APOPKA, Fla. — The father of a 3-year-old Apopka girl whose disappearance prompted an Amber Alert made up an abduction story in the hopes of getting back his daughter, who had been taken by her biological mom, police said Tuesday.

  • Madeline Mejia, 3, reunited with father Monday night
  • Girl was recovered safe on westbound I-10 in Florida's Panhandle
  • Apopka Police say father lied about abductors to get her back

Madeline Mejia was found 250 miles from Apopka when Florida Highway Patrol troopers pulled over a suspect vehicle Monday afternoon. She'd been reported abducted by her father, Lester Mejia, earlier in the day after disappearing from the 600 block of East Orange Street in Apopka just after 6 a.m.

The father told authorities that he'd put Madeline in his car and went back inside to get his keys, and that's when he heard Madeline scream, Chief Mike McKinley said at a news conference Monday. The father said he raced back outside, saw a black Honda with a temporary Texas tag driving off, and followed it onto northbound I-75, but lost it, McKinley said at the time.

But on Tuesday, investigators said that the father "wasn't completely forthcoming with the original information he provided to the Apopka Police Department."

When Lester Mejia contacted 911, he told authorities he didn't know the person or persons who took Madeline.

But investigators say the girl's biological mother, Tania Duarte, who doesn't have legal custody of the girl, and Duarte's boyfriend took the girl without force.

"Mr. Mejia was allegedly told by an unknown dispatch center that there was no crime if the mother has the child," Apopka Police said.

He was scared he wouldn't see Madeline again, so he "provided the abduction story in hopes it would assist in recovering his daughter," investigators said.

Madeline was recovered on westbound Interstate 10 in the Florida Panhandle, near Tallahassee. FHP Lt. Kim Montes said Tallahassee-based Trooper Jessie Sunday was looking for the black Honda after getting information from Apopka Police that it may be headed west on I-10. The trooper spotted vehicle matching that description, and with the help of other troopers pulled it over.

Several people inside were taken into custody, and Madeline was found to be unharmed, Montes said.

Investigators said Duarte, her boyfriend, Kevin Smith Olmedo-Velis were arrested and charged with interference with child custody and booked into the Leon County Jail. Two other people in the car were released into Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody.

Madeline was reunited with her father late Monday afternoon.

According to Apopka Police Administrative Sgt. Kim Walsh, the investigation is ongoing, and it's not yet known if Lester Mejia will face any charges.