Yenny Ponce felt like a new mother as she drove the four hours from Bluffton to Atlanta this week.
The churning feeling in her stomach was the same mix of love and impatience she’d only ever experienced when she carried her son Christopher nine years ago. Soon, Ponce knew, she would be able to see Chris’ face and draw him close for the first time since Feb. 27, when he was allegedly kidnapped by her estranged husband.
“I just wanted to hug him and feel his heartbeat near mine. And I did,” the 33-year-old Bluffton woman said Sunday, turning to beam at Chris. “It’s the best feeling.”
Ponce said she sped nearly all the way to Atlanta, where Chris and his stepfather, William King, were flown after authorities found them last week in the outskirts of Mexico City. King was wanted by the Clarksville Police Department in Tennessee on a charge of “especially aggravated kidnapping.”
“I drove so fast. I was like, if police stop me, I’ll be so happy to get that ticket,” Ponce said with a laugh. “Sorry, but I am.”
Late last year, Ponce lost custody of Chris to King after he falsely claimed she tried to prostitute the boy through a Craigslist ad, which was traced back to King’s computer, according to police in Bluffton and Clarksville.
In February, police ruled the accusations against Ponce unfounded, and a Tennessee court revoked King’s custody, but the 56-year-old man allegedly picked up Chris from his Tennessee school and disappeared.
“He lost a lot of life, like school, his friends,” Yenny Ponce said of her son, with whom she spoke periodically over the past six months using Skype, a video-call application. “Everything’s going to be a process.”
The transition has been hard on Chris, a quiet, bespectacled boy. Though he says he didn’t know what was happening when authorities separated him from his stepdad and flew him to Atlanta, his nerves were soothed when he was reunited.
“When I saw her, I got happy,” Chris said.
Tennessee authorities expect to pick up William King from Atlanta on Monday.
Attempts to reach the FBI, U.S. Marshals Service and Clarksville Police Department were unsuccessful Sunday.
Pamela Blackshire, Ponce’s lawyer, said she was thrilled for the mother and son but could not comment on the investigation.
It was not clear Sunday how authorities located King, or whether he faces any additional charges.
A Facebook page for a William Stanley King includes photos of himself, Chris and Mexico City.
Along with reposted photos of memes, inspirational quotes and jokes, his page contains numerous posts about smoking and marijuana legalization.
On July 22, he posted that he was approached by police while smoking a pipe in a park.
“For a small fee I am now able to sit in park and smoke, (The cops think it is best because there are too many children at the house) which is why I was at the park in the first place,” King wrote. “Life is such a great adventure.”
In several other pictures, what appears to be marijuana sits atop a child’s math workbook.
“Recycling at its finest,” one of the captions reads.
Other posts speak of parenting, such as one meme that reads, “Anyone can have a child and call themselves ‘a parent.’ A real parent is someone who puts their child above their own selfish needs and wants.”
Ponce believes King fought for custody of Chris because she had recently stopped him from receiving a Social Security disability check that was meant to cover the costs of looking after her son, despite the fact that the couple only lived together briefly about nine years ago and for about five months in 2013 and 2014.
King is not Chris’ biological father but was married to Ponce when the boy was born.
In an email provided to The Island Packet, King wrote to Ponce to say he was mad at her for “taking the money I told you not to touch.”
In early January, he came to Bluffton and was cited for trespassing. Ponce also said the man had been verbally abusive, police said.
In a video King sent to Ponce shortly after disappearing with Chris, he tells his estranged wife, “I never said I didn’t love you. ... I might have called you some names, called you things like stupid (expletive), but that’s not anything like saying I didn’t love you, because I do.”
Ponce did not speak about Chris’ experience in Mexico on Sunday.
Though her son has a long transition ahead, Ponce says the pair are focused now on enjoying each others’ company.
On Tuesday, they leave for a two-day trip to Walt Disney World, where Chris is excited to visit the LEGO Imagination Center.
“When I was a little kid, I always wanted to go,” he said.
After the vacation, Chris will return to school as a fourth-grader. He’ll also start learning to be a big brother to Ponce’s 4-month-old baby, Jacob.
“I feel like I’m in a dream,” Chris said of meeting Jacob.
“He’s like, ‘He’s my favorite brother,’” Ponce says with a laugh. “And the baby is so happy.”
Ponce says she will take this chapter of her and Chris’ life as a lesson to be thankful for what she has.
“Every day, I thank God. Every single minute, every single day,” she says. “Every time I can feel that I can breath, I just thank God.”