Boy of 13 duped New York over his 4,000-mile trek

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HE SAID his mother had been killed in Hurricane Mitch last November. He said he had trekked some 4,000 miles to New York to find his father. He said his father had sent him a letter inviting him to make the journey and promising to meet with him at La Guardia airport. And an entire city believed him.

Trouble is, most of the tale told by 13-year-old Edwin Daniel Sabillon turns out not to be true. His mother, although she abandoned him when he was three months old, is still alive in Honduras. The father is not alive anywhere. A former resident of Miami, he found last year that he had Aids and returned to Honduras, where, last October, he died.

And the boy's incredible journey, or most of it anyway, never happened. Thus New York, a city not famed for sentimentality, finds that it has been taken in, tricked by a Honduran boy barely into his teens. Those with red faces yesterday included reporters, this one among them, the entire police department, and, above all, the normally stern-hearted mayor, Rudolph Giuliani.

Not that the truth about Edwin is any less poignant. It is just not quite as he told it. The question now is what will become of him? For now, he is in foster care with an Hispanic family chosen by the city. Promises made by the mayor to overrule immigration regulations that normally would classify him as an illegal alien are now in doubt, however.

And all of those New Yorkers who had offered him their generosity - in scores of cases even asking to adopt him - are thinking again.

The suckering of New York began last Sunday, when doe-eyed Edwin surfaced on a street in Upper Manhattan with just $24 and a bag with biscuits and a change of clothes. He persuaded a taxi driver to take him to La Guardia where the fictitious reunion with his father was meant to take place.

Most compelling of all was his description of his 37-day trek from Honduras.

By late Tuesday, the truth was seeping out, unveiled by relatives in Miami and in Honduras, contacted by reporters. "I don't know why he did this," said Edwin's grandmother, Paula Vasquez Hernandez. "Maybe because he wants to live in the United States."

It seems that Edwin was living with an aunt in Hialeah, near Miami, until last October and then returned to Honduras, when his father became ill, to live with Ms Hernandez. In March, he returned to his aunt's home. How he made that return journey is unclear. But it may indeed have been a solo journey that included an illegal crossing into the US.

Then, last weekend, the boy was reported missing by his aunt. The story of his journey picks up as he told it to the authorities in New York. He spun his hurricane yarn to patrons in Hialeah's Natasha Cafeteria, who responded with a collection to buy him a bus ticket to New York and the reunion, or so they imagined, with his long-lost father. And thus on Sunday, he reached the city.

His relatives are perplexed. Some said he was unable to accept that his father was dead. Ms Hernandez suggested he was hoping to find work so he could send her money, just as his father had done for years.

The grandmother says she wants the boy returned. "I'll put him in reform school until he straightens out," she said. But for now, New York is waiting. "The department is continuing its investigation," said Police Chief Howard Safir. "City authorities will continue to provide for the boy's safekeeping."