(INSIDE EDITION) Maria Mancia has come face-to-face with her son for the first time since 1995.
Mancia, 42, wept Thursday morning as she held her now-adult child, 22-year-old Steve Hernandez, who was just 1 when investigators say his father snatched him from their California home.
Photos shared by the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office, whose investigators helped make the reunion possible, show the two embracing before Mancia introduced her oldest son to his younger half-brothers.
Senior Investigator Karen Cragg, who works in the Child Abduction Unit, said Hernandez vanished after he was abducted by his father, Valentin Hernandez.
"The couple was having problems in their relationship at the time," Cragg said in a press release. "The mother went to work one day, only to return home to an empty residence with the father and child gone."
The boy's father took all photos with him, as well as ultrasounds and other identifying paperwork. With no other images of her baby, Mancia wrote to her aunt to ask her to return a photo she had once sent.
"That became the only photograph she had of Steve for the last 21 years," Cragg said.
Armed with the image, she vowed never to stop searching for him.
In the years that followed, investigators tracked leads across the U.S., according to the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office. Then in February, they received a tip that Hernandez, who is a U.S. citizen, was possibly living in Puebla, Mexico, where he was studying law.
To confirm they had the right person, Cragg said investigators approached Hernandez and claimed they were looking for information about his father, who had disappeared.
"During the conversation, we found several similarities in his history that matched that of our missing boy," she said.
With the help of the Department of Justice and Mexican officials, they managed to get a DNA sample from him. It was then compared with a swab of his mother's DNA and, on May 31, Cragg learned there was a match.
When they told Mancia that they had finally found her son, "she was overcome with emotion," Cragg said.
"She had never given up after all these years, but had accepted the fact that she may never know her son," she said. "To be able to return him to his country and his mother is an indescribable honor."
On Thursday, after clearing the immigration checkpoint between Tijuana, Mexico, and San Diego, Hernandez was finally able to see his mother again.
"I lived all these years without my mother, then to find out she's alive in another country, it was emotional," Hernandez said at their meeting, reports say.
He also learned he has four other siblings.
Authorities have received information that Hernandez's father has since passed away, but this has not yet been confirmed. As a result, there is a warrant out for Valentin Hernandez's arrest on kidnapping and child abduction charges, the DA's office said.
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