A 3-year-old boy abandoned at St. Patrick's Cathedral will return to Florida but must remain in the care of child-welfare officials because the case needs further investigation, a family court judge in New York City ruled Tuesday.
Nathaniel Fons' paternal grandparents had traveled to New York last week in the hope of taking their grandson home. Nathaniel has been in foster care in New York since he was found last Tuesday by security guards at the cathedral with a note in his hand bearing the name and number of Florida detective.
His mother, Erin Comeau, was arrested in Flagler County, Florida on counterfeit charges and said her friends had been traveling with Nathaniel. They are suspected of ditching him at the famed Fifth Avenue landmark before skipping town.
Nathaniel's father is also in jail on separate charges. Comeau initially said she was comfortable with the paternal grandparent, Donald and Frieda Fons, caring for Nathaniel, but changed her mind and would now rather have him placed with her mother, who lives in Port Deposit, Md.
Caseworkers with the Administration for Children's Services in New York said Nathaniel didn't have any memories of the couple and didn't seem particularly desperate to be with them.
Family Court Judge Jody Adams said Flagler County officials were going to take over the case to sort out who should have custody of Nathaniel.
Nathaniel will travel to Florida between now and Monday with a child services caseworker. His paternal grandparents, Donald and Frieda Fons, can visit him in Flagler County, but they live nearly 100 miles away in Land O' Lakes, Fla.
"It is better for him to go home," Adams said.
The Fonses, who were hoping to file for permanent custody of Nathaniel, said they didn't know how they felt about the ruling.
"It's better than nothing," Donald Fons said in court.
"He's closer," Frieda Fons said.
Donald Fons said he and his wife had lived with Nathaniel and his parents until last year, when until last year when Nathaniel's father took a job on a fishing boat outside Vancouver, Wash. Their son was arrested for failing to notify his parole officer, though, and sent to jail in Florida, the family said.
According to Pasco County sheriff's records, Nathaniel's father was arrested on a warrant for failing to register as a sex offender; he was convicted of statutory sexual assault in Pennsylvania in 2001. He remains in jail.
The grandparents had sought custody, but Comeau refused. She had been traveling with the boy until she was pulled over by police and arrested last Sunday in Florida on counterfeit charges, when she told officials that her son was in a separate car traveling with another couple.
The other couple's SUV was found by in a hotel parking lot in Florida, and authorities issued a missing child alert for Nathaniel. The couple have not been located but could face charges of endangering the welfare of a child.