BROWARD COUNTY (CBSMiami/AP) – A Montana mother has been reunited with her three children in Broward County more than seven months after they disappeared with their father.
The abduction of the three siblings last summer in South Florida was the start of a months-long search for their alleged kidnappers: their father, James Ray Bryant, 44, and his wife, Angela Bryant, 45, the children’s stepmother.
James Bryant was arrested earlier this week and appeared in a Broward courtroom Thursday morning for an extradition hearing.
The judge ruled he will be extradited to Montana to face charges and police have thirty days to pick him up.
Bryant and his kids were found by the Coast Guard on a 40-foot sailboat about 30 miles off Pompano Beach on Tuesday. They were on their way back to the Bahamas where the Bryant had found refuge with his family until about two weeks ago.
That’s when the group sailed back to South Florida, according to Dustin Lensing, the Belgrade, Mont., police detective leading the multi-agency investigation.
The family expedition began to unravel this past weekend, when Angela Bryant was arrested in Hawaii. She gave authorities enough information for them to apprehend her husband, Lensing said.
Kelly Bryant, the children’s mother and primary guardian, was “ecstatic” about traveling to Broward County to be reunited with her children, who are “fine and healthy,” Lensing said.
“She’s very pleased,” Lensing said. “She has been missing her kids. She has missed birthdays and holidays with them.”
Kelly Bryant flew into Broward on Wednesday afternoon. Her children had spent the previous 24 hours in an emergency shelter. Holding them any longer would have required court permission, according to DCF spokesman Mark Riordan.
“What we’ve been able to do is provide a safe place for the children so they could be reunified with their mother,” he said.
At a Broward court hearing Wednesday, James Bryant was ordered held on $100,000 bond on the charge of interfering with parenting. His wife Angela faces the same charge.
If convicted, each would face up to 10 years in prison and a $50,000 fine.
The investigation began last summer after Megan Bryant, 14, Maxwell Bryant, 13, and Sebastian Bryant, 11, traveled from Montana to visit their father and his wife in South Florida for a couple of weeks.
James and Angela Bryant were living on their catamaran in Key Biscayne at the time, Lensing said.
The children were scheduled to fly home Aug. 17. In an instant, the Bryants vanished with the kids, Lensing said. Montana authorities tried phoning the children to no avail.
“All we know is their cellphones went off,” Lensing said. “The cellphones might have been thrown overboard for all we know.”
Authorities feared James Bryant left U.S. waters with the children and began investigating, Lensing said. Bryant set sail during hurricane season, he said. “We were genuinely worried that something very bad could happen,” Lensing said.
As detectives investigated, they established that the Bryants were living in the Bahamas by monitoring their Internet activity and cellphone records, he said. Officials began arranging extraditions through the U.S. Department of State, but faced delays from bureaucratic red tape.
“If they’re in a foreign country, it just makes it a very difficult process,” Lensing said. “No matter what country it is, even if extradition treaties are in place.”
That all changed about two weeks ago, when the Bryants traveled back to South Florida, he said.
Police received an anonymous tip that Angela Bryant had taken a flight from Miami to Hawaii, where she was arrested in connection with the abduction, he said.
“She was picked up on the spot,” Lensing said.
Angela Bryant told police that her spouse and the children still were in South Florida. Police asked the Coast Guard to start scouring the Atlantic.
A Customs and Border Protection aircrew searched the waters for a “couple of days straight” until they found the family’s sailboat, Lensing said. “We suspected they wouldn’t be far from the boat,” Lensing said.
The sailboat was intercepted by the Coast Guard cutter and a crew from the Fort Lauderdale Coast Guard station. In addition to Bryant and his kids, also aboard were a dog, cat, snake and lizard — presumably pets, officials said.
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