PLYMOUTH, N.H. — Fear for one child’s welfare drove Genevieve Kelley into hiding, she says. Fear for another child’s health drew her out.
Kelley, who disappeared with her daughter in October 2004 amid an ugly custody battle with the girl’s father, resurfaced last month when she turned herself in without warning at a New Hampshire courthouse.
Now free on bail after three weeks in jail, Kelley is living in New Hampshire with her 9-year-old son. She awaits trial on charges of interfering with the custody rights of her daughter’s father.
Speaking publicly for the first time since she reemerged after a decade on the run, Kelley, 50, said she surrendered because a son born while she was a fugitive needs medical care. That child, John, was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis.
Kelley, a family practice doctor before she disappeared, said her family’s 10 years underground were difficult at times. But she said she never regretted her decision, and some of the stress of being a fugitive “fades away and you’re just living your life.”
“People have an amazing ability to adapt. You get used to things the way they are,” she said in an interview with the Globe. “The thing that never goes away is missing your family.”
For a decade, the case captivated the New Hampshire town of Whitefield, which the Kelleys called home, and radiated around the country. A manhunt began in Central America and stretched north and south. The story of the disappeared woman whose claims of abuse were doubted by police made national news. “America’s Most Wanted” aired a brief story about her; in recent months, CNN aired a special too.
But until this spring, the trail was cold.
In interviews this week, Kelley declined to discuss the circumstances of her return or provide details about where she and her daughter Mary spent the last decade.
Genevieve Kelley, 50, said she surrendered because John needed medical care. “I said, ‘when Mary’s safe, I need to get him back,’ ” she said.
Mary is still being treated as an “endangered missing person,” said Deputy US Marshal Jamie Berry, who has been involved with the search from its outset.
Mary is healthy and safe, her mother said, and after turning 18 in February, is “able to make her own decisions, not being forced to do anything she doesn’t want to.”
The Kelleys did not surrender together, Genevieve Kelley said, because “we didn’t want the whole family separated. If we’re both in jail, that’s really bad for the kids.”
The family’s disappearance followed a bitter, long-running custody dispute in which Mark Nunes was accused of sexually abusing Mary, his daughter. Police and a court-appointed advocate said the accusations were unsubstantiated, and raised the specter of parental alienation — the notion that Kelley was poisoning Mary’s feelings toward her father.
Nunes was cleared by police, and was granted custody of Mary in December 2004.
But she was already gone.
The Kelley family initially fled under their own passports, said Berry, which show their first stop in Honduras or Guatemala in 2004. Then the trail went cold.
“I’d call it kind of a roller coaster at times,” said Berry, the deputy US Marshal. “Having it on ‘America’s Most Wanted’ in 2006 for 15 seconds, you get tips off of that. ‘On the Hunt’ on CNN, we got tips from that.”
The tips were mostly vague and unhelpful — along the lines of “I’ve seen a person in California, in a Walmart,” Berry said. Then Kelley contacted authorities this spring.
Upon returning last month, Kelley visited with her parents, who are in poor health and still living in New Hampshire.
“It was wonderful, but it was also really shocking,” to see them aged, she said. She too has changed, and looks little like the face on her wanted poster. Her hair is shorter and straight, her glasses wide and dark, her features barely recognizable from old photos.
Turning herself in brought with it an element of relief, she said. But the isolation that followed tested her after years spent in hiding with her family.
“I wasn’t able to hear from anybody for a couple of days,” Kelley said.
Mark Nunes has been separated from his daughter for far longer.
Nunes, who referred all comments to Coos County Attorney John McCormick, has spoken publicly about Mary often in the years since she disappeared. Nunes and his wife released a statement in the wake of Kelley’s surrender.
“We are heartbroken that Mary has still not been able to come forward or for Genevieve to tell authorities where she is,” Nunes’s statement said. “We want to say publicly that we as Mary’s family love her, look forward to her coming home and to keep an open mind as we believe that she has been told falsehoods and misstatements on the events of her youth.”
Alan Rosenfeld, a Colorado lawyer representing Kelley who specializes in spousal and child sexual abuse cases, said Mary may be asked to testify at the trial on charges against Kelley.
“She was old enough to know what was going on,” Rosenfeld said.
McCormick, who inherited the case when he took over the office a few years ago, declined to discuss the specifics of the allegations while the case is pending. He said the charges carry possible jail terms of up to seven years, and Kelley is under orders not to contact Mary. A hearing to set a trial date is scheduled for next week.
Kelley said she wrestled with the decision to take Mary and flee a decade ago, and ultimately felt she had no other options. She credited her husband Scott, a teacher, for abandoning his life in New Hampshire to keep Mary safe.
“Before we left, I told him that I didn’t expect him to go. That I would understand if he couldn’t,” Kelley said. “He said there was never a doubt in his mind.”
But Kelley said there were things she had failed to consider before she left. She said she worked hard to become a doctor, and missed practicing medicine. She missed her friends and parents, who she said never doubted her story. And as Mary grew up, opportunities for education and the life ahead of her became important.
John’s medical condition made the decision to return more simple: Rosenfeld said Kelley plans to have him tested and treated at Boston Children’s Hospital.
During her time in jail, Kelley said, other inmates recognized her and were supportive.
“I had someone say something really special and wonderful: ‘If my mother had done what you did, I wouldn’t be here right now,’ ” she said.
But the hardest thing about jail is the same thing that has underscored both sides of this case for more than a decade.
“The most terrible thing about jail,” Kelley said, “is being forcibly separated from your family.”