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After 18 years, a missing son emerges in Mexico, reunites with Indiana father

By Michael Martinez, CNN
updated 4:20 PM EST, Wed February 5, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Nathan Slinkard was 5 years old when his mother absconded with him, two siblings
  • His mother, Trena, fled after losing custody of her three children in a divorce
  • Last week, Slinkard went to a U.S. consulate in Mexico and showed birth certificate
  • "You could tell there was a lot of emotion," officer says of reunion of son, father in Indiana

(CNN) -- An Indiana man missing for 18 years after his mother abducted him and her two other children to Mexico was reunited with his father after the son went to a U.S. consulate and declared he wanted to go home at age 23, authorities said.

Nathan Slinkard's mother, Trena, lost custody of her three children following a divorce from husband Steven, and then she and the small children disappeared in October 1995, said Lt. Ted Munden of the Hancock County Sheriff's Department.

Nathan Slinkard and his father weren't available for comment and asked for privacy as the son now stays in his father's home in Greenfield, about a 25-mile drive east of downtown Indianapolis, Munden said.

But Munden was present for the reunion because he escorted the father, along with his sister, to meet his son at the Indianapolis airport last Wednesday.

"They were nervous," Munden said of the father and son. "The dad asked me on the way there, 'Who do I do? Do I shake his hand or give him a hug?'

"I said, 'You will know when you see him.'

"Nathan immediately recognized us at the airport. He walked up and initiated a hug to his father," Munden said. "It was neat. It was really neat.

"You could tell there was a lot of emotion," Munden said, but the men didn't become tearful.

Nathan Slinkard also hugged his aunt, Munden said.

The exact whereabouts of the mother, still facing an Indiana warrant, as well as the two other children, haven't been disclosed by the long-lost son, other than to say they're alive and well in Mexico, Munden said.

The last time the father saw his son, the boy was 5 years old. Since then, the father worked as a paramedic in Indianapolis and is now a deputy coroner for Hancock County, working in the same building as the sheriff's office, Munden said.

"I've been involved in law enforcement for 17 years, and this is by far the most unusual and most rewarding thing I've been involved with," Munden said Wednesday. "Unfortunately there are a lot less happy endings than there are good endings. Sometimes the kids are never heard of again. Or when they do, so much time has passed, they don't want any relationship, especially if they were young enough that they didn't have memories of their parent."

At the time they were whisked away by their mother, Nathan's sister, Sydney, was 3 years old and his brother, Andrew, was 7 years old, authorities said.

Their mother, Trena Slinkard, now 46, still faces a state warrant carrying a charge of violating a custody order, a Class D felony, which is the least serious in Indiana, Munden said. At one time, she also faced a federal warrant for unlawful flight, but that was dropped in 2005 or 2006 because of cooperation issues with the Mexican government, Munden said.

"His mother and brother and sister were touchy subjects, and we didn't talk a lot about them," Munden said of his conversations with Nathan Slinkard. "I think if he tells too much information, it's going to affect their lives. They're happy, healthy and alive. He told his siblings they're free to come back if they choose to do so."

Munden speculates that the missing mother and three children had probably been hiding in Mexico's larger cities.

"I would assume they would probably be living close to Mexico City or a large city. It's easier to blend in," Munden said. "I think he was all over the place in Mexico."

Nathan Slinkard has apparently been using English regularly in Mexico because "he speaks very good English as well as very good Spanish," Munden said.

His English doesn't even have an accent, Munden said. "It's just a pretty neutral English accent," he said.

Most recently, Nathan Slinkard was living on his own in Mexico, and on January 27, he went to the U.S. consulate in Guadalajara and showed his Social Security card and U.S. birth certificate. He also showed surgical scars that matched his records, Munden said.

Slinkard wanted to return to the United States "to meet his father and start a new chapter of life," Munden said.

On January 28, Slinkard flew to Houston, Texas, where he met with officials of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, who along with Indiana authorities have been searching for him, his mother and siblings.

The next day, Slinkard arrived in Indianapolis to see his father for the first time in almost two decades.

Slinkard now wants to attend school in the United States and enter the medical field as a cardiologist, physical therapist or nurse, Munden said.

"I told him the fact that he was bilingual, it's going to help him out a lot," Munden said.

While on the run from the law, the mother apparently told her children they were free to return to the United States if they so chose, Munden said.

Meanwhile, the case of the missing mother and two remaining siblings is "an open but not active case," Munden said.

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