Andrew Joshua Tafoya returned to California last week along with Chioma Gray, now 19, who disappeared nearly four years ago.
Tafoya was arraigned Tuesday in Ventura County Superior Court on charges of felony child stealing and a felony probation violation. The probation allegation apparently involves an earlier case in which Tafoya was charged with unlawful sex with a minor, Gray, who was 14 at the time.
Tafoya denied the probation allegation.
After the hearing, the Ventura man was sent back to jail. He is ineligible for bail.
Before she disappeared at age 15, Gray, a former Buena High School student, last had been seen by her family on Dec. 13, 2007. According to witnesses, she got into a stolen car that day driven by Tafoya, then 20, who had been released from jail the night before after serving seven months for the unlawful-sex charge.
During the brief hearing Tuesday, Tafoya stood inside a metal cage in the courtroom with other inmates being arraigned. Gray sat in the front row during the hearing, which she attended with several other women.
Tafoya’s lawyer, Tim Quinn, said last week that he understood Tafoya and Gray got married in Mexico, although he had not verified it, and that Gray still wanted to be with Tafoya. Quinn also said he understood that Gray went voluntarily to Mexico with Tafoya. He said that after he learned Tafoya and Gray wanted to come home, he got in touch with U.S. marshals, who made it happen.
In a jailhouse interview Saturday with The Star, Tafoya declined to comment on anything related to the case, his relationship with Gray or their time in Mexico.
He did, however, refer to Gray as his wife. He also said he was looking forward to writing a book about his experiences.
During the interview, Tafoya smiled and seemed nonchalant about being in jail. He said he is a naturally happy person, is now a Christian and spends his time reading the Bible.
According to witnesses, the former Buena High School student, who was 15 at the time, was hustled into a stolen car that day driven by Andrew Joshua Tafoya, then 20, who had been released from jail the night before.
Gray, 19, was reunited with her family Wednesday night amid tears and hugs.
Francine Black embraced her daughter in the Tom Bradley terminal of Los Angeles international airport and cried, “My baby, my baby.”
Later, her brother Paul Gray, 21, broke into sobs as he held his sister.
“Don’t ever leave us,” he said. “Don’t ever leave us.”
Chuck Hookstra, a private investigator and former Oxnard assistant police chief, hired by Gray’s mother, Francine Black, said U.S. marshals were escorting Gray and Tafoya back to California. Tafoya was not present.
There is an open child-stealing case against Tafoya, said Tony Wold, the supervising attorney or the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office sexual assault unit.
Along with Gray’s family, Hookstra and Los Angeles-based attorney M. Cristina Armenta, two Ventura-based defense attorneys waited apart from the family for the teen’s return.
Attorneys Tim Quinn and Philip Dunn declined to comment on their presence. After initially greeting her family amid a scrum of television cameras, Gray went to speak quietly with Dunn.
Black said her daughter had changed.
She said she thought Gray had Stockholm syndrome, a phenomenon in which those who are held against their will identify with their captors.
Gray, who did not make a comment to the press, cried as she hugged her relatives.
Tafoya called Black on Sept. 1 and told her daughter was in trouble and could she come get her, Black said, adding that she asked for a location to no avail.
At one point, the U.S. marshals were contacted, though it was unclear by whom, and arrangements were made to bring the pair back to the U.S., Armenta said.
The U.S. marshal’s office in Los Angeles did not return a call for comment.
“It’s been totally insane,” she said while waiting for Gray’s arrival. “It’s been the longest day of my life. I did not sleep … I’m just so happy to know she’s alive.”
The teen’s father, Desmond “Poppy” Gray said the years since Gray disappeared had been a terrible time.
Paul Gray likened the period to a roller coaster without breaks.
He and older sister Uchenna Okehi, 25, said they had become a lot less trusting in the intervening years.
Gray’s younger brother, Oluwa Gray, 15, described his sister’s absence like an unbelievable movie.
The family said they did not give up hope and credited their faith in God.
Gray and Tofoya were captured on a screening camera at the Mexican border on Dec. 13, 2007, that showed the license plate of the stolen car. Tafoya, a former football player at St. Bonaventure High School and Ventura College, had just finished serving a seven-month sentence for having unlawful sex with a minor, Chioma, who was 14 at the time.
At one point, federal authorities told them that a woman’s body found charred beyond recognition in Tijuana was their daughter.
In 2010, Hookstra found the stolen car parked in a compound with flat tires near Acapulco, a resort city in southern Mexico.
He also found they had lived in a small vacation spot, where Tafoya taught snorkeling and Gray worked as a waitress. Hookstra said he talked to neighbors and uncovered information that Tafoya received help from his family.
He also found where the two lived. They apparently worked at a small vacation spot — he taught snorkeling, and she was a waitress. Hookstra said he talked to neighbors and uncovered information that Tafoya received help from his family.
In January, Chioma’s mother filed a federal lawsuit against Tafoya, his father and other members of his family. The suit alleged custodial interference, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and aiding and abetting in the interference of custodial relations. The suit was dismissed in may after Tafoya did not respond to it.
Armenta filed a second suit this August in Los Angeles County Superior Court against Tafoya and his parents alleging custodial interference, intentional infliction of emotional distress, aiding and abetting interference with custodial relations.
The suit seeks punitive and compensatory damages along with court fees.
In 2007, federal prosecutors charged Tafoya with fleeing the country to avoid prosecution of a local charge of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor. The case was dismissed at prosecutors request in February. Prosecutorial discretion was cited.
The “fleeing to avoid prosecution” charge is brought when there is a state charge and they are dismissed when the state charge is dropped. Local court records did not show an open charge of unlawful sex with a minor.
Gray’s family fought against the dismissal of the federal case.
“We are less than pleased than the with the prosecutor’s decision and will ask them again to prosecute,” Armenta said.
At the time of the federal case, the FBI assisted with the search.
Armenta said Black felt very strongly that her daughter was kidnapped but most important was Gray’s reunion with her family that had been delayed several times Wednesday, with Gray and Tafoya missing at least one flight.
“Everyone is eager to find out the circumstances surrounding her abduction,” Armenta said.
Gray’s father said he’d like the upcoming days to have “a lot of happiness, a lot of joy, a lot of tears and just jubilation.”
The lawyer representing Andrew Joshua Tafoya, who returned to California this week along with a 19-year-old Ventura girl who disappeared nearly four years ago, said he thinks the pair got married in Mexico.
Ventura attorney Tim Quinn said Thursday he understood that his client and Chioma Gray were married and that she wants to be with him. Quinn said he had not verified the marriage.
M. Cristina Armenta, an attorney representing Gray’s family, said the teenager denied being married when asked by a family member.
On Thursday, as Gray spent time with her family a day after returning from Mexico, Tafoya, 24, made his first appearance in Ventura County Superior Court. His arraignment on charges of felony child stealing and a felony probation violation was postponed to Tuesday.
Quinn said the probation violation allegation relates to an earlier case in which Tafoya was charged with unlawful sex with a minor, Gray, who was 14 at the time. The relationship was consensual, Quinn added.
Francine Black, Gray’s mother, said her daughter’s first day at home was perfect.
“It feels like she never left,” Black said. “She is so happy and content.”
Black said Gray spent the day reminiscing with her siblings, seeing visitors and learning about her family’s efforts to find her.
“She couldn’t believe it,” Black said. “It sort of made me feel like she was under the impression that we were not looking.”
Gray and Tafoya arrived Wednesday night at Los Angeles International Airport, where Ventura police met them.
U.S. Marshals arranged to have the two flown to California from Mexico, where they were living, according to police. Tafoya was taken into custody, while Gray had a tearful reunion with her family.
Gray, a former student at Buena High School in Ventura, was last seen by her family on Dec. 13, 2007, when she was 15. According to witnesses, she got into a stolen car that day driven by Tafoya, then 20, who had been released from jail the night before. Tafoya had served a seven-month sentence for the unlawful sex with a minor charge.
The pair were photographed later that day by a screening camera at the Mexican border, which showed the license plate of the stolen car.
Black hired private investigator Chuck Hookstra, a retired Oxnard assistant police chief, when the trail went cold.
In 2010, Hookstra found the stolen car with flat tires and parked in a compound near Acapulco, Mexico. Hookstra also found where the two lived. They apparently worked at a small vacation spot, where Tafoya taught snorkeling and Gray was a waitress.
Black has sued Tafoya and his parents in Los Angeles County Superior Court, alleging custodial interference, intentional infliction of emotional distress and aiding and abetting interference with custodial relations.
Armenta said she plans to sue the Ventura County Probation Department, which she said ignored internal protocols when it failed in 2007 to advise Gray or her family that Tafoya was being released from jail.
Alan Hammerand, chief deputy for probation services, said the department could not comment because of the pending litigation.
Some details about Tafoya and Gray’s return to California remain unclear. Tafoya called Black on Sept. 1, told her Gray was in trouble and asked whether she could come get the teenager, Black said. Black said she asked where her daughter was but did not get an answer.
Quinn declined to comment on that call, citing privacy concerns. He said that after he was contacted and told Tafoya and Gray wanted to come home, he got in touch with U.S. Marshals and that they made it happen.
The marshals did not know where Tafoya and Gray were, Quinn added, but a meeting was arranged and they came back on their own. He said he understood that Gray voluntarily went with Tafoya to Mexico in 2007.
He said he didn’t want to discuss other details out of respect for Gray’s privacy.
“I think everyone’s happy that they’re back home,” Quinn said. “It’s been very difficult for both families.”