On 29 June, Janie Santana was delivered news that any parent of a missing child yearns for. After what she says were eight long years of praying her son Rudy Farias was alive, Ms Santana got a much-anticipated call from the Houston Police Department informing her that he had been found.
Ms Santana claimed Rudy, now 25, was badly beaten and abused, but expressed relief at the prospect of finally holding her son in her arms after years of uncertainty.
However, what appeared to be a miracle outcome against the odds is now being questioned as allegations have emerged from Ms Santana’s neighbours that her son was never missing.
The Houston Police Department confirmed that Rudy was never missing in a press conference on Thursday.
Accounts by Ms Santana tell of Rudy’s tragic past filled with loss, mental health struggles and challenges. But as questions mount over his fake disappearance for the last eight years, those who participated in the initial search for the then 17-year-old have been left wondering why.
Rudy was reported missing in 2015
According to the information featured on a Texas EquuSearch flyer distributed after he went missing, Rudy was last seen while walking his dogs near Tidwell and Park Avenue around 6.30pm on 6 March 2015.
He was wearing blue jeans, a black T-shirt, grey cotton gloves and brown shoes. The pets were eventually found safe but Rudy reportedly never returned home.
At the time of his disappearance, it was shared with the public that Rudy was diagnosed with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety and had likely stopped taking his medication. He had previously suffered an injury to his right leg and walked with a slight limp.
Rudy was usually wary around strangers and was not carrying his asthma inhaler with him.
Ms Santana told local news station KHOU in 2015 that she had been desperately looking for her son, and claimed that HPD had told her Rudy may have been abducted and sold for human trafficking. She did not show her face in that interview, alleging that she had been advised by law enforcement to be extra cautious.
“He loves with all his heart, so that’s why we know that he wouldn’t just get up and leave on his own. That’s not him,” Ms Santana told the outlet as she fought tears. “It’s a nightmare that you want to wake up from.”
Authorities received a call in 2018 from a relative claiming they had spotted Rudy behind their home, but officers who responded to the scene did not find him.
A life of tragedy
According to Insider, Rudy’s father, Houston police officer Rudolph Farias III, died by suicide in 2014. He was a 21-year veteran and was facing an internal affairs investigation at the time of his death.
The EquuSearch flyer stated that Rudy had also attempted to take his own life in the past.
In addition to experiencing mental health problems, Rudy lost his brother to a motorcycle accident four years earlier in 2011, his mother told ABC.
An article published on FOX 26 Houston in 2012 reported that Rudy and his mother, described as “marine mother and son,” were facing homelessness.
“Rudy Farias was unable to talk to us face to face today as he’s lying in a hospital bed,” the preview of the report, which has since been removed, read.
‘My son is receiving the care he needs to overcome his trauma’
The news that Rudy had been found was first reported in a tweet on Saturday by the Texas Center for the Missing, which was handling public communications on behalf of his family. Ms Santana also said in a statement that her son was “nonverbal” and asked for privacy.
“What we do know is at the time of his recovery, a good Samaritan located him unresponsive and immediately called police and 911. My son Rudy is receiving the care he needs to overcome his trauma, but at this time, he is nonverbal and not able to communicate with us,” the statement read.
Houston Police confirmed they received a 911 call reporting an unconscious man outside the Immaculate Heart Church, according to ABC News.
When first responders arrived at the scene, they found a man later identified as Rudy, who according to his mother was visibly beaten, with bruises and cuts all over his body and dry blood on his head. Police contacted his family over the weekend to tell them he had been found alive.
“Currently, we do not have any additional information on Rudy’s case. What we do know is ... a good Samaritan located him unresponsive and immediately called police and 911,” Ms Santana said in a statement to local news station KHOU.
“My son Rudy is receiving the care he needs to overcome his trauma, but at this time, he is nonverbal and not able to communicate with us.”
“We are asking for privacy during this difficult time but will share more details as Rudy continues to heal.”
Ms Santana claimed that Rudy was found wearing a necklace that belonged to his late brother and kept squeezing it every time doctors or family members tried to talk to him.
She also said that he remained disorientated and would only say a few words before shutting down and going into a foetal position.
Rudy ‘was never missing’
Shortly after it was announced by police that Rudy was not missing, neighbours of Ms Santana told ABC News said they were never aware Rudy was considered missing because they’ve often seen him in recent years.
“He used to come in my garage, chill with my cousin, son, and daughter,” Kisha Ross, who lives a few houses from Ms Santana, told ABC. “That boy has never been missing ... Sometimes he would go to the park by himself.”
Ms Ross’s cousin Broderick Conley also told the network that he knew Rudy as “Dolph,” short for Rudolph, and spent “laughing good times” when they hung out together. However, Mr Conley and Ms Ross said they hadn’t seen Rudy in recent years.
Authorities are investigating the circumstances surrounding Rudy’s disappearance and are trying to find out where he has been for the past eight years.
“Our mission is to continue supporting our families whose loved ones go missing,” Melissa Rangel, a spokesperson with the Texas Center for the Missing, told CNN. “Rudy Farias has been missing for eight years and now has been located safe. We at Texas Center for the Missing continue to support our families through reunification and want to continue to support the families through the healing and the hope when their loved ones are missing.”
But Texas Equusearch founder Tim Miller described the case as “very strange”.
Then Houston authorities revealed that Rudy was in fact never missing during a press conference on Thursday.
Police Chief Troy Finner said that over the eight years Rudy was considered missing, police interviewed Mr Farias and Ms Santana who both claimed he was her nephew and gave a false name.
“After investigators talked with him yesterday, it was discovered that Rudy returned home the following day on March 8, 2015,” Lieutenant Christopher Zamora, a detective with Houston Police Department (HPD)’s missing persons unit, said.
“Janie continued to deceive police by remaining adamant that Rudy was still missing. She alleged her nephew was the person friends and family [saw] coming and going.”
Despite the lie, Mr Zamora said the district attorney declined to press charges against Ms Santana and Mr Farias for making false statements.
Mr Zamora also contradicted claims made by Houston activist and counsellor Quanell X, who alleged that Mr Farias had suffered sexual and physical abuse during the past eight years.
“We do take all allegations seriously and any new information or facts that we receive will be investigated,” Mr Zamora said.
Police said they would not release any information about the possible sexual abuse of a victim, and declined to comment whether mental health had been a factor in the long-running saga. They did not discuss a possible motive for the eight-year deception.
Over the weekend Quanell X doubled down on his claims, telling The Independent: “I believe that Rudy is absolutely a victim.”
Speaking of his demeanour in a police interview that he also attended, he added: “The kid was distraught ... absolutely distraught. He went back and forth; he acted like a teenager, then he would act 20...is he 23 or 25? He went back and forth between like a child state to a mature state.”
“It’s all confusing as hell to me now,” he said. “I think they’re revictimising the kid all over again. I believe he needs extensive medical, psychological help and treatment.”
Why would his mother lie about his disappearance?
While police have said Ms Santana was lying about the disappearance of her son, they have not put forward an explanation of why she might have done such a thing.
However, a private investigator who tried to track down Rudy said she believed Ms Santana may be suffering from a condition such as Munchausen syndrome by proxy.
Brenda Paradise told The Independent that she wasn’t surprised when he turned out to have been with his mother all along. She said she became suspicious about the mother from the beginning of the case. When she started asking difficult questions that Ms Santana didn’t like, she said they lost contact. Ms Paradise also said she believed Ms Santana was hoping to collect donations from the public.
If you are experiencing feelings of distress, or are struggling to cope, you can speak to the Samaritans, in confidence, on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch.
If you are based in the US, and you or someone you know needs mental health assistance right now, call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988. This is a free, confidential crisis hotline that is available to everyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
If you are in another country, you can go to www.befrienders.org to find a helpline near you.
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