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Child missing for 13 years: How a college application solved the mystery

Julian Hernandez disappeared from Alabama in 2002 when he was 5 years old. The boy, now 18, has turned up, alive and well, in Cleveland, Ohio.

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After thirteen years of grief and worry, an Alabama mother has received news that her son, missing since 2002, is alive and well in Cleveland, Ohio.

At the time when Julian Hernandez was five years old, authorities believed that he had been abducted by his father, Bobby Hernandez, who did not have custody at the time. Police were unable to track the boy down, until an 18-year-old Julian ran into a snag applying for college.

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When submitting college applications, Julian's Social Security number was returned again and again as incorrect, Jefferson County, Ala., District Attorney Brandon Falls told WBRC-TV in Cleveland. He sought a school counselor for help. When she tried to assist, the counselor discovered Julian was listed as missing by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Mr. Falls told the television station it's unlikely Julian was aware he was listed as a missing child.

Coordination among the FBI’s Violent Crime Task Force in Cleveland with assistance from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the Vestavia Hills Police Department, who originally handled the case, and the Birmingham Division of the FBI positively identified the child in Ohio as Julian Hernandez.

Julian's father was arrested and then charged in Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Court in connection with the abduction, according to a statement from the Vestavia Hills (Ala.) Police Department, which led the initial investigation following the boy's 2002 disappearance. Authorities say he will likely face further charges in Jefferson County, Ala. For now, he is being held on a $255,000 bond in a Cuyahoga County jail.

According to Vestavia Hills Police Lt. Johnny Evans, authorities are awaiting charges and adjudication in Ohio, after which he will be extradited back to Alabama. There, he will likely face interference with custody charges, a class C felony with a potential sentence of 1-10 years in prison.

"I've been doing this 25 years and it's something I've never experienced before," Lieutenant Evans told WTVM-TV in Birmingham, Ala.

Julian's mother and family are thrilled to learn the boy was found unharmed.

"She was excited," Evans said. "She was glad to finally get closure to know that he is still alive, 'cause after 13 years of not knowing she was glad to see that he was still alive."