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May 18, 2015 12:50 PM

In 2004, Genevieve and Scott Kelley had been married for only two years when they were forced to make a life-changing decision.

“Genevieve came to me and said, ‘This is my daughter and this is my life. You don’t have to go [with us],’ ” Scott, 50, tells PEOPLE in an exclusive interview. “She gave me the ability to walk away.”

But Scott could not imagine his life without his wife or stepdaughter Mary Nunes. Instead, the three of them disappeared after Mary, then 7, accused her father Mark Nunes of sexual abuse. Authorities investigated, but Mark was never charged. Believing the legal system failed them, they felt they had no other choice but to leave the country for a life in hiding.

For more than 10 years, they lived in Central America – first in Honduras and then in Costa Rica. Genevieve, a family medical practitioner in the U.S., volunteered her services. “There were children living in garbage dumps. I worked for different churches. We would do outreach visits to villages,” she tells PEOPLE. “It was just so sad.”

Eventually, the Kelleys worked as teachers. “We both worked in private schools teaching English,” Scott says. “There was not a lot of income. We struggled monthly.”

While living in Honduras, Genevieve gave birth to a son, John, now 10 years old. The family fled the country during a military coup.

“They closed the airports, they closed the highways, there were no groceries coming in, they had a curfew, they were arresting people,” Genevieve, 51, recalls of living through political upheaval. “It was absolutely terrifying.”

Still, they were together. They kept their secret until Mary turned 18 last year and the court could no longer make decisions for her. In November, Genevieve and John returned to the U.S., where she surrendered to authorities at the Coos County Sheriff’s Department in New Hampshire. She has been charged with custodial interference and witness tampering.

Now, Scott and Mary, who spoke to PEOPLE the day before they revealed their identities to authorities at the U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica, are prepared to face the legal system once again.

“I’m excited about going back because I want to help people and this is the beginning process of me,” says Scott. “I also feel very comforted that what we have done has only been for the benefit of my daughter.”

Genevieve and Scott are currently out on bail and living separately in New Hampshire. Mary is currently living in an undisclosed location. The three of them are not allowed to communicate with one another due to their bail conditions.

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