WASHINGTON - A Maryland firefighter has not seen his two young children for over five years, but it is not by choice. On Tuesday, his fight to get them back led him and several protesters to Embassy Row in D.C.
Stanley Hunkovic is hoping to get some attention and help in settling a custody battle that has been going on since 2010. That is when his estranged wife, Leah, took their two young children and fled to Trinidad and Tobago against a court order.
It has been a bitter battle on both sides with a Maryland court granting the firefighter sole custody of the children. But it is an order that has so far not been recognized by the island nation.
Hunkovic walked in protest outside of the Embassy of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago with friends, family and fellow firefighters from Local 36. It is the second time he has come here and the second time he has been invited inside.
“Something -- it’s got to break,” he said. “This is not fair. This is not right. Any country that loves children has got to realize this is not in their best interests. I’m a paramedic/firefighter for over 25 years. I take children to the hospital who have tried to commit suicide and drugs and self-mutilate themselves because they think their parents don't love them.”
Hunkovic said he can't even talk to his children. When he calls the number in Trinidad and Tobago that he has been able to reach them on before, he now hears a busy tone.
The last time he went to the country, it ended badly with his ex-wife accusing him of trying to take the kids out of the country.
"My purpose of this is to let my children know I am not going to stop fighting for them,” said Hunkovic. “I will never stop fighting for their right to know their father and that their daddy loves them. I want them to know that.”
Even though he and his supporters have come to the embassy, Hunkovic knows there is little the diplomats can do with the case that is now in a judicial court in Trinidad and Tobago.
"I believe they sincerely want to do what they can, but I don't know that they have authority to do what they can,” he said.
Colin Connelly, the Chargé d’Affaires for the embassy, told us he was aware of the case before the demonstrators arrived.
"All I know at this point is that it’s before the courts,” said Connelly. “The actual status of it, I can't say. But I did give Mr. Hunkovic a ticket that if he would communicate with me, I would in turn try to seek some information from Trinidad and Tobago about the status of the matter.”
Hunkovic said he has sought help from elected officials and the State Department over the years, but so far, nothing has worked.
He said the court case in Trinidad and Tobago has been postponed countless times with the next date scheduled for late October.
The international nature of the dispute makes it difficult to get the other side of the story. However, we were given a phone number for the brother of Hunkovic's ex-wife. He did not answer the phone when we called, but he did text us a message, which said in part that the firefighter has previously tried to abduct the children and has now abandoned them.
It goes on to say he continues to violate a restraining order and refuses to pay child support. It ends by saying there will be no further comment.