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Parents try to recover runaway teen in Brazil

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Father desperately wants daughter home
  • Samantha Hernandez ran away with her boyfriend to Brazil
  • She was stopped in Brazil because she was using a false passport
  • Police handed her over to the boyfriend's uncle
  • Her family in the United States wants her back
  • Brazil

(CNN) -- The parents of a 15-year-old American girl are seeking to get their daughter back after she ran away with her boyfriend to Brazil, where authorities handed her over to the boyfriend's family.

The Brazilian authorities' decision to give custody of Samantha Hernandez to her boyfriend's uncle, while a legal action against her goes through the system, has left her family and U.S. officials scratching their heads.

"If this was a senator's daughter, if this was a congressman's daughter, somebody would've gotten her back already," said Samantha's father, Robert Hernandez of Florida.

On August 29, Samantha and her boyfriend, whom she had met online less than a year ago, boarded a flight from Boston, Massachusetts, to Belo Horizonte, Brazil, with Samantha using a fake passport, police said.

A federal police commissioner in Minas Gerais state, where Belo Horizonte is located, said that Samantha arrived at the Confins International Airport and went through the customs process, where it was determined that the Brazilian passport she was using belonged to someone else.

Because Samantha is a minor, she was transferred to the custody of Brazil's civil police, which will investigate the crime. She was not immediately sent back to the United States because the crime she is accused of committing does not allow for immediate repatriation, the official said.

Instead, she was released to her boyfriend's uncle, without any consultation with her parents in the United States, the father said.

Details about her boyfriend, his nationality and that of his uncle were not immediately known.

"It is outrageous and very dangerous to the welfare and well-being of an American minor girl that the Brazilian government hastily awarded custody to a man who is not in any way related to 15-year-old Samantha Hernandez," said Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, who was a sponsor of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. "I am painfully aware that runaways and child abductees are at significant risk of exploitation and abuse. Brazil has a legal and moral duty to immediately return Samantha to her parents in the U.S."

The office of Rep. Connie Mack, R-Florida, who represents the district where Robert Hernandez lives, said it has been in touch with the parties involved.

"We reached out to the family last week and have been in touch with the family and the State Department," the office said. "We've been working with the consulate in Brazil as well."

U.S. officials in Brazil are working closely with Brazilian officials and talking to Samantha and her family to provide assistance, said Heidi Arola, who is with the U.S. Consulate in Rio de Janeiro.

The father's attorney, Albert Gayoso, told HLN's "Prime News" that the U.S. State Department told the mother that U.S. officials conducted a "wellness check" on Samantha on Thursday, during which they took pictures of the girl and the house where she is staying.

Also, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, has reached out to the family, his office said.

Robert Hernandez said he has considered going to Brazil himself to get his daughter, but said he could be breaking Brazilian law if he were to attempt to get his daughter back on his own.

In the meantime, all communications between Samantha's family and the boyfriend's family have ceased since she went to Brazil.

"We need the attention of the U.S. and Brazilian governments," Samantha's mother, Joann Allard, said in statement. "Samantha needs to be taken into custody and deported back to the U.S. immediately."

She added, "All adults who enabled a 15-year-old girl through two U.S. (security checkpoints) into Brazil should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

"Honestly, we just want her to come home," Robert Hernandez said. "I want her to really come to her senses and say, 'You know what, this was a mistake.' "

Judging from a phone call Samantha had with CNN affiliate WBBH, there are still many obstacles to that.

"I definitely do not want to go back. I'd rather jump off a bridge with sharks and piranhas in the water, with meat tied to my neck, than go back there," she said. "Obviously, they don't care how I feel. I'm happy here."

HLN's Tracey Jordan and Leslie Alvarez Rivera and journalist Luciani Gomes contributed to this report.