Fighting to Bring Home His Son
The Dr Phil McGraw Show
December 1, 2008
felt blessed. I had a wife whom I loved, and adored and cherished, and I had my beautiful son whom I loved more than anything in the world,” David says of his life four years ago. But his world was turned upside down on June 16, 2004. ““I drove [my wife] Bruna and Sean — who was just 4 at the time — to the airport for a planned two-week vacation in Brazil. I was supposed to go down at the end of the vacation and come back with Bruna and Sean, and I remember watching Bruna push Sean down the jetway, and that was the last time I saw them.”
David says the following day he received a phone call from Bruna. “She said, ‘Our marriage is over. I’ve decided to live in Brazil. You need to come down here immediately to sign full custody of Sean,’ to her,” David recalls. “I remember thinking oh, my God. What is this? Where is this coming from? The person whom I loved and envisioned loving for the rest of my life — until death do us part — turned out to be a monster … I had no idea that they had these plans to take Sean from his home here and from me.”
Father and son have not seen each other in over four years. “I’ve jumped through every hoop that’s been required of me to get Sean home,” he says. “It’s indescribable; the constant anguish, and pain and longing. I have to be reunited with my son. There’s still a fear that I may never see him again. That’s an awful, awful thing to live with.”
David’s story recently took a tragic turn.
“My friend called me and said, ‘David, you need to sit down,’ and they said that Bruna passed away,” David remembers. “My first reaction was, oh my God. My poor son. He’s lost his mom. Since I’m his surviving biological parent, he’s coming home. It’s over, and unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way.”
David flew to Brazil and learned that Bruna had remarried. “Her new Brazilian husband had filed to remove my name from a Brazilian birth certificate and replace my name on the birth certificate with his own, to erase me ever being Sean’s father,” David explains. “They pretty much made communication and contact non-existent, maybe I’d get a phone call from [Sean].”
David is devastated. “What they’re doing is inhuman. This guy’s an animal. My deceased wife and her family are people without conscience,” David declares. “How can they just not send Sean home? This guy is no blood relation to my son. Sean needs to be home immediately!”
“I’m kind of speechless about this,” Dr. Phil says to David in studio. “Did you have any inkling that she was going to do something like this at all?” “I had no clue that this was an idea for anyone to do to any kid, let alone my own wife,” he says.
“What does the government say? How does the Hague Treaty figure into this?” Dr. Phil asks. “The Hague Treaty should have had my son home six weeks after his original abduction,” David says. “If they let this fellow get away with this, they’re going to have to change the whole foundation of the Brazilian legal system to enable people to just kidnap anybody’s child off the street, go to Brazil, and then they’ll be safe haven in Brazil.”
Dr. Phil contacted Sean’s Brazilian stepfather for a statement, but his office said he had no comment, and Brazilian law prohibits him from speaking.
Stephen and Karen have been friends with David for over 20 years. They say they were just as shocked as David by Bruna’s disappearance.“Never in a million years would I have suspected that Bruna would leave David and not even give him the option of having shared custody of his child,” Karen says. “I was floored that she would ever do something like this.”
“It’s been such a battle for the past four years, and the things that [David's] had to go through, and the trips he’s had to take, and the financial debt he’s had to incur,” Stephen says.Karen says this experienced has changed her friend. “David is a shell of a man. When you look at him, the sadness that emanates from him is so overwhelming,” she shares.
Dr. Phil asks Karen, “Did she ever confide anything in you at all, just woman to woman?” “She never alluded to being unhappy in any way, shape or form,” she says. “Her friends, we were so envious of their relationship. They were the happiest, most loving threesome, with the child just being the core of their life.” “A bunch of us had gone out to a dinner a week prior to the whole thing happening, and nobody saw anything,” Stephen adds. “It was an absolute shock.”
David’s attorney, Patricia Apy, joins the show via satellite form New York. Dr. Phil asks her, “What in the world is going on here?” “The Brazilian court hearing that case found that Sean had been wrongfully removed and retained, found that his habitual residence was the United States, but found also that the process had taken so long — and that was because of the delays that were occasioned by Bruna and her family — that they were not going to return the child,” Patricia says.
“What breaks this loose?” Dr. Phil asks. “We’ve got millions of viewers watching this right now. Who do they write? Who do they cry outrage to? How do we get people to pay attention?”
Patricia says that telling the story on the show is a big step. “You have to understand, the Department of State and our government has an interest not just in Sean’s case, but in all the international child abduction cases, and there are many, and their dog in the fight, if you will, is the interest of the American people,” she explains. “What is unique about this case, and what I have seen both elected officials as well as our state department begin to address, is that we are off the track. This is not the normal treaty case. This is a situation in which Brazil is being really called upon to demonstrate that it is in reciprocity with the United States, it is following its treaty obligations.” She suggests people write to the United States Department of State, Office of Children’s Issues and their elected representatives and say, ‘Look, we want to understand what’s going on here, and Brazil should be made, and be asked and encouraged to immediately comply with the treaty obligations. That type of scrutiny is required here.”
Dr. Phil asks David what occurs when he visits Brazil and attempts to see his son.David says he was in Brazil recently. “There was a federal court order giving me visitation with my son, for the first time in four years,” he says. “I show up Saturday morning to the address [Sean’s stepfather] had given to the federal courts, twice, and he’s not there. He left his new baby, a month old baby, his own child, with my ex-in-laws, and he left.”
“He’s a lawyer, right?” Dr. Phil asks. “He’s a lawyer who specializes in exactly what he’s fighting against: international child abductions,” he says.
“Not that this is about money at all,” Dr. Phil says, “but how much money have you spent trying to get this child back, who should, under the Hague Treaty, have been returned to you immediately?” “Somewhere in the range of $350,000,” David says, adding that he will never give up.
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