‘Missing’ Daughter Resurfaces for the Custody Case From Hell

Mary Nunes vanished in 2004, amid unsubstantiated claims of sex abuse. Now 19, she’s returned to the U.S. as her mother and stepfather go to trial on kidnapping charges.

04.16.15 2:35 PM ET

One could forgive Mary Nunes for having selective memory. After all, the 19-year-old was just 8 years old when her mother, Genevieve Mary Kelley, allegedly defied a court order and reportedly took the girl to Central America, amid sexual-abuse accusations against Mary’s father, Mark Nunes. 

At the time, Nunes’ parents were in the classic custody battle in New Hampshire that many divorcing couples face as they try to carve out new lives with new spouses and families. Genevieve Kelley had apparently been keeping a diary in which she wrote she feared that Mary was being sexually abused by her father, according to supporters on a  Friends of Genevieve Kelley Facebook page. Authorities in New Hampshire reportedly investigated the allegations and found them without merit.

Nunes has been listed as a missing child since her disappearance in 2004.  Her father hired a private investigator who led him to Central America, but no one has been able to find the missing child or her mother. Mary’s story has been a subject of television programs that deal with such not-so-rare events. 

Her mother and stepfather, Scott Kelley, have both been issued international arrest warrants for non-custodial kidnapping and fleeing prosecution. 

According to New Hampshire court records, Mary Nunes didn’t show up for a scheduled visit with her father in New Hampshire in 2003, after which her mother missed a custody court hearing to address the matter. Kelley had apparently moved to Colorado without telling her ex-husband, who she claims authorities refused to investigate because he was a military doctor—Kelley herself, also a physician, met her husband while both were serving in the Air Force.

After the split, Kelley had primary custody on the condition that she not move out of New Hampshire. But by not honoring visitation agreements and skipping court, those rights were stripped and custody was awarded to Mary’s biological father in 2005. By then, it would seem, the girl was already on the lam with her mother and stepfather, and, according to press reports from the time, several horses, implying that they escaped by land.

Last November, after CNN aired an episode about the case on The Hunt (hosted by missing-child champion John Walsh), Mary’s mother returned to America and turned herself in. She was freed on $50,000 bond and a hearing is set for early May.

Upon her arrest, Genevieve Kelley was ordered not to have any contact with her daughter, who, at the time, was still a missing person. According to the New Hampshire Union Leader, Kelley’s lawyer Alan Rosenfield says his client had no choice but to flee to protect the child’s safety. He is asking the court to give Kelley a jury trial to determine whether she should be convicted of kidnapping. He says she should not—based on her sincere belief that she was protecting her daughter. 

On Wednesday, Mary Nunes reappeared. She returned to the U.S. with her stepfather after requesting temporary American passports from a consulate office in Costa Rica on April 13.  According to CBS News Crimesider, authorities alerted the U.S. Marshals and missing-persons agencies to warn them that the pair were on their way back. “During this process, it was learned that [Scott] Kelley had an outstanding arrest warrant for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution and that Nunes, 19, was a missing person,” according to a statement reported Crimesider. “Given this information, Kelley and Nunes were issued temporary passports for travel back to the United States.”

Scott Kelley was immediately arrested in Atlanta, and Nunes was allowed to travel to Colorado with Rosenfield, according to the Union Leader, though she is apparently not able to reunite with her mother due to the conditions of her mother’s bail. Because she has not seen her father for 11 years, and very likely has been told that she was sexually abused by him, she has not yet been reunited with him. Scott Kelley faces extradition back to New Hampshire. A trial date has not yet been set for him.

According to the Associated Press, Nunes’ father looks forward to setting the record straight. “It’s very hard for us to reconcile our mental image of her as a 7-year-old girl with the reality that she’s a gawky, beautiful, 18-year-old teenager that we could pass on the street and might not even recognize,” Mark Nunes said in a statement in November. “We love Mary and are overjoyed that she is alive and back in the U.S. Our hearts and home are open to her, and we will do everything we can to insure she remains safe and healthy. We look forward to the day our family is finally reunited.”