College is a life-changing experience for anyone. For this teen, however, it wasn't just about entering a new phase. Applying to college changed the course of his life in a way he couldn't have imagined.
There was an issue with J.J.'s social security number. It didn't match his name. Schools kept flagging his application because of it. Applying to college is hard enough when things like this don't go awry, so J.J. needed to get to the bottom of it.
A Normal Life— Or So He Thought
J.J. Mangina lived a regular life. He lived with his father, Jonathan in this house in Cleveland. But their life wasn't as simple as it seemed. Soon Jonathan would find out that his childhood was anything but normal and the family he knew was a lie.
A Single Father Did His Best
Jonathan was a single father. He had been raising J.J. all by himself since the age of five. He had big dreams for his son. "He was always talking about his son. All he wanted him to do was to be able to go to college," said a neighbor.
His Mother Was Out of The Picture
J.J.'s mother wasn't in the picture. Jonathan said she'd left when J.J. was five. Though J.J. was born in Alabama, the two moved to Cleveland when J.J. was young. Jonathan wanted a fresh start and soon found a good job in the area.
He Had a Great Childhood
Even without his mother in the picture, J.J. enjoyed his childhood, but he had questions about his mother. When he asked his father questions about his mom, he would give him short answers and Jonathan often told his son that his mom was a selfish woman who passed away a few years ago.
A Good Student
J.J. grew up to be a great student. By the time he was a senior in high school, he was an honors student. He almost aced his ACTs later in the year and it looked like his father's dream of having his son go to college would be realized.
High School Was Stressful
J.J. shared his father's dreams of being able to go to college, so he focused on his grades even through his last few semesters of high school. He then thought about where he would go to school and what he would major in, because it was lucky that he even got through high school at all.
He Didn't Fit In
J.J. had felt like a loner for many years because he didn't feel like he had much in common with other kids. While they were focused on being popular and acting out, J.J. just wanted to impress his father by succeeding and being able to achieve the life he always dreamed of.
His Classmates Had Other Goals
J.J. didn't relate to most of his classmates because as the only child to a single father, he had struggles that other kids didn't have. While growing up, his father was the only person in the world he could lean on when he was feeling blue, and in the back of his mind, he didn't really want to travel too far away to go to college because he didn't want to be away from his father for long.
He Focused All of His Energy On School
Because his biggest goal in life was succeeding in school, J.J. focused all of his energy on acing his classes to get into a good college. But he had no idea at the time that he would not get accepted to any of the schools he applied to, for one surprising reason.
He Sent Out Applications
J.J. sent applications to a few schools in his area, and he had high hopes that he would be able to attend school in the fall, but his father had different thoughts that only became known to J.J. after he sent out his final application.
Ohio State Was Their Goal
J.J.'s dreams aligned with his father's. J.J. also wanted to go to college. He planned to go to Ohio State University when he graduated. Given his ACT scores, he was a great candidate. But, when he tried to apply, his school's counselors found a wrench in his plans that they had never seen before.
His Father Wanted Nothing to Do With the Process
While J.J. was working on his college applications, he reached out to his father for assistance. But suddenly, his father got very quiet and refused to answer any questions about J.J.'s family history or childhood. This was the first time that J.J. had seen his father get so flustered, but it wouldn't be the last.
He Couldn't Help His Son
Jonathan was frustrated by his son's questions, which was obvious to J.J., but he just couldn't figure out why his father was so upset. Simple questions like J.J.'s medical history and personal information like his social security number seemed to strike a bad cord with his father, but this was just a small piece of a much larger mystery.
There Were Unanswered Questions
J.J. realized that he couldn't ask his father any more questions about his life, so he would have to finish his college applications on his own, which was a lot to take on as the school year closed to a finish. So, he quickly sent out his applications and hoped that his father would still let him go to school and wouldn't go back on his word.
J.J. Did it All on His Own
Any senior in high school will tell you that the last few semesters of school are some of the most stressful moments of their young lives. With finals around the corner, extracurricular activities, and planning their futures, there's hardly enough time to think about getting accepted to college, but soon, it would be the only thing on J.J's mind.
A Problem With His Application
J.J. applied to several colleges, but there was a serious problem. It wasn't that he was getting rejected. Something else was going on. There is a lot of personal information that he had to submit with his applications, like any other student, including his name and ID, but these documents weren't matching up.
There was an issue with J.J.'s social security number. It just didn't match his name. Schools kept flagging J.J.'s application because of it. Applying to college is hard enough when things like this don't go awry, so J.J. needed to get to the bottom of it.
Trying to Solve the Mystery
J.J. approached his school counselor to try to get some answers and the counselor tried to get to the bottom of it. She eventually found what was happening, but it wasn't what anyone expected and it soon changed the way J.J. thought about his father.
The School's Counselors Called Him in to the Office
J.J. was soon told that his college applications were flagged because of a problem with his social security number, which can be a serious problem to resolve. J.J. had no idea why there would be any problem with this information because he had never had any troubles traveling in his life, but soon his father's apprehension about J.J.'s future made a lot more sense.
The Applications Were All Denied
J.J. realized that without being able to go to college, his whole life would be changed forever. Going to college was his biggest dream, and his father seemed to hold the key to his acceptance, whether he knew it or not. So, J.J. went home to talk to his dad about the mishap and hopefully get some long awaited answers.
His Father Was to Blame
J.J. didn't want to be angry at his dad, but it was obvious that Jonathan was keeping something serious hidden from his son. And when he got home to question his father, he deflected and refused to answer any questions, so J.J. knew that he would have to ask the counselors at school for help.
His Counselors Shared the Reason He Was Denied
The next day, J.J. returned to school determined to get answers about his life. He marched into the main office of the school to ask why his social security number was denied on his applications, and his counselor soon discovered the truth that set J.J. back and stunned him completely.
He Discovered the Truth
His counselor told him that his social security number wasn't his, it belonged to a boy who had been missing since the age of five. And this child eerily matched J.J's description, appearance and whereabouts. So, who was this boy and could J.J. get in touch with him?
A Missing Child
It turned out that J.J. was the one listed as a missing child. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children had him on their list. He'd been missing for years and he had no idea. Surely a missing child would know they had been kidnapped, right?
Trying to Find J.J.
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children had a photo of J.J. as a child. Not only that, they had a photo that had been age progressed. They had distributed it in an effort to find J.J. He'd been missing since he was five and he was now 18 years old. But had anyone recognized him for all of these years?
Not Who He Thought He Was
There were about to be a lot of discoveries. J.J.'s name wasn't even J.J. It was Julian. And his last name wasn't Mangina. It was Hernandez. Sadly, this discovery wouldn't be the end of the story. There was a lot more that J.J. was about to learn about his father...
His Parent's Messy Divorce
Julian soon learned that his parents divorced early on in his life and during the court hearings about custody over Julian, they argued constantly about who would have the right to house their son. So, Jonathan took off one day with his son and was never seen by his ex-wife or lawyers ever again.
His Father Was at Fault
His father also wasn't who he thought he was. His name wasn't Jonathan Mangina. It was Bobby Hernandez. So what was going on? Julian set out to get to the bottom of his life story, even if his father didn't want to help him in the process.
The Lie Became Clear
Julian's mother hadn't left. In fact, she still lived in Alabama, where Julian was born. It wasn't Julian's mother who had taken off. It was Julian's father. When the father and son moved to Cleveland when J.J. was five, he was kidnapping his son after losing a custody battle.
When Julian was five, his father had agreed to take him to preschool. He packed up Julian's baby blanket and a stuffed orca. He then went to the bank, drained all his accounts and took off with Julian. Because Julian was with his father, he didn't realize at 5-years-old that the act was malicious.
Kidnapped at 5 Years Old
Julian had been kidnapped by his own father. Because he and Julian's mother were in a custody dispute, Bobby decided to take his son and disappear so he wouldn't have to face the court. He had taken Julian, and vanished. Julian had no idea.
When Julian was taken, his mother was desperate to find him. She had gone into Birmingham and put flyers everywhere. She was devastated. "I was desperately trying to find my baby," she wrote. "I left his bedroom untouched for years, hoping he would come home."
A Mother's Wondering
Julian's mother was deeply affected by the kidnapping. She left his bedroom untouched for years. She couldn't stop thinking about him. "I didn't know if he had a home or if he was taken care of," she wrote. She was deeply effected by Bobby's actions and her hurt carried on for years.
He Set Out to Find His Mother
After discovering the truth about his father and his past, Julian set out to find his mother and hear her side of the story. Because she was still located in Alabama, he set off to make the trip to the state and meet his mother face to face for the first time since he was five.
She Thought She'd Never See Him Again
Julian's mother was stunned to see her son again, because she thought she would never have the opportunity again. During many late nights, she wondered if her son was still alive, and she had no idea that her son Julian thought that she had passed away a long time ago. So their meeting was a long time coming and both mother and son were overjoyed to discuss the situation.
Her Life Was Never the Same
Julian's mother later had another child, but she was much more protective over this child than she had been in the past. She didn't let her young son venture out of the house alone and even when he was with her at home she kept a close eye on him out of paranoia and fear. But Julian still had questions about his past and his future.
He Learned About His Family's Past
After discovering that his mother was still alive and his father was a criminal, Julian had more questions than answers. He still wanted to attend school, but now he had bigger problems, which included talking to his father about what happened all of those years ago.
Living in Fear
Julian's kidnapping changed how his mother lived her life. She had another son, and wouldn't let him play outside by himself. She locks her doors, even in the middle of the day. And most of all, she was afraid of Julian's father.
Arrested and Charged
Bobby Hernandez was arrested. He was charged with kidnapping, but it didn't end there. Because of his use of a false identity, he was charged with forgery as well. He was also charged with tampering with evidence, and interference with custody.
A Son's Plea
In court, Julian pled on his father's behalf. "He loved me and protected me more than anybody else could during my life," he said. “I don’t know what else to say other than do not send my father to jail. Even if other people can’t, I forgive him for what he’s done. I love him and I want him to be a part of my life.”
A Son's Love
Julian said his father was responsible for making him the person he is today. He pushed him to excel at school. He said his father was the reason he got into college. He asked the judge not to send his father to prison. "Taking my father away from me now just increases the pain," he said.
But His Mother Was Not So Forgiving
Julian's mother, however, had some harsh words. In a statement read by her attorney, she described the day that Julian went missing as the worst day of her life. "During my darkest moments I considered suicide," she wrote.
Trying To Explain
Bobby tried to explain why he took Julian. "Julian was the most important person in my life," he said. "I accept full responsibility for everything I did." He broke down crying in court as he tried to explain.
Bobby Hernandez was soon found guilty. The judge sentenced Hernandez to four years in prison. This is only one year above the minimum sentence, so it's fairly lenient. Ultimately, the judge sided with Julian. She said that she found his testimony the most persuasive when considering her sentence.
Bobby Hernandez is currently seeking to get released from prison. He's only served one year of his four-year sentence. His attorney is seeking he be freed, with some type of court supervision. The prosecutor's office is planning to oppose his early release.