“I can’t help thinking that if I had done this I would be in jail — any man would be in jail.”
Demetri Urella struggled to find words to describe the smell of his son’s hair, the touch of his skin, the pitch of his laugh … the boy’s essence slipping through memory’s fingers like water.
The 49-year-old helicopter pilot choked up, recalling the tightness in his chest, the shortness of breath, the panic that gripped him Oct. 20, 2016, when his son was abducted from the family home in Langley.
“It’s like yesterday,” he says, embarrassed at being emotional nearly three years after the terror of possibly never holding the two-year-old again, the dread of having only reminiscences to clutch.
“I had no idea of the whereabouts of my child.”
What came first was stupefaction — why had his wife removed Julian from daycare, emptied their bank account of roughly $100,000, and disappeared?
Second, came staggering disbelief — that a B.C. Provincial Court judge gave his now-ex-wife Beatriz Dominguez-Herrero custody of their son and issued a restraining order against him based on a phony affidavit that falsely painted him as a violent, drug-addicted child-abuser.
“No proof,” Urella said. “Without any evidence, she got these court orders and was able to leave the country with my son. This could happen to anybody.”
Then came rage — against a system that allowed this:
“I didn’t know you could get orders like that behind someone’s back. If I had found out in time and tried to stop her at the airport, I would have been arrested. She set me up really well. If I didn’t have the money and the support of my family, I would have lost my child. Simple as that.”
Urella was lucky. The RCMP, Interpol, and international authorities were able to trace the circuitous flight of his fugitive spouse, even though she destroyed the toddler’s passport.
Herrero landed first in her homeland Spain, made her way to South America, stopping in Colombia, and ultimately traveling to central Mexico.
Urella, who received a divorce in November, flipped through some of the thousands and thousands of pages of legal documents that chronicle his ordeal in provincial court, B.C. Supreme Court, and at international hearings.
“My ex-wife cleverly used the ex-parte orders to obtain custody of Julian and keep me isolated,” he explained.
No one was sure where she was living.
A dual citizen of Canada and the U.S., Urella runs a Langley-based helicopter service and maintenance company that operates across the continent.
About a decade ago, he met and fell in love with Herrero, then a single mother with a 12-year-old living in Mexico. They were married in Las Vegas on Christmas Eve, 2010.
Julian was born March 20, 2014.
The family moved to Langley in June 2015 for educational opportunities and business, although Urella continued to spend time working in Mexico.
Everything changed on Oct. 18, 2016 — unbeknownst to Urella, who was out of the country.
That day, Provincial Court Judge Ellen Gordon granted Herrero a custody order for Julian and a one-year restraining order against Urella.
At the ex-parte proceedings, Gordon banned Urella from contacting his wife or son, attending any residence, workplace or educational facility connected with them, and ordered police to remove him if he did. She also prohibited him from possessing weapons.
Simultaneously, Herrero played a long-distance charade, sending Urella responsive and caring notes.
On Oct. 20, she texted “Have a great day” at 12:53 p.m., and then she vanished.
About a half-hour later, Urella’s Langley landlord called asking why Herrero and his son appeared to have moved out. Was there a problem with the apartment?
Stunned, Urella tried to reach Herrero. She messaged, “I can explain.”
“Those were the last words I got from her,” he said.
He arrived home Oct. 23, learned of Gordon’s orders, and the following day applied to have them reversed. Herrero had already boarded an Air Canada flight to Toronto and fled the country.
Interpol later traced her to Madrid.
Spanish authorities contacted Herrero, but would not arrest her because of Gordon’s orders.
On Nov. 4, 2016, surprisingly, Herrero telephoned the Surrey courthouse to participate electronically in a hearing before Provincial Judge Deanne Gaffer, but she adamantly refused to reveal her location: “I am in a safe place.”
She claimed Gordon told her she could leave Canada and had no idea about Urella’s attempt to rescind the Oct. 18 orders.
“You need to return to this jurisdiction, madam,” Gaffer admonished, “and appear in front of the court to explain why you have done what you have done.”
Herrero repeated: “I have a protection order.”
“You have to listen to me,” the frustrated judge scolded.
Herrero continued her evasions: “I have my concerns about my safety and my child’s safety.”
She abruptly hung up.
Gaffer ordered Herrero to return to court on Nov. 10, 2016, but she didn’t turn up or call.
Herrero had little credibility, the judge concluded, and the evidence — banking records, travel documents, more than 600 pages of social media messages featuring “loving nicknames,” and numerous family photographs — completely contradicted her portrait of Urella.
Gaffer decided Gordon had been misled: “By concealing, withholding and fabricating material information, I find that Ms. Herrero obtained the October 18th orders by fraud … those orders were invalid at the time they were pronounced. … Herrero has unlawfully removed Julian from B.C.”
But no one actually knew where the mother and child were.
In April 2017, Herrero and Julian were spotted in Celaya, in the central state of Guanajuato, northwest of Mexico City.
On May 23, Julian was recovered in a police raid, eight months after his abduction.
Thanks to the Canadian, U.S. and Mexican governments, under The Hague Convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction, he was returned to Urella.
Nearly four months later, on Sept. 21, Herrero, too, unbelievably returned to B.C.
Despite warnings from the RCMP, the Border Services Agency allowed her and her 22-year-old son from a previous relationship into Canada on a 14-day visa.
“We don’t know what they did, but then they left,” Urella said. “There was an opportunity to grab her, but she was not detained.”
RCMP Const. Keith Wilson told Urella in a December 2017 email that he pleaded with Crown prosecutor Kimberly Wendel that the strange visit “further reinforced the importance of laying these charges at the earliest convenience.”
He repeated that recommendation in a supplemental report to Wendel in June 2018.
Urella, who was granted sole custody, fears that his son could be abducted again.
“This was a kidnapping of my child for economic gain,” he fumed, estimating the cost of lawyers and other expenses at almost $100,000.
More than a year ago, his lawyer Jeff Scouten, of Hakemi & Ridgedale LLP, also implored Wendel to approve charges to prevent further harm and ensure Herrero’s international movements triggered warnings.
“While the (B.C. Prosecution Service) makes every effort to conclude the charge assessment process in a timely manner, there are a number of factors that determine how long the process takes,” Dan McLaughlin, communications counsel for the B.C. Prosecution Service, said Wednesday responding to questions from Postmedia.
“It is not appropriate to discuss the details of this case or the reasons for the time taken to come to a decision as the assessment process is still ongoing.”
There was no timeframe, but a decision could be soon, he added.
Later Wednesday, Const. Wilson emailed Urella: “Unfortunately, have bad news … they will NOT be approving charges for abduction against Beatriz. We are waiting for their justification as to why and how they reached their decision. … My apologies again Demetri.”
Scouten was dumbfounded. Urella was shattered.
“I can’t help thinking that if I had done this, I would be in jail — any man would be in jail,” he complained. “There’s no consequence for what she did.”
Changes were needed, he insisted.
“I think we’d all like to see less gender bias,” Urella said. “I think if I went into that courthouse with a four-page affidavit and no proof‚ no pictures of abuse, no doctor reports, no neighbour reports, no nothing, just a four-page because-I-say-so, as a man? Do you think I would have got those orders? I don’t think so. And I think if I were to kidnap my kid and went all over Europe and Colombia, I think I would be in jail. What do you bet?”
He had to calm himself.
“Unfortunately, I married a criminal. Poor choice. But this woman is still out there at large. This is a gender-bias case.”
Follow and share local stories on Flipboard. Check out our Vancouver News magazine: http://flip.it/s7019i
CLICK HERE to report a typo.
Is there more to this story? We’d like to hear from you about this or any other stories you think we should know about. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.