Nigel Parry
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May 13, 2015 02:40 PM

More than a decade ago, Genevieve Kelley walked away from her medical practice, her friends and family and endured a lonely experience in third-world countries – all, she says, for the sake of her daughter.

In 2003, her daughter Mary Nunes, then 7, accused her father Mark Nunes of sexual abuse, Genevieve says. The state investigated the claims, but Nunes was never charged. Nunes has maintained his innocence and declined to comment to PEOPLE. (Mary, now 19, tells PEOPLE that she stands by her accusations.)

“She said, ‘Protect me. Don’t let me see him,’ ” says Genevieve, who divorced Mark when Mary was less than 2 years old. Mark, a physician in pediatric genetics based in California, is remarried and has other children.

For more than a year, Kelley, 51, says she tried to protect her daughter through legal channels, but in the end, she felt she had to take matters into her own hands – either turn her daughter over to the courts or flee the country.

In November, after being one of New Hampshire’s most wanted fugitives for 10 years, Kelley walked into the Coos County Sheriff’s Department and surrendered to authorities. She was charged with custodial interference and witness tampering, and she faces more than 20 years in prison if found guilty.

“What is more important than your child’s life? Nothing,” says Genevieve, who is currently living in New Hampshire with family along with her son John, who was born to her and husband Scott Kelley while they were in Honduras. While she prepares for trial in September, she tells PEOPLE: “I couldn’t have done anything differently.”

Together, Genevieve, Scott and her daughter Mary disappeared in late 2004. They traveled to Central America, where they remained until Mary turned 18 and the courts could no longer force her to see her father.

Five months after Genevieve reappeared in the United States, Scott and Mary walked into the U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica and revealed their identities as a wanted man and a missing person. Scott is currently in a New Hampshire jail, where he is charged with custodial interference and witness tampering. Mary is living in an undisclosed location in the U.S.

Genevieve says she never wished for this to happen.

“I never in a million years thought he was capable of doing what he did to her,” says Genevieve. “I still have trouble wrapping my mind around it.”

For exclusive interviews with Scott Kelley and Mary Nunes, and more information about the case, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

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