A Toronto-area mother who spent three anguished decades wondering whether her son was alive or dead said their recent, happy reunion should offer hope to other families grappling with the pain of missing a child.
Lyneth Mann-Lewis said the story-book ending to her long, painful tale of separation offers proof that even circumstances that seem hopeless can turn around unexpectedly.
The Brampton, Ont., mother spoke publicly Monday after returning from an emotional reunion with a son who was allegedly abducted by his father 31 years ago, raised under an assumed name and told his mother was dead.
While tearfully recounting the reunion, which gave her the chance to cuddle and cook for her son for the first time in decades, Mann-Lewis said she also thought of others whose children are still missing.
”I am the proof that after 31 long years of suffering, one should never give up,” she said at a Monday afternoon news conference. “Be patient, be strong, and believe that all things are possible and that anything can transpire.”
The saga for mother and child began in 1987 during a visit between 21-month-old Jermaine Mann and his father, Allan Mann Jr.
Toronto police allege Mann Jr. abducted his son during that visit and fled to the United States, where he established false identities for them both.
Toronto police Det. Sgt. Wayne Banks offered few details of the father and son’s years in the U.S., other than to say that Mann Jr. engaged in alleged criminal activity from the time of his arrival and created a deceitful existence for Jermaine.
“They lived, basically, a life of lies as to who they were and what they did, unbeknownst to Jermaine,” Banks said. “He was under the impression that his mother had died shortly after birth.”
Mann-Lewis contacted both Toronto police and the Missing Children Society of Canada in hopes of finding her son, launching multi-decade investigations in both agencies.
Banks said the case went cold until 2016 when the force’s fugitive squad co-hosted an annual training session for forces around the world.
The Mann case was publicly discussed at the session, he said, prompting a collaboration between Toronto police and the U.S. Marshals Service.
Banks did not offer particulars of the American investigation, but said it led to the arrest of Allan Mann Jr. on Friday. He said officials used facial recognition technology to identify him, but declined to share the name the accused had been using in the U.S.
Banks said Mann Jr. is currently facing multiple criminal charges south of the border, but will be extradited to Canada to face one count of abduction in his son’s disappearance.
After decades of waiting, Mann-Lewis said in many ways the last few hours before seeing her son again were the worst.
Flanked by officials with the Missing Children Society, she said she agonized over the pending reunion, especially after her original flight to Connecticut was cancelled and the party had to catch a later flight.
Once she got there, she said, she was able to revel in the reality of touching her son again, adding he seemed quick to make connections of his own.
“‘Oh, mommy, you have my eyes,’” she said of his first words to her. “He hugged me and he kissed me and we held there for a long time.”
Mann-Lewis said she then took great pleasure in cooking for her son, adding he broke his usual vegetarian lifestyle to eat the chicken she prepared without knowing his dietary preference.
She declined to say whether her son will readopt the name Jermaine or use the one he’s known his whole life, adding she would respect his choice either way.
She said her son has had a chance to speak by phone to his half-brother, Mann-Lewis’ child by another marriage.
Amanda Pick of the Missing Children Society said the reunion marks the culmination of a case that preoccupied investigators for decades.
She had praise for officials who waded through hundreds of tips and interviews over the years, as well as for Mann-Lewis and her relatives.
“Lyneth and her family have been a tower of strength and perseverance throughout the investigation,” she said. “During all these years her strength and her courage always gave us hope and spurred us to never give up.”
Allan Mann Jr. appeared briefly Friday in federal court in Hartford, Conn., where he faces charges including making false statements in transactions with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
U.S. officials said Mann Jr. has dual Canadian and Ghanaian citizenship, and was found living in subsidized housing in Vernon, about 20 kilometres east of Hartford.
– With files from The Associated Press
Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press