Missing Pa. Boy Found on Island 7K Miles From Home

Authorities say Billy Hanson's dad sailed them more than 5K miles to Niue
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 5, 2014 8:20 AM CST
In this Wednesday, June 4, 2014 photo, waves break on the coastline in Tamakautoga, Niue.   (AP Photo/Nick Perry)

(Newser) – A 9-year-old boy reported missing in September has been found safe—on a tiny South Pacific island more than 7,000 miles from his home in Pennsylvania. Billy Hanson's mom reported the boy missing after he didn't come back from a visit with his father in Seattle, so authorities focused on finding the yacht belonging to Jeffrey Hanson, an experienced sailor who's traveled around the South Pacific and Mexico. An international search ultimately located father and son on Niue, a coral atoll 1,500 miles northeast of New Zealand and 5,500 miles away from Seattle, the Guardian reports. The 46-year-old Hanson was arrested by the island's 15-member police force last Wednesday after a tip from a local who recognized him from a wanted poster, and he was brought back to the US Sunday to face charges of international parental kidnapping, the Seattle Times reports. Billy had been staying on the 38-foot sailboat at Seattle's Shilshole Bay Marina with his dad.

The US Attorney's Office says Jeffrey Hanson is a "known drug abuser." He and Joanna Hanson are divorced, and Jeffrey had monthly visitation rights, the Times Leader reports. Billy had gone on summer visits for the past five years, and one of Jeffrey Hanson's friends told the FBI the man would abuse his son on those visits, including hitting him to "toughen" him up. As for Billy, he stayed on the island for a few days while authorities arranged to return him to his mother, and according to the editor of the Niue Star newspaper, he seemed none the worse for wear. "I saw him at a barbecue on Friday and he did not look stressed," the editor says, adding that locals were looking after him and the 9-year-old seemed to be treating the whole thing as an adventure. "He had a Niue T-shirt on and was enjoying himself." It's not clear where the boy is now; the FBI said Monday that authorities were still working to reunite him with his mom. (A New Hampshire girl was recently found after being missing for nine months.)

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