It’s an image that few who have seen can ever forget.
It was the moment when 6-year-old Elién Gonzélez, who was being held by a family member, was confronted by an armed federal marshal who was there to remove him from the home of his Miami relatives and return him to his father in Cuba.
In an interview with ABC News Monday, Gonzélez, now 21, spoke about that moment 15 years ago.
“When I saw a person with a weapon. I got scared. I didn’t understand what they wanted with me, didn’t know what was going on,” he said.
Gonzélez had been rescued off the coast of Florida in November 1999, found clinging to an inner tube after the boat carrying him and his mother as well as 18 other Cubans sank. His mother died, and his family in Miami fought with his father in Cuba over custody of the little boy.
Federal marshals burst into the Miami home in April 2000 to forcibly remove Gonzélez after his relatives defied a court order to return the boy to his father.
“I didn’t know as to what was happening – this litigation between my father and my uncles,” Gonzélez explained. “But when the marshal took me in her arms and she took me to the vehicle, the first thing she said to me was, ‘We are friends of your dad. We are going to take you with your dad.’ While after such a great impact, this is not going to go away. But I felt relieved, total relieved.”
Gonzélez said in the interview that he knew his father wouldn’t do anything to hurt him, so he knew that the federal agents “were not going to do anything wrong to me.”
But he said he wasn’t able to relax until he was back in his father’s arms.
“It wasn’t until the moment I saw my dad and hugged him that I realized that everything was done – that what they were saying was true and that I was able to calm down finally,” he said.