Editor's Note: This is the first in an exclusive, three-part series in which Fox Point's Dr. Moises Garcia talks about his 4-year fight to successfully recover his kidnapped daughter, Karina, from Japan. This series chronicles the abduction, Moises' battle to maintain a relationship with her from more than 6,000 miles away, and takes a look at her today, age 10, as she celebrates her first birthday back in America since the abduction.
On a warm August afternoon, Karina Garcia celebrated her 10th birthday surrounded by 15 of her friends at a lake near her Fox Point home. But this birthday was much more than a celebration with cupcakes, balloons and toys. Monday marked a new milestone for Karina after a four-year nightmare for her and her father, who's never told the full, step-by-step story of his battle to bring his daughter home.
Karina's father, Dr. Moises Garcia, said she wanted a bike for her birthday and that was one wish he couldn't grant.
"I can't, it's dangerous," he said.
Even after Karina has spent eight months in the United States with her step-mother and new baby sister, her father said she often endures nightmares that she will be abducted again.
"She had nightmares that an old lady kidnaps and takes her, grabs her," Garcia said. "She's scared that she's going to be taken again, not see her sister."
On Feb. 22, 2008, Garcia went to pick up Karina from the home where she stayed with her mother, Emiko Inoue, Garcia's soon-to-be ex-wife.
But when he got there, no one was home. Instead, he found clothes scattered across the house, the family safe emptied of $3,000 cash and Inoue's passport missing.
Garcia's worst nightmare had become reality — his daughter had been kidnapped.
This began Garcia's four-year crusade, which would cost him nearly $400,000, to bring his daughter home.
'I was always afraid of that'
Garcia, originally from Nicaragua, and Inoue, a native of Japan, met while studying in Norway in 1998. They moved to Milwaukee in 2001 and married a year later with Karina on the way.
Garcia said his filing for divorce was fueled by personality problems between Inoue and himself that were exacerbated after Karina was born. Cultural differences and Inoue's struggle to adapt to living in the United States were also a big part of their frustrations.
He said he finally filed for divorce after they had a massive argument in February 2008.
"By then we had tried everything," he said, including counseling, a reconciliation from a previous divorce filed by Inoue in 2006, and moving into a new house. But even after all of that, they ultimately separated and Garcia filed for divorce. He said the troubled relationship with Inoue left him concerned for his daughter's safety.
"I had Karina’s passport in my possession because I was always afraid of that. I was always concerned about abduction," Garcia said.
The next step
After discovering the scene at the home in 2008, Garcia immediately called Fox Point police. It was later discovered that Karina and Inoue had left Mitchell International Airport at 7 p.m. Sunday for Minnesota for a connecting flight to Japan.
“Initially I didn’t believe she was in Japan. I thought maybe she’s hiding here,” he said.
That night, Garcia received a very short phone call from Inoue letting Garcia know that they were both safe in Japan. Because the caller ID showed up as “Unknown,” Garcia said he had hope they were still in the United States.
“There was a week where I was looking at hotels, everywhere, pushing police to see what happened, getting court orders, all this stuff,” he said. By Saturday, he remembered he had the home phone number of Inoue’s parents in Japan, where he believed she would have taken Karina. He called multiple times and at first, no one answered. Finally, Inoue picked up, confirming the international flight.
“Then, that day, I hit bottom,” he said. “I cried like crazy, three or four hours. There was nothing to do at that point. I almost gave up.”
Garcia returned to Nicaragua to “rebuild” himself during that time. And after nearly a month refocusing, and coping with the loss of his daughter, he found the drive to develop a new plan.
“After that, I came out fresh with more ideas,” he said. He would read every article he could find on parental abductions to foreign countries, talk to support groups and government officials and he said he then realized that his problem was far from rare.
A father left behind
Emiko Inoue was arrested in 2011 when she visited Hawaii, and was brought to Wisconsin to face two felony charges: interference with custody beyond visitation and interference with child custody — other parent. If she is convicted on both counts, she faces up to 12 1/2 years in prison. She wears a GPS tracking device that she is trying to have removed.
Though Karina is home, Garcia continues devoting time and energy to the issue of these abductions.
"We are helping other cases, one in New York (taken to Japan), another in New Jersey (taken to South Korea) trying to write strong court orders to prevent this from happening to these children. This is a big problem facilitated by the fact that the U.S. is the only developed country without exit controls," Garcia said.
Exit controls are a system to check the exit and entry of foreign nationals as they cross U.S. borders. In Karina's case, custody had not yet been established and the couple was still married. However, without exit controls, no one checked to make sure Karina was leaving the United States legally.
But exit controls are only one part of the abduction picture. In 1994, the United States signed the Hague Adoption Convention, an international agreement among 72 countries that requires children be returned to the parent with legal, custodial rights if another tries to take them away. Japan has not signed the convention, according to the U.S. Embassy, despite pressure to do so.
Tomorrow: A look at Garcia's fight to be a father to Karina while she was more than 6,000 miles away, and the lengths he had to go to continue being a part of her life.