CONCORD, N.H. >> For years, Beth Kelley posted the message to her brother on Facebook: “Happy Birthday Scott, wherever you are.”
In the decade Scott Kelley has missed, there have been births and deaths, holidays and milestones. But Beth Kelley said she doesn’t plan to talk to him about the reasons for his absence: the child custody fight that made him and his wife international fugitives.
Scott Kelley and his wife, Genevieve, are back on U.S. soil and facing criminal charges for allegedly absconding to Central America with Genevieve Kelley’s daughter amid a bitter custody dispute that included allegations — which investigators say were unfair — that the now-19-year-old’s birth father abused her.
Beth Kelley said relatives are avoiding talking about the case and instead trying to focus on the family’s future, especially that of the couple’s two children: the young woman whose safety has been cited as the reason for their flight and the 10-year-old boy whose medical condition was the reason for their return.
Mary Nunes, who was 8 when she disappeared with her mother and stepfather, is at an undisclosed location. But her brother, John, is living with Genevieve at an in-law’s home and being treated for cystic fibrosis.
“The family has tried to just be ‘the family’ for Gen and John,” Beth Kelley told The Associated Press.
Genevieve Kelley, 51, a family practice doctor, turned herself in to authorities in November and is currently free on bail. Scott Kelley, 50, and his stepdaughter landed in Atlanta on a flight from Costa Rica earlier this month. He was taken into custody and is awaiting extradition to New Hampshire. He plans to testify on his wife’s behalf at her trial.
Genevieve Kelley has said they fled with her daughter in 2004 because her ex-husband, Mark Nunes, abused the girl and they were trying to protect her. Mother and child had been ordered by a judge to appear for an evaluation, but didn’t show up. Kelley later said she worked with the family court system, to no avail.
Mark Nunes was investigated, but never charged. He attempted to regain the visitation rights that were suspended when the allegations were made and was ultimately awarded custody in December 2004, after authorities couldn’t reach the Kelleys and learned that Mary hadn’t been to school.
If convicted, the Kelleys face up to seven years in prison on each of three felony counts involving custodial interference and witness tampering, and up to a year in jail on each of two misdemeanors.
Beth Kelley said the family avoids discussing the case — Genevieve Kelley is staying with one of Beth’s brothers, but is under court order not to contact her husband or her daughter — but is concerned about the possibility the couple could end up in prison.
“They made the choice to leave; they made the choice to come back,” she said. “Whatever happens, happens. Our main focus at that point will be to make sure that John and Mary are fine.”
Talk is mostly confined to things like getting together for a holiday, birthday or baby shower.
“We don’t discuss the case, whatsoever,” she said. “I don’t know a lot of the ins and outs of what’s going in with either one of the cases.”
Years ago, Beth Kelley befriended Genevieve at the health care practice where they worked and introduced her to Scott, a special-education teacher. Both divorced, the two hit it off and got married at a drive-by chapel in Las Vegas, she said.
The U.S. Marshals Service searched for the couple for years, saying they flew first to Guatemala, then Honduras. The marshals had lost the trail and the Kelleys lost touch — until this month.
Beth Kelley said her mother spoke to Scott in jail by phone last week, a roughly two-minute call that was the first time the two had spoken in more than a decade.
And while the Kelley family awaits what comes next, Mary Nunes’ other family — her father Mark, who also remarried and has two children — hasn’t given up hope of reuniting with her. He said he is afraid his daughter is without an advocate looking out for her best interests.
“We are so overjoyed that you’re back in the United States,” he said in the latest of a series of online videos to Mary, in hopes she will see and hear him. “On the day that you were born, your birth, when I saw you, you were the best thing that ever happened in my life.”