APOPKA, Fla. – A father lied about a stranger snatching his 3-year-old daughter from his front yard when actually it was the girl’s mother who took the child, according to the Apopka Police Department.
On Monday, an Amber Alert was issued for Madeline Mejia after her father said he left the child alone for a few moments around 6 a.m. then he heard her scream and saw a man forcing her into a black two-door Honda Accord, records show.
The father, Lester Mejia, said he followed the vehicle in an attempt to get his daughter back, but he then had to turn around to call 911 since he didn’t have his cellphone on him, a news release said.
Madeline Mejia was found later that day in Tallahassee after a trooper spotted the suspect vehicle.
Her mother, Tania Fortin Duarte, and her boyfriend, Kevin Olmeda-Velis, were both arrested on interference with custody charges. Two other people in the vehicle were turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Police said they learned through the investigation that the two suspects took the child without force even though Fortin Duarte does not have legal custody.
According to a news release, Lester Mejia later admitted that he was at work when a relative told him Fortin Duarte took his daughter, but when he tried to report the incident someone at a 911 dispatch center told him that no crime had occurred since Fortin Duarte is the child’s biological mother.
“Given that information, Mr. Mejia was scared he would not see his daughter again so he provided the abduction story in hopes it would assist in recovering his daughter,” police wrote in a statement to the media. “Although Mr. Mejia was not forthcoming with the information he provided to the Apopka Police Department he did have lawful custody of his daughter and Ms. Duarte unlawfully removed Madeline from his custody."
Monday night, after Lester Mejia was reunited with his daughter, he said he was thankful to law enforcement officers for finding the girl and bringing her back home.
“Amen,” he said.