Kidnapped girl returns to her mother

Posted: Updated:
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX -- A Phoenix toddler, who police say was kidnapped by her father, was flown back from Mexico Tuesday night.

Athena Manuma says her 3-year-old daughter, Ava, ran up to her as she passed through customs at the airport.

“It’s fantastic! So surreal! I just can’t believe she’s here,” said Manuma to the cameras waiting at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport's International Arrivals Gate at Terminal 4. 

Ava was unharmed, and smiling.

Police say Ava’s father, Brent Anderson, will face kidnapping charges.

When Ava didn’t return from a routine visit to her father’s house in February, her mother got worried and called authorities.

They found Anderson had cleared out his home, emptied his bank accounts, and ditched his truck at a bus station.

“This whole thing was terrifying,” Manuma said. “I thought I’d never see her again.”

The case garnered international headlines. 

Manuma was on several networks pleading for the safe return of Ava.

Phoenix police, U.S. Marshals and Mexican authorities worked for more than a month to locate Anderson, who they say smuggled Ava into Mexico on a bus.  

They found her last week and arrested Anderson in a town near Mazatlan.

Ava was escorted by the Mexican equivalent of Child Protective Services workers onto her flight back to Phoenix.  

In a different area of the plane, her father was being escorted by Marshals.

As they led him away in handcuffs, he said in time he’ll explain why he took Ava and disappeared.