From the tiny Pacific island of Palau where Aage Jorgensen’s life began, his mother sobs as she wonders whether the toddler â€” now 16 â€” from whom she was separated is still alive.
Authorities say Aage went missing in Plantation on Dec. 27 after his father, attorney Bruce Jorgensen, 58, allegedly kicked him out of their car and drove off after an argument. About a month later, Jorgensen was arrested at Miami International Airport, trying to travel on what authorities called a one-way ticket to New Zealand.
Little is known about the life of the father and son and where their footprints across the Pacific and in the United States lie â€” the unusual case landed in the laps of detectives in Plantation, where Bruce and Aage Jorgensen had moved less than a year ago. Amid the unanswered questions, one resonates: Where is Aage?
The boy’s only known family in South Florida: Jorgensen, a lawyer who has practiced in Hawaii and abroad. In the early 2000s, he and Aage vanished from the Northern Mariana Islands, not far from Aage’s native Palau, a North Pacific nation with a population of fewer than 25,000.
During a recent Broward court hearing, Jorgensen, charged with desertion of a child and being held on $1 million bond, said he took his young son lawfully. Jorgensen’s sister, who has not seen her brother in about 10 years, told Plantation police she believed her brother was on the run for parental kidnapping, an arrest warrant said.
Jorgensen’s sister, who lives in Arizona, could not be reached for comment for this story.
Because of recently reported sightings of Aage around Broward, foul play is not suspected; police say they are solely investigating a missing persons case, Plantation Detective Phil Toman said. If the scope of the investigation were to broaden to include abduction allegations, it would not fall within Plantation’s jurisdiction, he said. The FBI, which helped track down Aage’s mother, is not commenting on the case.
The decision to separate from his wife and leave the Pacific islands with Aage was “not lightly taken,” Jorgensen said in court.
“It was taken after much, much time and consternation and it was taken absolutely for what are, undisputably, the best interests of that child’s safety and welfare,” he said.
But Jorgensen’s wife, Nestralda Mechaet Jorgensen, 44, said Aage’s father took him without her permission, and although she’s sought help from authorities, she’s gotten nowhere â€” until now.
Aage’s mother said her husband and son disappeared while in Saipan, in the Northern Mariana Islands where Bruce Jorgensen practiced law. Her husband left her and their daughter, now 14, behind, she said. They were island hopping at the time, living in Palau and Saipan and traveling to Hawaii, she said. The far-flung islands are east of the Philippines.
Some 9,000 miles away from South Florida, Aage’s mom still offers motherly advice, urging him to stay away from drugs. She weeps for her missing son, encouraging him to find help and not be afraid.
“I’m hoping he’s still alive,” she said to a reporter by phone.
South Florida: A new home
Although it is unclear when father and son moved to South Florida, Aage was registered as a sophomore at American Heritage School in Plantation on Aug. 24, 2015, the school said. His father withdrew him from the school, where Aage’s annual tuition was about $25,000, 10 days after he went missing, according to an arrest warrant.
Before Jorgensen sent the letter withdrawing his son, Aage’s absence prompted school staff to check on him by phone, said Elise Blum, the principal at American Heritage. School staff also thought it odd that Jorgensen would remove his son from school without requesting transcripts and school records, she said.
School staff heard nothing from Jorgensen and, days later, police arrived to alert school officials about the missing teen. Plantation police learned of the boy’s disappearance nearly two weeks after the Dec. 27 argument between father and son, they said.
According to police, Jorgensen did not report his son missing to authorities and instead hired a private investigator and distributed fliers with his son’s photo around the community. He also didn’t notify the school, Blum said.
“Totally bizarre. I don’t know what to think; I’ve never experienced anything like this,” she said. “This was very strange and obviously strange that the father didn’t report it.”
The father who told school officials that Aage’s mother simply wasn’t in their lives didn’t raise any red flags, Blum said. He attended Conference Day, when parents meet with teachers and guidance counselors at the school â€” not every parent does that for their child, Blum said.
“He was involved, but not overly,” she said. “There was nothing to have indicated anything like [Aage’s disappearance].”
Aage, who Blum said was an “A’s and B’s” student, took honors courses in English, algebra, world history and biology last semester. He was also in the school’s engineering program, Blum said.
According to school records, before attending American Heritage, Aage was enrolled at a junior high school in Stillwater, Okla. He was also home-schooled in Oklahoma, Blum said.
The teen was well-liked but may not have developed close friendships during his short time at American Heritage, the principal said. He showed himself to be thoughtful, noticing when one of his teachers who loved Pepsi didn’t have any at hand and bringing her a soda.
“Everyone feels kind of helpless. You want to do something other than sharing posts on social media and getting the word out,” Blum said. “People feel like they don’t know what to do to help. [Aage’s] definitely on everyone’s mind.”
‘One of the nicest kids I ever met’
According to Andrew Lake, whose family Bruce Jorgensen knew while growing up in Middletown, N.Y., father and son moved from Oklahoma to South Florida to further Aage’s tennis pursuits. Lake, a tennis instructor at Hawks Landing in Plantation, did not know much about Jorgensen and they had not been in touch over the years â€” his older brothers went to high school with him, he said.
Over spring break in 2015, Aage visited Lake while scouting a tennis academy to join, he said.
“He really is one of the nicest kids I ever met,” Lake said. “He’s a good-mannered kid; really thoughtful and curious about other people.”
Aage had previously played with the Georgetown Tennis Association in Kentucky in 2012 and 2014, according to a board member.
In Weston, Laurent Leclerc, tennis director at Midtown Athletic Club, said Aage was enrolled in the six-week, Monday-through-Friday summer session last year and worked hard on the court. The teen got along well with other players and all the coaches, he said.
“He loved tennis,” Leclerc said. “I certainly know he showed a passion for it.”
When the summer session ended, they expected Aage to enroll again for the fall, but never heard from him.
A father’s arrest
On Jan. 26, Bruce Jorgensen was arrested at Miami International Airport with help from the FBI Child Exploitation Task Force. In court, Jorgensen said he had planned to travel for a court appearance overseas when he was taken into custody and charged with desertion of a child. He has pleaded not guilty.
Authorities say he had a one-way ticket with connecting flights to New Zealand. Jorgensen’s attorney, Glenn Roderman, said his client was not fleeing and would have returned to South Florida.
“He had a round trip planned and that was his intention; he had to go to court,” Roderman said.
Jorgensen’s relatives, who spoke with an attorney working with Roderman, said that despite being estranged from Jorgensen, they knew he cared for his son, the lawyer said.
“They indicated that wherever he may be, he definitely loves his son and would never hurt him,” Roderman said.
A woman who answered the telephone at a listed number for Jorgensen’s parents in Marco Island said, “I don’t want to say anything,” when asked for comment by a reporter.
Roderman also pointed to a 2013 incident in Hawaii, when the teen went missing for about three months before he was found sleeping in someone’s backyard. This time, according to a Plantation police report, Aage went missing after the fight with his father over directions as they drove to a tennis event.
Jorgensen thought his son was being rude and disrespectful and kicked him out of the car, the report said.
“Is that desertion or is that being a strict and disciplinary parent?” Roderman said. “The problem is you can’t discipline your kid without that becoming an issue.”
He points to Jorgensen enrolling his son at a private school, finding the best tennis instructor and buying him nice clothes as evidence his client had his son’s best interests at heart.
“I don’t care what the guy does or how weird things seem to be,” Roderman said, adding that the case is about “whether or not he unlawfully deserted his child” and not Jorgensen’s “unorthodox types of actions.”
Roderman said his client did not contact police â€” beyond sending the police department an email that bounced back â€” because Aage was fearful of getting arrested for running away, a concern the child had when he disappeared in Hawaii. Not seeking help from authorities is not a crime, the attorney said.
According to the arrest warrant, Aage again went missing for about three weeks last year. His father did not report it to police. The boy was found at an arcade at the Sawgrass Mills mall in Sunrise.
“Maybe I would [have called police] or you would have, but does that make it illegal or poor judgment?” Roderman said.
Jorgensen has no prior criminal record in the United States, records show.
His behavior recently came under scrutiny by a prosecutor during his first-appearance court hearing Feb. 5. Assistant State Attorney Eric Linder questioned Jorgensen’s approach to parenting and blasted him for making plans of “flying to the other side of the world not knowing if his child is alive or dead.”
During the hearing, dressed in jail scrubs, Jorgensen delivered his arguments and served as his own defense attorney, speaking more often than his own counsel. At one point, a flash of protectiveness seemed to sweep over Jorgensen.
“My son is somewhere in this jurisdiction, you couldn’t pry me away with a crowbar, Your Honor,” Jorgensen told the judge.
“It’s definitely an unusual case, but we’re handling it like we do any other missing person,” Toman said. “We don’t have much information on why he does what he does ’cause he hasn’t spoken to us.”
‘Off of the radar’
Despite appearing to be an established attorney in the North Pacific, Jorgensen has kept a low profile over the years. Although detectives’ primary goal is finding Aage, they know little about where the Jorgensens lived inBroward County and beyond.
According to the arrest warrant, Aage at some point told a staff member at American Heritage that his father paid things in cash to “stay off of the radar.”
The warrant also said a landlord told detectives that Jorgensen rented her Plantation apartment on Dec. 17 â€” 10 days before the boy vanished â€” and paid $8,000 in cash.
And in an enrollment contract at American Heritage, police said Jorgensen provided a fake Social Security number and offered a forged signature of the boy’s mother. The warrant also said Jorgensen used his son’s school email address to conduct business transactions.
According to court testimony, Jorgensen was arrested at the airport with about 10 cellphones and multiple SIM cards on him. Jorgensen told a judge that he had represented thousands of people in a class-action lawsuit and was in the habit of switching phones because he could no longer handle the volume of calls. Jorgensen had also planned to give the phones away to friends in need who lived abroad, he said.
As Jorgensen made plans to travel to New Zealand, he left behind a notarized affidavit stating to whom Aage should be released if the teen were to show up while he was away, court documents show.
Among those listed were Aage’s tennis instructor, grandfather, a private investigator and several attorneys, the affidavit showed. According to a detective, Jorgensen had not made arrangements with those persons and some told police that they were not in a position to care for Aage.
Before his arrest, Jorgensen apparently left folded-up letters with Aage’s name written in black marker taped to a window next to the front door of their Plantation apartment. Another sheet of paper addressed to Aage indicated to whom he could go for help, who had extra house keys and where the boy could find new contact lenses. The note urged Aage to contact him immediately and told him, “Love you lots!”
Next to it, a note written by Detective Bobby Zaragoza was posted: “This past week it has been so cold during the night and I don’t know if you have found any shelter. I want to help you come home for your mom.
“I want you to know that you have done nothing wrong and that you are not in trouble in any way,” Zaragoza wrote. The letter included a photo of Aage’s mother.
A life abroad
In the affidavit naming the people to whom Jorgensen wanted his son released, he described himself as an attorney with “30-plus years of experience as counsel in domestic, international and multinational matters.”
Jorgensen graduated from Oklahoma State University in 1982 with degrees in science and zoology â€” one no longer offered by the school, the university said. He went on to Albany Law School in New York, where he graduated in 1984, and was admitted into the Hawaii Bar Association the following year.
His bar membership in Hawaii is currently suspended for failure to pay dues, records show.
Across the Pacific, Jorgensen for years served as counsel for retirees in a class-action suit against a retirement fund and the government of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. commonwealth. About two years ago, Jorgensen reached a settlement of $800,000 in attorney’s fees for that case.
According to a published report in the Saipan Tribune, Jorgensen served as law clerk for a U.S. District Court judge in the Northern Mariana Islands from 1989 to 2001.
Following that assignment, in 2005, reports from the Pacific Islands Broadcasting Association show that Jorgensen expressed interest in a case involving sex-trafficking victims from Vietnam and attempts to provide the underage girls a safe haven in Saipan. Jorgensen had been involved in asylum protection cases for refugees, it reported.
In 1993, Jorgensen suffered minor injuries in a plane crash that killed a business associate, Larry L. Hillblom, the multimillionaire founder of courier DHL Worldwide Express.
Sightings of a missing boy
It was in that part of the world where Jorgensen’s law career took off and Aage was born, and where the FBI tracked down the boy’s mother in hopes that her words could coax him from hiding.
Toman said there have been three sightings of Aage by strangers, two of whom came forward after news reports detailing the search.
On the day Aage and Jorgensen had their argument and the teen was left stranded somewhere along Northwest 136th Avenue, Aage asked a woman for a ride, but she refused to let him in her car, police said.
Detectives also encountered a hotel employee at the Extended Stay America at 7755 SW Sixth St. in Plantation who on Jan. 10 saw Aage sleeping in a stairwell, Toman said.
Now, detectives are following another promising lead: Jan. 30 â€” less than two weeks ago â€” a Margate resident said he may have seen Aage sleeping on his front porch. Police are planning to review surveillance video from the gated community to see whether Aage was spotted coming into the neighborhood, Toman said.
Meanwhile, Aage’s distraught mother dreams of a reunion with her son. Reached by phone in Palau, she expressed desperation in the uncertainty over her son’s well-being.
“Don’t I have a right to lay my head and go to sleep knowing where is my son?” Mechaet Jorgensen said. “The last time I saw him was 12 years ago. Last night I woke up thinking if only my boy come home, he’s going to be taller than me.
“I miss him so much,” Mechaet Jorgensen said, in tears. “I’m praying, I’m only relying on the Lord.”
Staff writer Rebeca Piccardo and staff researcher Barbara Hijek contributed to this report.
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