Two Merced girls who were abducted by their mother earlier this week were found Friday after border authorities spotted them attempting to cross the Canadian border, the Merced Police Department reported.
Lyza Martinez, 11, and 12-year-old Drea Martinez were discovered with their mother, Rene Snider, trying to cross into Canada from North Dakota, Detective Joseph Henderson said.
The girls are safe and Snider has been taken into custody, police said.
“Everyone here is extremely happy; it was instant elation,” Henderson said.
The girls had been reported missing on Sunday after their mother failed to return them to their father after a daylong visit, police said.
Jose Martinez, the girls’ father, said the the family is relieved they were found.
“I was just overwhelmed with emotion,” the 38-year-old said. “The past week has been the worst pain I’ve had to deal with ever in my life.”
He gushed with thanks to law enforcement and people who shared their story through social media.
Police said Canadian authorities ran Snider’s passport and came up with a missing person report filed by Henderson.
“Their authorities called me and I informed them of the warrant (for Snider) charging her with kidnapping,” he said. “Our District Attorney’s Office is sending someone to get the girls. They’ll likely be back (in Merced) within two to three days. Right now the girls are with … what is basically the Canadian child protective services.”
The family said Snider has been diagnosed with mental health issues. The girls’ father said Snider took the girls to England in a similar incident in 2009.
The father said he’s had full custody of the girls for about a year, and Snider is allowed visitation rights under certain parameters.
Police had been closing in on Snider after she apparently used an iPad to send a message to at least one person. “She’s turned off her phone and the phone belonging to the girls and hadn’t been using her bank account or credit cards to avoid being detected by police,” Henderson said.
Henderson said cooperation from the California Highway Patrol, the FBI and Justice Department was “extremely helpful and appreciated.”
Snider is expected to return to Merced to face the abduction charges, but when that may happen remained unclear Friday.
“In Canada, it’s an extremely serious offense to try to cross into their country when you have a felony warrant for your arrest,” Henderson said. “The Canadian authorities will likely be spending some time with her first.”
Henderson described the case as having “an extremely happy ending.”
Tabitha Martinez, 34, the girls’ stepmother, said the family was gathered at her Merced home waiting for the next step from police on how the girls will get home. She said the family was surprised that Snider and the girls were so far away.
“For me, it was extremely emotional,” she said. “I thank God they’re safe.”