What were horrifying moments for Maureen C. Esper ended happily with the safe return of her 9-year-old granddaughter by FBI agents. The girl’s father, 39-year-old John Sanchez had her on a weekend visitation when he called Ester at her home in Pennsylvania and said they were in Puerto Rico.
FBI agents quickly tracked Sanchez down in Atlantic City, then returned Marisol Elaine Esper-Sanchez safely.
Marisol’s mother died unexpectedly this past May. Both Sanchez and Esper were awarded joint custody, with the grandmother retaining primary physical custody, under a court order issued in Erie County, Pa., on July 23, 2009.
The pair agreed that Sanchez would have temporary physical custody of his daughter from Thursday, Sept. 19 until the morning of Monday, Sept. 21, records show. However, Sanchez never brought her back.
Instead, the FBI said, he bought a one-way ticket to Atlantic City.
That Sunday, he called Esper and told her they were in Puerto Rico. She called local authorities, and the FBI jumped on the case.
Working with their counterparts in Erie, New Jersey FBI agents began checking out leads. They found relatives in Atlantic City who convinced Sanchez to contact them.
Two days ago, he surrendered at the FBI’s office there.
“Case workers from the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) were on hand to receive the child,” the FBI said in a statement. “As is standard procedure in these matters, Marisol was taken to a local hospital as a precaution.
The FBI handed Sanchez over to Pennsylvania state authorities to face the local charges.
“This was a stressful and trying time for both Marisol and her grandmother as well as law enforcement,” said Weysan Dun, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s New Jersey office.
“The stakes are always significantly higher whenever children are involved,” Dun added. “We are so glad Mr. Sanchez came to his senses and returned the child unharmed.
“This was the best possible outcome for everyone.”
Dun gave kudos to Millcreek Township police for an “outstanding investigative foundation that developed the lead and connection to Atlantic City.” He also cited the “dedication and perseverance of all the FBI agents who worked this matter and brought it to its successful conclusion.”
Sanchez is charged locally with concealing the child’s whereabouts and interfering with her custody. Federal authorities have charged him with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.
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