It was a “Not Without My Daughter” kind of weekend. Not in a life-imitating-art kind of way. I just happened to read read two articles in different publications and was reminded me of that early ’90s Sally Field movie that got people looking suspiciously at any family with parents of different nationalities.
In both pieces, a child has been taken from home in the U.S. to live with a biological father abroad. How the mothers worked to return the child to the U.S. couldn’t have been more different. Both situations are pretty unimaginable, but child abduction typically is, right?
In “Snatchback,” Todd Hopson, a Florida man, pays thousands of dollars to an ex-U.S. soldier to go to Costa Rica and get a boy the man is not related to — by blood or by law — returned to him. Atlantic monthly Reporter Nadya Labi rides along as the soldier, Gustavo Zamora Jr. and his son, stake out the boy, whose biological father decided the 11-year-old boy would be better off with him than the boy’s mother and Hopson, the man who had raised — but never formally adopted — Andres since he was a baby.
“Snatchback” is as complicated as it is harrowing. What Zamora is doing isn’t legal in the U.S., in Costa Rica, or according to international law. Yet, if he gets away with it — and he has every time he has planned and executed a snatchback — he isn’t charged with a crime. Even more complicated is the boy’s situation. The boy’s mom is a bit of a mess. His father says that, as an addict, she’s not fit to raise him. What he has discounted is Hopson, who the boy thinks of as a father and who, indeed, has been one most of the boy’s life.
The mom is a wild card not only in her son’s life, and in her short marriage to Hopson — but also in the snatchback. You never really know if she’s on board with returning the kid to Florida or if she wants him to stay in Costa Rica. You get the feeling there’s probably plenty more to her story.
In the end, Zamora captures the kid and he’s not living, once again, in Florida — with Hopson. The mother, a drug addict, is trying to get herself together.
The New York Times ran an even more gut-wrenching piece over the weekend about an American girl whose abusive American father sends for his wife and daughter to join him in China, where he teaches English. The father then takes the mom to get her hair done and while sitting in the salon chair, she watches him leave with the girl. And not return.
For nine months Olivia Karolys searched China — a country she didn’t know and where she did not speak or read the language. She also had no money.
The mother returned to the U.S., where she was an illegal immigrant. Her sister, who dropped out of graduate school to help in the search, went to the FBI, immigration status-be-damned. The authorities said they’d help.
Oliva’s parent, janitors, gave up their lifetime of savings to fund the multiple trips to China, the phone calls, and a Chinese private investigator.
What’s interesting is that the husband/father, Rodrigo Karolys, posted his whereabouts and bragged about the abduction — online at “Rodrigo Karolys’s Life Journal.” Shrewd!
Olivia, too, winds up getting her daughter back, but only after a few close calls. In the end, Karolys abandoned his daughter in China with a babysitter, who then took the girl to an orphanage. Only hours before a Chinese woman showed up to claim the girl had the State Department contacted the orphanage and told them to hold the girl for her mother.
Karolys has since been arrested and now awaits charges in a Brooklyn jail.
What’s notable about both of these cases is how the burden of return is on the left-behind parent. In the situation of Olivia Karolys, at least the law was clear and authorities jumped right in. Hopson, on the other hand, operated somewhere in the gray area of the law — breaking it outright in Costa Rica.
What I wonder though: Zamora, the professional kid snatcher, does this for money. Who’s to say Andres’s bio-dad won’t make a few calls, write a few checks and … boom! … and get Zamora to bring Andres back?