(KXAN) — Zane and Matteo James spend their summer days mastering a myriad of their favorite video games. Zane,10, likes to read and wants to be a writer. Matteo, 13, received a special math award in school this year and says he wants to be a biochemist. Both of the boys were on the ‘A Honor Roll’ and earlier this year served as the best men at their dad’s wedding to his new wife, Bridget.
Two years after they were kidnapped by their mother and a year after being reunited with their father you would never know the trauma they had been through.
“They’re both amazing, strong, smart, doing amazingly well in school. They’re just so happy,” the boys’ father Stephen James said. “The last year has been amazing having my family back together.”
In 2012, the boys’ mother, Alicia Gomez, kidnapped them during her visitation and took them, along with their grandmother, to Mexico.
James says he often thinks back to the day he was reunited with his sons at the Mexico border, following an elaborate plan orchestrated by the Williamson County District Attorney’s Office to get the boys back to the U.S.
PHOTOS: A father reunited with his sons
“I was really shocked I seriously,” Matteo said of being reunited with his father. “(I) thought that was not going to happen that day.”
“Our uncle was taking us to the border and all the sudden we walked into this room and our dad was there and we didn’t know what was happening,” Zane remembered. “We were like, ‘what?’ And then he gave us a bag with two Nintendo DSs in it and I’m like, ‘alright.'”
The boys were ultimately located in Mexico by private investigator Logan Clarke and his team. But the two do not like to talk about the year they spent away from their father.
“It was a long and hard year,” said Matteo. “When we first started going into hiding, there was a lot of hot rooms.”
Stephen says he learned the boys were put to work painting houses in Mexico. They did not go to school or see a doctor or a dentist. Both boys were thin when they arrived home last year and both were in desperate need of glasses.
“It’s difficult for a child, any child, to comprehend why it’s happening to them,” Stephen said. “It’s really hard when it’s your child and it hits home, but you know, there’s still tens of thousands of kids out there missing and just thinking about what they’re going through and trying to comprehend why a parent would do this to them, it’s just heart wrenching.”
Story Continues Below
The James family has a special home alarm and there is a special plan with their school. But Stephen is still so afraid he has considered moving out of state.
“I’m deathly afraid because it was so easy for them to pull this off the first time because I had zero help from any police department, politician, anybody to get them back,” Stephen added. “And 90 percent of the people involved in it are still living free right here in Texas.”
His children had been gone for nine months before any law enforcement agency agreed to help him. He says he contacted Gov. Rick Perry’s office, along with Sen. Ted Cruz and the White House, but received no assistance.
“No one spent one minute of work trying to find ways they could help my sons get home,” Stephen said. “That needs to change. And these same people that failed my sons and my family have an opportunity now to contact me and let’s sit down and lets make changes and lets start bringing home our own children.”
There are currently 33 open cases in Texas where children were kidnapped by a parent, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety Missing Persons Clearinghouse.
But a comprehensive study on this issue done by El Paso Attorney Mark T. Davis shows the majority of law enforcement agencies do not charge or prosecute any kind of interference with child custody cases, even parental kidnappings. In the study, which looked at Texas’ major cities in the year 2012, Davis discovered only Travis County had made arrests for interfering with child custody. Five arrests were made in 2012, but only two people were charged.
“Overall the results were surprising in that law enforcement is systematically refusing to enforce the law,” Davis outlined in his study.
Davis found the Austin Police Department has no written policy against enforcing the law that makes it a state jail felony to interfere with child custody, but APD also made no arrests for that crime in 2012.
“The Travis County District Attorney, Rosemary Lehmberg, provided me with a proposed policy which discourages the prosecution of a criminal offense and, instead recommends that the parties should first seek ‘all reasonable civil remedies’,” Davis wrote.
Houston Police and the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office both have “do not enforce” policies when it comes to interference with child custody laws. Officers are instructed to explain to the involved parties that they must take their complaint to the civil court, according to Davis’ findings.