Dad, kids reunited after 4-year absence

Father’s Day

By Naush Boghossian, Staff Writer

GLENDALE — A woman and two small children were spotted by a U.S. Border
Patrol agent on the beach in Mexico taking pictures of themselves near
the U.S. border. And then, a little while later, the agent saw the
children on the United States side of the fence walking on Imperial Beach
and the mother running away from the fence in Mexico.

A two-page handwritten letter pinned to the children said it all: Gloria
Terranova was sorry she took her daughter, Jean Tiffany, now 8, and her
son, Christian Thomas, now 5, from their father four years ago during a
custody fight and then fled to Mexico.

“I had been telling them that their dad loves them as much as I do and
that he is really cool. … So they are very excited to meet him and be
with him,” the note read. “I loved the U.S. as much as I love my own
country. I never meant to disobey the law, but I didn’t have any other

On Friday, Thomas Terranova was reunited with his children.

“Words don’t describe what it feels like,” he said, his daughter clasped
tightly around his neck, his young son standing nearby.

“Every parent with kids out there can probably imagine what it feels

Terranova’s long ordeal, his crusade to find the children his estranged
wife had taken away from him, came to an end with a phone call at 1:30
a.m. Friday.

“Tom, do you speak Spanish?,” Glendale Sgt. Randy Osborne asked.

“No, why?” he replied.

“We got your kids, and they don’t speak English anymore,” Osborne said.

Jean Tiffany Terranova and Christian Thomas Terranova were only 4 years
old and 21 months old, respectively, when their mother failed to appear
for her court-designated child-custody exchange Jan. 12, 2001.

Police said the kids had been living in Guadalajara for the past four
years with Gloria’s family, and Jean, once only fluent in English, was
now fluent in Spanish, as was her brother.

Since the last day he saw his children, Terranova’s life has been about
getting them back.

He said he always remembered the look his daughter gave him the last time
she saw him — a scared look as if she knew something was about to happen
– so he told her to be strong like the heroine of “Mulan,” her favorite
movie at the time.

His suburban life turned into a world involving bounty hunters, private
investigators and trips back and forth to Mexico — all to the tune of
about $250,000.

Choking up, he remembered every time he saved up $12,000 to $15,000, he
would make a trip to Mexico: Tijuana eight months ago, Mexico City one
year ago, and several trips to Guadalajara.

“It was like finding a needle in a haystack, but for this to happen is
surreal to me. It was always really rough on the plane coming home
empty-handed and sitting there crying. Today made it all worth it,
really. They’re back to stay and I’m not going to let them out of my

Terranova and police officials don’t know whether it was Gloria’s
conscience that finally got to her or heat from the unwavering police
investigation that involved several agencies.

But something prompted the 30-year-old woman to go to Tijuana with the
children, pin to their shirts a handwritten letter and a copy of a flier
from the TV series “America’s Most Wanted” with their pictures on it.

Osborne said the reunion had been an emotional one for him.

“I’ve been involved with this case for two years, and I’ve been a police
officer for 25 years,” he said. “The three-hour drive last night from the
Mexican border back to Glendale with those two kids in the back seat was
probably three of the happiest hours I’ve had.”

“It’s a great ending to an unfortunate set of circumstances. To have been
dealing with him (Terranova) for two years and to see him standing on the
sidewalk in front of the police station at 3 a.m. looking down into the
car at his two children was a wonderful sight.”

When Terranova first saw his kids, they were asleep. But when they woke
up, his daughter immediately recognized him and ran to hug and kiss him,
and Christian followed his older sister’s lead and did the same, the
beaming dad said.

“They were just hugging me and kissing me,” Terranova said, his eyes
welling up with tears.

Gloria Terranova is still wanted for abducting the children. A felony
warrant was issued for the mother March 20, 2001, and Glendale police
will be working with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office in
an attempt to locate and prosecute her.

“The happy part of the investigation is taking place now with the
reunion. But now, the investigation continues because we had a crime that
was committed,” Osborne said.

Terranova said he harbors no ill will against his ex-wife, whose actions,
he believes, were manipulated by her family members.

“She’s the mother of my children and part of me says I hope she’s not in
any trouble right now. I’m not going to hold hatred against her.”

After spending his first day with the kids laughing and playing at home
then shopping for clothes and getting them haircuts, Terranova said his
focus now is to start a new life with his children, so finding a tutor to
deal with the language barrier is first and foremost on the list.

All he knows so far is what he learned through an interpreter: His
daughter loves Barbie, her favorite color is blue and she likes playing

“I’ve got to get to know these guys all over again,” he said. “I’m going
to get them the best education money can buy. The sky’s the limit with
them. I want to give them a normal life like all kids should have.”

Terranova’s brother, Joe, said that, as time went on, he began to lose
hope that the kids would ever return — but his brother never did.

“This is overwhelming for him. His life stopped. All the normal
day-to-day things we did stopped. It was just finding his kids,” Joe
said. “Now he can move on. Now he can grow with them.”

Copyright 2005 Dailey News

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