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Pennsylvania corrections records show Lopez served time from 1987 until his parole in 2000. He was at a prison in Camp Hill, Pa., at the time of a 1989 riot that involved hostages, injuries and millions of dollars in damage to the facility, but it was unclear if he played any role in the riots, said corrections department spokeswoman Sue McNaughton.

Lopez and Ms. McQuain remained married while Lopez was in prison, but he had a virtually nonexistent relationship with her during that time. Mr. McCombs also said Ms. McQuain had nothing to do with William’s biological father, and that William had never met the man.

Mr. McCombs acknowledged that his own relationship with Ms. McQuain was tempestuous at times. He said she struggled with alcohol addiction but got sober in recent years to care for William. Maryland court records show Mr. McCombs accused Ms. McQuain of assaulting him on several occasions, but Mr. McCombs said he never pursued the charges.

Lopez had tried in recent years to become involved in Ms. McQuain’s life, Mr. McCombs said, and had even requested that William call him “dad.” More recently, he said, Lopez had been visiting Ms. McQuain in hopes of coming up with extra money. Witnesses told police that they had recently seen Lopez removing property and items from her condo and placing it in her car.

The relief at arresting a suspect was tempered by the disappointment in not locating the missing boy.

“She lived for that boy,” Ms. Bassett said. “She changed her life for him.”