Michael Madrigal is happy to be back at home in Forest Park, a month after police said his father kidnapped him and his three siblings.
"I really missed my mom," said the boy, 9. "I wasn't afraid, but I am happy to be home."
Forest Park police said Francisco Madrigal, 34, took Michael, Jose, 12, and Francisco, 10, and their sister, Geneicey, 6, on Sept. 12, after their mother told him she wanted to end their relationship. Miriam Rivera said Madrigal has no legal rights to custody of the children. He is charged with kidnapping, and is the target of an international manhunt.
When Madrigal went on the run with the children, his arrest warrant was turned over to the Clayton County Sheriff's Fugitive Unit. Investigator David Vasquez communicated almost daily with the GBI, FBI, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, U.S. Marshals and Diplomatic Security Services, cobbling together information that finally led to the children's return home Wednesday.
Rivera said, Friday, she was thrilled to see her children again. She and the kids have moved away from the apartment where they were living at the time of the kidnapping.
"I am so happy now," she said in Spanish. Vasquez repeated her comments in English. "When I saw them, I embraced them and started kissing them. It was like an eternity before they came home. I was desperate for their return."
Children in neighborhood were also excited to see the four back home. "The first thing they wanted to do was play with their friends," said Rivera. "It was a big family reunion, like 20 kids came to visit them and hug them when they got home. The other kids said they were glad they came back, because it was boring without them."
Jose recalled that their dad took them to their maternal grandmother's home in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. "I didn't really want to come back home," he said. "I liked being at my grandmother's. She has a farm and we went swimming. Mexico is very pretty at night, with all the lights."
Rivera said Jose's reluctance to return to Georgia is understandable, but saddens her. "I feel a little sad when he says he wants to stay with his grandmother," she said. "But life in Mexico is very different from here. The agricultural nature allows them to go out freely and enjoy themselves."
Jose said their grandmother put the children on a bus to Reynosa, Mexico, where they were picked up by an uncle. "He picked us up in a van and drove us to his home in Corpus Christi," said Jose. "It took four-and-a-half days to get from Mexico to Georgia."
Although the children, who were born in the United States, didn't have passports or their birth certificates, officials cut through immigration red tape by confirming they were victims of a kidnapping, said Vasquez. "That was the easiest way to do it," he said.
The four will return to classes at school, Tuesday, and their mother has alerted the school that no one but she has permission to sign them out.
"No one can get them, not even my sister," said Rivera. "But I don't think their father will come back. He didn't mistreat them, he took good care of the kids."
Vasquez said the kids' return is bittersweet.
"I am relieved there is closure for her, but upset it took place at all," he said. "And now, he's disappeared, there is no communication from him, no contact."
Anyone with information about Madrigal's whereabouts, should call 911, or local police.