but we know the number is much higher," said Noelle Hunter, co-founder of the iStand Parent Network. "Not only is it a persistent problem in the U.S., it's a pandemic. There are parents on every continent who are going through this."

iStand is a coalition of nonprofits that work to return victims of international child abductions to their homes in the U.S.

Hunter knows firsthand the pain international parental abduction can cause. Her daughter, Muna, now 7, was abducted by her father from Kentucky to Mali, West Africa, in 2011. She returned home last year.

Edeanna Barbirou, executive director of Return US Home, or RUSH, said the State Department's numbers reflect only reported cases.

"But even those statistics say more than two children are abducted from the United States by a parent every day," she said. "And children are more likely to be abducted by a parent than they are a stranger. It's a significant issue."

Return US Home works to educate the public and public officials about international parental child abduction.

Like Hunter, Barbirou also knows the terror of international parental abduction. In 2011, her two young children, ages 6 and 3 at the time, where illegally taken from the Baltimore area to Tunisia by their father.

Her daughter, Zainab, now 6, returned home last year. Her son, Eslam, 8, is still missing. Their father is wanted by Interpol.

Only about half of children abducted from the U.S. are returned home from countries with which it has agreements under an international treaty called the Hague Convention, the State Department estimates.

It also said the return rate for countries that haven't signed the treaty is lower — and many have never returned a child to the United States.

To date, nearly 80 countries — including the U.S. and Mexico — have signed the Hague Convention, according to the Hague Conference on Private International Law, the global inter-government organization behind the convention. The treaty, which dates to 1980, seeks to maintain custody arrangements in place before a child is abducted from one member country to another.

"The odds are stacked against us," Hunter said. "Children are more likely to remain abducted than to come home."

Haan said the nightmare began Jan. 14, 2013, when his wife, Karla Montemayor, abducted his two sons while the family of four was visiting her parents in the town of Puerto Aventuras, Mexico, near Playa Del Carmen.

He and his wife had been working through some marital struggles and getting help from their church pastor in Frankfort, where they lived.

During their visit to Mexico, Montemayor and her father accused Haan of domestic violence, Haan said.

In March 2013, Haan filed child abduction charges under the Hague Convention against Montemayor, who now lives in Playa del Carmen.

He said since then, local and federal courts in Mexico have rejected his pleas for the return of his children, and he has appealed to the country's Supreme Court.

The case has yet to be assigned to one of the court's justices, he said. Haan hopes the case will be heard this year.

Meanwhile, Haan faces charges of "psychological violence" in Mexico.

The ordeal has cost him thousands of dollars, he said. On top of that, the Mexican courts require him to stay in the country.

Not long after his sons' kidnapping, Haan started End Abductions Now, an nonprofit to help get his kids back to Michigan and to help others. He has posted his story on its website, endabductionsnow.org.

He also has started an online petition on Change.org to present to the court. So far, he has gathered 463 signatures — just 37 short of his goal.

In the meantime, Haan said he deals with his situation one day at time.

"It's been rough," Haan said. "It doesn't get easier. It's kind of like having an open wound that doesn't heal."

cramirez@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2058