Kamiyah Mobley was 16 years old when she discovered that Gloria Williams, the woman she knew as her mother, was actually her kidnapper. Williams had abducted Kamiyah from Shanara Mobley back in 1998 on the day she was born and raised her as a daughter ever since. The shocking story is the subject of the new drama Robin Roberts Presents: Stolen By My Mother: The Kamiyah Mobley Story, which premiered on Lifetime on January 18, 2020 along with a companion documentary.
In Kamiyah’s case, her abductor was a stranger who had no connection to her family. More frequently in cases where children don’t realize they’ve been kidnapped, their abductors are family members, like a parent who had lost custody. These parents might manipulate their young children by telling them the other parent is dead or has abandoned them. Many of the children were so young when the abduction happened, they don’t remember the circumstances.
Random Internet Search Yields Shocking Past
Take the case of Orey Steinmann. In 2003, the 17-year-old decided to search his name in Google to see what results might come up. To his shock, he found his name and an old picture of himself listed on a website called Find the Children.
It turned out that Orey’s mother, Gisele Goudreault, had abducted him from Red Deer, Canada in 1989 after losing custody of him to his father, Rodney Steinmann. Gisele had taken three-year-old Orey to Mexico, then moved to the United States and settled in the Los Angeles area. Apparently, Gisele told people that Orey’s father in Canada had left the family years ago.
After making the discovery, Orey confided in a teacher, who alerted authorities. U.S. marshals arrested Gisele, who was then extradited to Canada. In 2005, a Canadian court sentenced her to two months in prison for child abduction.
Most parental abductions are resolved in a few days, so cases that last this long are pretty rare, says Geoffrey L. Greif, a professor of social work at the University of Maryland and co-author of When Parents Kidnap: The Families Behind the Headlines.
“Usually, [a lengthy abduction] requires the abducting parent to have established a new name and a new life,” he says—and to have maintained a low profile. “Some of the things that they might tell the child is to not try to succeed that well in school, to not be in the newspapers for being the quarterback on the team or…to never go to the police if they need help.”
Discrepancies with a Social Security Number
This ruse can break down when abducted children reach their late teens and are unable to find employment, secure a driver’s license or apply to college because of issues with producing or using their Social Security number. That’s what happened with Kamiyah when she tried to get a job as a teen, and it’s also what happened to Julian Hernandez during his senior year of high school.
Julian’s attempt to apply for college in 2015 ended up revealing that his father had kidnapped him at age five. There were discrepancies with the Social Security number Julian was using, and a counselor at his Cleveland high school ended up discovering that the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children listed Julian as a missing person.
It was only then that the story came out. Julian’s father, Bobby Hernandez, had abducted his son from his mother’s house in Birmingham, Alabama in 2002 after the couple broke up. Bobby falsely told Julian his mother had abandoned him, and brought him to Ohio to begin a new life.
In 2016, an Alabama court sentenced Bobby to four years in prison for kidnapping his son. Yet similarly to Kamiyah—who maintains a relationship with her kidnapper—Julian expressed complicated feelings about the abductor who raised him. “Even if other people can’t, I forgive him for what he’s done,” Julian said at his father’s sentencing. “I love him and I want him to be a part of my life.”
According to Greif, this is one of a range of ways children may respond to kidnapping by a family member.
“It’s very common for the abducted child to be loyal to the parent that has done the kidnapping, depending upon the case; but it’s also very common for them to be extremely angry,” Greif says. “It would be normal to have incredibly ambivalent and conflicting feelings and to not trust or believe anybody, because you’ve been told a series of lies for the last period of years you’ve been missing.”
When Grandparents Don’t See Their Children as Fit Parents
In one high-profile family kidnapping case, a brother and sister abducted by their grandparents in 1989 refused to see their parents when authorities located them 20 years later. Bobby and Christi Baskin were seven and eight, respectively, when their maternal grandparents, Marvin and Sandra Maple, kidnapped them from their parents’ home in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
Before kidnapping Bobby and Christi, the Maples were embroiled in a custody battle with the kids’ parents, Debbie and Mark Baskin. The Maples had accused the parents of physically and sexually abusing their children, and authorities in Tennessee had granted the Maples temporary custody of the kids while they investigated the claims.
Investigators found these claims to be inconsistent and bizarre—among other things, the Maples accused Debbie and Mark of being involved in a satanic cult—and ordered the Maples to return the children. Instead, they absconded with them to San Jose, California, where they all began living under different names.
Two decades passed. Then in 2009, Marvin Maple read an article about Bobby and Christi’s abduction in the San Diego Union-Tribune. He disliked the article, and talked about it to a friend in a bar. Soon after, police received a tip and arrested him for kidnapping (Sandra Maple had already died in 2005).
Marvin pleaded guilty to lesser charges of custodial interference and received four years’ probation. He died in 2016. But as late as 2017, Bobby and Christi (who use the names their grandparents gave them in California) still refused to see their parents in person, insisting that their grandparents rescued them from their parents’ alleged abuse. Their parents, meanwhile, maintain that this stance is the result of years of brainwashing by the grandparents.