SAN CLEMENTE, Calif. – Julia Bonin had a feeling she couldn’t shake. She admits she almost let it go, but then it lingered there in her gut Thursday morning while en route to her son’s middle school.
Bonin believed she’d spotted missing 3-year-old Noah Clare, teen cousin Amber and Noah’s father, Jacob walking near Doheny State Park in Dana Point. The three have been a subject of a search following an Amber Alert issued Tuesday by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, which said Noah was kidnapped by his 35-year-old father.
Surveillance photos that were released late Wednesday show Noah, Amber and Jacob Clare on Nov. 11 in San Clemente, the city where investigators said the three were last seen.
Bonin said she’d been following coverage of the case on social media. So when she pulled up to school, where she had been scheduled to volunteer in the morning, she turned to her son to tell him, “I have to go back. I think it might be them and I have to make sure.”
“I dropped him off at school and turned around and headed back north,” she said, “and (I parked) and got out of my car and took a photo and called dispatch and reported what it was.”
As it turns out, she was right.
After speaking to a dispatcher, she turned around for her volunteer commitment at the school before heading back to the state park area once more. She said she felt she couldn’t leave.
Within minutes, she learned that Jacob Clare was taken into custody and the two children were found safe.
“We have constant conversations with my own children about things at school and watching out for each other and friends,” Bonin said. “I would have regretted it if I didn’t turn around. It would have lingered with me.”
In a news conference Thursday, Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said he didn’t know how many tips came in on the case, but noted, “there’s only one that matters, right?”
He commended Bonin for sharing the information with authorities while not placing herself in harm’s way.
“Make the contact, describe the events, let us intercede appropriately and investigate whatever might be being reported,” Barnes said. “But it could not (have) gone any better than how it did this morning and I want to thank Julia for following her instincts, even when her conscience was saying this is probably nothing.”
“And I think she is proud that she followed those and did the right thing,” he added.
Jacob Clare, a Kentucky resident, is being interviewed by investigators, Barnes said. It has not been determined if he will face local charges for the alleged kidnapping. He is being held in custody at Orange County Jail pending extradition to Tennessee to face charges, according to Barnes.
When Bonin pulled back up into the parking lot of the state park, Bonin said she spotted Noah playing in the sand with one of the deputies.
Asked about what it meant to have played a role in the child’s return, she said, “I couldn’t stop shaking and tearing up.”
“I just wanted to go hug him, but I didn’t because (it would be) some strange lady running across saying, ‘We did it,'” she said. “I was thankful and grateful I followed my instincts.”
Bonin gave a statement to authorities and was released within about an hour. In that time, she said she sat on the beach and watched the waves in the aftermath of a truly unbelievable situation.
“It couldn’t have been a more beautiful moment there,” she said.