SANTA ANA (CBSLA.com) — Family and friends gathered at the airport Friday night to welcome home a Santa Ana schoolteacher and her two sons Friday night, more than a year after the boys were allegedly abducted by their father, a former school principal.
After a yearlong search by the FBI and police, Maricela Gonzales was reunited with her two sons, Ruben and Paul. The two boys, known by Maricela as Pablito and R.J., were allegedly kidnapped during a custody dispute by their father, James Gonzales, a former Santa Ana Unified principal.
“God bless you,” Gonzales said to supporters. “We did it, we did it, we did it!”
FBI agents found the boys 190 miles from Albuquerque, where they were last seen in 2012.
“There is something to be said for the power of prayer, and this is an example of it,” said Gonzales. “I never gave up my faith, I stood strong, and I knew, I trusted in God that one day he would bring my boys back. And this is the day.”
Colorado State Police got a tip from a neighbor, and the boys were pulled over in the car and detained. The boys’ father remains in custody in Colorado for multiple alleged crimes.
“She’s such a strong woman,” said Donna Kassaei, a friend of Gonzales who joined others in welcoming them back. “Her unwavering faith, and her ability to get up every day and go to work and be there for her students, while still continuing the fight to find her boys has been an inspiration to every single person.”
Family friend Nancy Tolbert said Maricela posted the news on Facebook after a phone call at school Thursday notifying her that the boys, now 6 and 8-years-old, had been located.
“The pictures that I have seen, they don’t look like the same children,” said Tolbert. “I would not have recognized them if I had seen them, and I just seen them a week before they had been taken.”
Gonzales asked friends and family to greet the family at the airport via Facebook:
“The boys are excited and know friends and family will be there. Please avoid hugging or crowding the boys. The become very withdrawn and put their heads down. High fives or air fives might be better! Love you all.”