The discovery of Julian Hernandez — an Alabama boy missing for 13 years recently found living with his father in Cleveland — brought back many memories for Kent Swaim, formerly of Clayton.
Swaim returned home from work one day in July 2008 to find his then-wife, Miyuki, and sons William, 8, and James, 3, missing.
“I didn’t find out until almost a month later when I was going through old phone records, calling some of the last numbers that were called before they disappeared, that she had taken them to Japan,” said Swaim, who now lives in Grand Forks, N.D.
Miyuki, who is from Japan, refused to come back to the U.S., according to Swaim.
“I went through a divorce process and I ended up getting sole custody of my boys,” he said.
However, at the time, Japan did not honor parental custody rights from other countries.
“It is an absolute feeling of helplessness,” Swaim said. “I tried everything. I went through the FBI, the U.S. State department, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and there’s nothing that anyone could do.”
Swaim said he was able to Skype with his sons about once a month. Then, in 2013, Miyuki allowed William to move back to get a better education.
Swaim had remarried and had two young daughters at the time.
“It was five years missing, so we were just … overnight the parents of a teenager,” Swaim recalled.
William, now 15, is a freshman honors student, Swaim said.
James, now 10, still lives in Japan with Miyuki.
“He no longer speaks English. Very, very little. He probably has about a six-word vocabulary and he also has autism,” Swaim said. “It was a very, very difficult decision to split up two brothers, you know, that was probably the hardest decision I’ve had to make in my life … I still feel because of the language barrier and because of his autism, to just come and take him and bring him back to the states, would be devastating for him.”
Swaim and his wife, Jessica, who is enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, hope to be stationed in Japan to reunite the family.
Swaim said William Skypes with his mother and James every couple of weeks, and he plans to take William to Japan next summer.
“I believe that she should be allowed to have as much contact as she wants with him even though I have sole custody,” Swaim said. “It’s still his mom.”