A mother will be held until Monday after she appeared in federal court Friday without a lawyer for allegedly violating a child custody order by trying to take her 4-year-old son to China.
Wenjing Liu and her son were traveling aboard United Airlines Flight 897, which left for Beijing on Thursday afternoon. After the FBI was alerted that Liu was taking her son out of the U.S. illegally, officials ordered the plane to return to Dulles about five hours after takeoff.
Once the plane landed, Liu, a Chinese citizen, was taken into custody, the FBI said. The child was returned to his father, an American citizen.
The couple separated last year and initiated divorce proceedings, according to an affidavit filed in District Court. They have joint custody of the boy, who has dual U.S. and Chinese citizenship, but the custody order expressly forbids either parent from taking the child outside the United States without consent of the other parent in advance of the trip.
On Thursday, authorities say that Liu emailed the boy's father, William Ruifrok III, and told him that her grandmother was dying, and that she and the boy were returning to China immediately.
Ruifrok responded via email that the child "is not going, u cant take him to school, I will pick him up. He will stay with me until u return."
The document said that Wenjing Liu -- who is also known as Linda Liu -- told Ruifrok that she had already booked plane tickets and they were leaving immediately. She also wrote that she would let Ruifrok know when they were back and that she needed to replace the child’s birth certificate.
They boarded a direct flight to Beijing at noon, which took off 20 minutes later.
Ruifrok went to Dulles and told law enforcement officials about the custody order violations. A check of passenger manifests confirmed Liu, the child, and Liu's mother had boarded a flight to Beijing, China.
The plane was in Canadian airspace when the airline was alerted to the violation. It turned around and returned to Dulles, where Liu was arrested.
The court document shows Liu had actually made flight reservations and paid for one-way tickets for her, the boy and her mother a week before the Thursday flight. Liu told investigators she intended to return the child to the U.S. in about three months, but there were no records for any return flight for the child.
Flight 897 was allowed to take off again Thursday evening from Dulles Airport.