Lyneth Mann-Lewis couldn’t sleep last Friday. It was the night before she was to be reunited with the son who’d gone missing more than three decades ago. As soon as she saw him, she grabbed him tight. “I squeezed his head. I wanted to feel if he was real,” she said. He looked back at his mother and pointed out that they had the same eyes.
The details of their emotional reunion in Connecticut were shared Monday at a press conference in Toronto. Though Jermaine Mann, now 33, wasn’t present, Ms. Mann-Lewis was flanked by family members and she beamed and cried in equal measure while speaking to reporters.
“The words, ‘Your son is alive. We found him.’ That is breathtaking,” she said.
The tangled story began in June of 1987, when U.S. and Canadian authorities say Jermaine was abducted by his biological father during a court-ordered visit in Toronto. Allan Mann Jr. allegedly took 21-month-old Jermaine to the U.S., with authorities alleging he obtained bogus documentation, including false birth certificates from Texas. When Mr. Mann was found and arrested last week, he and his son were living in Connecticut under different names.
Mr. Mann will be extradited to Canada to face a charge of abduction, Toronto police say. He also faces charges in the U.S,, including making false statements in transactions with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Meanwhile, Ms. Mann-Lewis was able to fly to the U.S. for a reunion with her son.
Last weekend, they spent time cooking together. Though Jermaine doesn’t normally eat meat, Ms. Mann-Lewis said he ate a plateful after she unknowingly served him chicken. They stayed up late into the night talking, after he took her back to her hotel. “He didn’t want to leave,” Ms. Mann-Lewis said. Every time he did, he’d return to say goodbye again. “I said, ‘Baby, c’mon,’" because she didn’t want him to be on the road too late, she said. They parted ways with a promise to talk the next morning and he told his mother he loved her.
The big break in the long-dormant case came from an international fugitive squad conference in 2016. Jermaine’s case had been the fixation of Ted Davis, an investigator at Missing Children Society of Canada. He asked the United States Marshals Service for help. The investigation has involved multiple U.S. agencies, including HUD, the U.S. Marshals, the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration, as well as the Toronto Police Service and the RCMP.
An arrest warrant affidavit details U.S. marshals interviewing several of Mr. Mann’s relatives and friends in August, with one tipping them off to his new identity. A forensic specialist then analyzed a photo of Mr. Mann alongside the driver’s licence photo of a man named Hailee DeSouza, and determined that they were likely the same person. Mr. Mann was located in HUD-subsidized housing in Vernon, about 19 kilometres east of Hartford, federal officials said.
Ms. Mann-Lewis isn’t sure which name she’ll call her son moving forward. “I’ve always known my child as Jermaine,” she told reporters. But Jermaine grew up with a different name, which she declined to share. That wasn’t his choice and she said she had to respect that. Whatever he preferred to be called, she’d do that for him.
Ms. Mann-Lewis never gave up faith that her son would return. Speaking to The Globe and Mail in 2003, she said she’d held onto Jermaine’s possessions. “It is common for the other parent to say that a mother or a father is dead,” she said. “But I’ll show him all his things that I still have. I kept them so he can see that I never ever gave up on him.”
Canada’s national missing persons registry currently lists 165 people who disappeared as children. Jermaine was still on the list on Monday morning. At least 21 other cases include a child last seen in the presence of, or believed to still be with, one of their parents.
Mr. Mann appeared briefly in federal court in Hartford on Friday. The local paper reported that Jermaine sobbed quietly in the front row with his head in his hands. He’s going through a trying time right now, Ms. Mann-Lewis said during the press conference. “As you can imagine, this is a difficult time for all of us,” she said. Waiting at the airport to see her son for the first time since he was a toddler, she was racked with worries. “I’m sitting there, wondering in my mind, what’s going to happen.”
But she believes their case, at the end of the day, is an example of holding out faith. “I want to encourage other families with missing children and loved ones,” she said, "not to ever, ever give up hope.”