Video: Bring Sean home

By Meredith Vieira
NBC News
updated 2/11/2009 2:47:36 AM ET 2009-02-11T07:47:36

This aired on Dateline NBC on Friday, Jan. 30, 2009 at 10 p.m. ET. Click here for an update of the case.

Like all good fairy tales, this one has a prince - the handsome international model - and his princes, the beautiful fashion student. They were young, gorgeous, and seemed to have it all - even a little Prince Charming.

David Goldman: It was beautiful. It was perfect.

Meredith Vieira: You were head over heels.

David Goldman: Yeah, I was.

But David Goldman's story book romance would not be the kind with a happy ending. Instead, love would disintegrate into an unimaginable tale of deception and tragedy, and a bitter war of hearts waged over international borders.

Meredith Vieira: It's like being dropped into a nightmare.

David Goldman: Except you never sleep. A living nightmare.

David's “once upon a time” began when he was 21. He was lifeguarding near his hometown on the New Jersey shore when a camera crew recruited him to pose with swimsuit model Kathy Ireland.

David Goldman: I didn't even get a chance to open my mouth one way or another before my friend pushed me off the lifeguard stand.

With one camera click, David's plans for law school vanished in fairy dust. The shoot launched him into a glamorous world where he posed with big stars like Claudia Schiffer, played Heidi Klum’s boyfriend in an ad for Caress body wash, and even got to try a little acting. Video: Brazil court still won’t let American boy go home

That buff beach bod got Cosmopolitan Magazine's attention. In 1997, it dubbed David “Mr. November,” one of the country's most eligible bachelors.

In the flirtatious Cosmo video, David is the down-to-earth guy who loves working with his dad as a fishing guide.

Meredith Vieira: There's a calendar, a video portraying you as the sexy fisherman. What was that like for you? Did it go to your head?

David Goldman: I just -- kinda just felt lucky. And – humbled.

Karen Bott: That was the funny thing. He never really thought it was that big of a deal.

Bobby Chang: He was a regular guy from Jersey that happened to be modeling. He wasn't a show-off about it.

Bobby Chang is one of David's best friends. Karen Bott is a college buddy. They say David was never mesmerized by the stunning models he worked with. He always yearned for something more. And just months after musing about his perfect girl, Mr. November found her. He was modeling in Milan and she was his neighbor in this apartment building.

Meredith Vieira: And that first time you saw her?

David Goldman: She was smiling such a vibrant, bubbly smile. We ended up, of course, having a pizza (laughs) in Italy. What else would you do?

Her name was Bruna Bianchi. She was 23, and had come to Milan from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to get her masters in fashion design. David was smitten.

David Goldman: She didn't do drugs. She didn't smoke. She spoke different languages. She was cultured, smart. And, I thought, sincere and honest.

Suddenly, David was hopelessly stuck on the ode to the girl from Ipanema.

Bobby Chang: "Dave, ya know, why do you keep whistling that song? It's getting annoying." He's like, "Well, wanna let you guys know that I think I met the girl that I'm gonna marry."

And in 1999, David did, giving his Ipanema girl a ring he designed himself, made from diamonds belonging to the most cherished women in his life.

David Goldman: My grandmother, my great grandmother, my mom. And it was just this special way to give this to the person that I thought I would be with for the rest of my life.

Karen Bott: She shined. She was a beautiful person inside and out. Warm and friendly and just as easy and outgoing as he was. Video: Dad divulges on struggle for son

In May of 2000, the glowing couple, who'd settled in New Jersey, welcomed a little boy into the world. They named him Sean, and David was over the moon.

Bobby Chang: He was ecstatic. That's what Dave wanted to be, he wanted to be a father.

David Goldman: I wanted to dedicate my life to my wife and child.

To do that, David stopped traveling and stuck to local modeling gigs. He started selling real estate on the side, and when Bruna took a teaching job, his more flexible hours allowed him to take on the role of "Mr. Mom."

Meredith Vieira: What did you guys do together?

David Goldman: What didn't we do together? I would take him out for breakfast, take him on the boat. We did everything - everything a father and son could do and then some.

It seemed so idyllic. The family enjoyed a comfortable suburban life, and right in their backyard, Sean had a natural wonderland that David taught him to love.

Bobby Chang: He lives in this gingerbread house that's kinda in the woods. And he and Sean would go camping in the back. They were inseparable. They had a very, very special bond.

It was a bond Bruna often told friends like Casey Fillian she was grateful for.

Casey Fillian: I remember her feeling lucky that she had a dad that was as good for Sean as he was. Great dad. That was all she used to say. He's a wonderful father. Video: Father waits and wishes

And it wasn't always just David and Sean. The close-knit family took plenty of vacations. And, Mom and Dad always made time for date night.

Michelle Langdon: They were definitely a happy couple. People commented on how wonderful their family was.

But behind her beaming smile, Bruna was hiding something. The fairy tale was about to shatter.

Meredith Vieira: You're in love, you have this child, you think everything is great.

David Goldman: I had no idea.

Karen Bott: She should've been an actress, ‘cause she had us all fooled.

The day remains indelibly seared in David Goldman's mind: June 16, 2004. As he drove to New Jersey's Newark airport, it had all seemed so normal - right up to the moment he kissed his wife Bruna, his 4-year-old son Sean, and Bruna's parents goodbye.

David Goldman: Love, hugs, kisses. We did the thing "I love you" like we always did as they were walking through the jetway.

It was supposed to be a two-week vacation in Brazil - with David joining the family for the last half of the trip. But right after Bruna landed in Rio, David got a devastating call.

David Goldman: It was a voice from her that if I didn't know it was her, I wouldn't even recognize it. “Our marriage is over. Our love affair is over. I've decided to stay in Brazil.” So clear she said this, so unemotional.

Meredith Vieira: Never gave you a reason, just that it was over.

David Goldman: It was over. She wants to be back in her country

It got worse. Bruna had a list of demands.

David Goldman: To sign away full custody of Sean to her. And, to never press any criminal charges against her. And I'm like, "Whha - what?"

Meredith Vieira: When you hung up that phone, David, what did you do?

David Goldman: I was shocked, I think I was like, just dropped.

David collapsed, his heart pounding, his head spinning. Just like that, Bruna was gone - and she was trying to take away his beloved little boy, the thing he cherished more than anything in the world.

Gene Quigley: He was so beside himself. He was so upset, you know, I could hardly understand him.

Gene Quigley has been David's buddy since they were teenagers. When David told him the shocking news, Gene assured him that Bruna probably just needed to calm down.

Gene Quigley: I just thought maybe she's just confused. You know, she just needed some time and she would be back.

But Bruna kept calling, sounding panicked. David started recording her as she pleaded with him to fly to Brazil to sign over custody of Sean, promising if he did, she'd bring Sean home for visits every few months. But if he didn't, things would get ugly.

Bruna, on the phone: We can together do this thing friendly, but, if you are not gonna come here, the thing is gonna change.

David Goldman: You're threatening me, too.

Bruna: I'm not threatening you, I'm telling you.

David Goldman: If I go to the courts, or if I go to the police, he won't come home and I'll never see him again.

Meredith Vieira: But you didn't go to Brazil.

David Goldman: No. I spoke to several attorneys. And each one of 'em said, "Do not step foot in that country."

Patricia Apy, attorney: She wanted David to come down but it was with the caveat of “So we can take care of all of this here.” Video: Dad divulges on struggle for son

Patricia Apy, the New Jersey attorney David hired, specializes in international custody cases. She suspected Bruna's rush to get him to Brazil was about forcing him into a court that would do what she wanted. In fact, she was already laying the groundwork with lies.

Patricia Apy: She had filed a cause of action in which she had alleged Sean had been there for an extended period of time: that he had already been enrolled in school, giving the court the impression that this was a planned separation. And so it looked to us that this was a setup.

If he ever wanted Sean to come home, Apy told David his best bet was to file for help under something called the Hague Convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction.

David Goldman: It's an international treaty that Brazil, U.S, and 70 other countries are party to. Its sole purpose is to remedy international parental child abduction. And if I'd jumped on a plane and gone down to a local family court in Rio, I would give up the Hague and who knows what else.

Under the Hague Convention, a custody hearing must take place where the child normally lives, which meant New Jersey, not Brazil. And it was up to Brazil to send Sean back to the U.S. quickly, ideally within 6 weeks.

Meredith Vieira: You believed at that point, I'm not gonna go to Brazil, and within six weeks, Sean will be back here and it'll be resolved here.

David Goldman: Yes.

Meredith Vieira: On U.S soil.

David Goldman: Yes.

Agonizing as it was, David waited, clinging to the occasional calls when Bruna allowed Sean to get on the phone.

Sean, on the phone: Hi Dada!

David Goldman: Hey, Sean. When you guys come back, I'm going to give you the biggest hug and kiss and pick you up and put you on my shoulders. And we're best friends forever. My heart beats for you.

Sean: Dada?

David Goldman: Yeah?

Sean: I love you forever.

David Goldman: I love you forever. buddy. We're best friends. Who's your best friend?

Sean: You.

Bobby Chang: Dave, really, despite wanting to cry, was very upbeat with all his conversations with Sean. Dave never ever gave any hint to Sean that something was wrong.

But every day without his son was harrowing.

Patricia Apy: You just saw someone whose heart was broken and who didn't believe he was in the circumstance he was in.

David Goldman: No one believed it. Anybody that knew her, knew me, knew us, no one believed it.

Meredith Vieira: Do you think that maybe you missed something there? That there was some clue?

David Goldman: That's where I feel like the biggest idiot. I wouldn't have driven them to the airport if I had any - any slight thought that that would be the last time I'd see them.

Bruna's friends were just as baffled. Michelle Langdon was a fellow teacher, Casey Fillian was her fitness instructor, and Karen Bott, David's college friend, had instantly bonded with his wife.

Karen Bott: It makes me mad. It makes me feel betrayed as a friend.

Casey Fillian: The person I knew never woulda done this. Not to Sean. And not to David.

Michelle Langdon: I couldn't sleep for days. None of us could. It was just a terrible thing, thinking, "Did she say anything? What could we have done to help?"

All three women say Bruna never so much as hinted at wanting to leave. But in the calls she made from Brazil, she claimed she'd been miserable in New Jersey.

Bruna, on the phone: I don't want to live in New Jersey anymore!

David Goldman: Why are you screaming at me, Bruna?

Bruna: I don't want to live in that place. Please understand this!

Had the girl who married David Goldman, the international model, just become disillusioned with the reality of suburban life? In Brazil, she'd lived a pampered, moneyed life, growing up with nannies and chauffeurs.

Karen Bott: She had a privileged life and we all knew it.

Bobby Chang: She would brag, "Oh you know, in Brazil, we have bullet-proof cars that we drive around in." If you had money in her eyes, then you were better.

Bruna's brother is an actor who has appeared in Brazilian soaps, and Bruna had implied that she too craved the limelight.

Bobby Chang: Whenever she would go home, her friends were in more of the high society life. It did seem she wanted a little bit more of a glamorous life.

Still, whatever motivated Bruna to ditch David so abruptly, no one could understand taking Sean away from such a doting father.

Karen Bott: He was so attached to his dad. I couldn't conceive that she would do something like that.

But David's nightmare was just beginning.

David Goldman: It was a man's voice telling me “Prepare to die.”

Meredith Vieira: At what point did that word go through your head, "My son's been kidnapped."

David Goldman: It's tough for even me to think, Bruna had kidnapped our own child.

It was almost impossible to say out loud. David Goldman's wife had not only left him, she'd abducted their son.

David Goldman, on the phone: You ran off to Brazil, with Sean.

Bruna: I ran off to Brazil with Sean because if I was there and I told you that I want to separate, I knew you're never gonna give me the separation. That's why.

Bruna had never even given David a chance. And although her parents denied knowing anything about her escape plan, David and his friends suspected they were involved. They'd been in New Jersey visiting for weeks, and Bruna's mother even helped her pack.

Bobby Chang: Bruna, I don't think, was strong enough to ever have done this on her own. This was a family doing.

To David's friend Bobby Chang, it seemed heartless: David had loved Bruna's parents as if they were his own.

Bobby Chang: Bruna's father said to me, I can't remember how many times, said to me, "David, David is like my son. He's like my own blood."

David felt betrayed, and when Bruna got a Brazilian judge to give her temporary custody of Sean, he was furious. Two months after she left, he filed a civil suit in New Jersey against Bruna and her parents, getting an order demanding Sean be returned to the United States within 48 hours - and freezing every U.S. asset Bruna's family owned, including a beach condo on the Jersey shore.

Patricia Apy: That allowed us to seize the property and the bank accounts in the hopes that it would place pressure on Bruna and her family to return and comply with the order.

But Bruna just ignored the court order -- and then, the death threats started.

David Goldman: It was a man's voice, telling me they know where I live. They know where I am. “Prepare to die.” It was very alarming, very alarming.

Gene Quigley was one of the first people David called.

Gene Quigley: The people on the other line had heavy accents. He was very scared. When he went outside, there was a lit cigarette butt that was on his doorstep.

Terrified, David contacted the FBI - which advised him to leave his house for a week. By the time he returned, the calls stopped.

Meredith Vieira: And you never found out who made those calls? Video: Father waits and wishes

David Goldman: No. But they were using my Nextel direct connect, which only Bruna had the number.

Meredith Vieira: David, I bet there are people who watch this interview who say, “There's gotta be something he's not saying. There's gotta be some skeleton in that closet. There's gotta be a reason why this woman would go to Brazil, take her child, your child, and turn around and call you and say ‘You're out of my life.’”

David Goldman: Show me. Find it.

Bobby Chang: The only justification Bruna had would've been if Dave was a violent man, if he was an alcoholic, not a good father, not a good husband. Dave was none of those things.

Karen Bott: In all of her court documents and everything, she never claimed that he was a bad dad or an abusive anything. She never spoke negatively about him.

There was nothing, not even one allegation of wrong-doing. Even as Bruna threatened to take his son away forever, she still kept telling David he was a great dad.

Bruna, on the phone: You're a wonderful dad and I, I couldn't have any, anyone better. And I'm very glad we, we, we had son together and I'm very glad you were his father.

Patricia Apy: In virtually every other case I've had, I can say, look, there are two sides to this story. I can honestly say there really isn't another side to this story.

Sixteen long months after Bruna abducted Sean, David made his first trip to Brazil. The courts were finally responding to his plea for help under the Hague Convention, and David was hoping to bring his son home. But to his shock, Brazil decided so much time had passed, Sean should stay put.

David Goldman: The Brazilian courts said, "Yes, we even see that he's been held here unlawfully." But now, because unfortunately, it took us a year to get to this case, he's settled with the mother, so he belongs here.

Two arduous years of appeals in Brazilian courts followed - two years of heartache as a loving dad missed out on his son's birthdays, his milestones, his sweet smiles and embraces. But it was futile -- each decision was in Bruna's favor.

Mark DeAngelis met David on a fishing outing just weeks after Bruna left.

Mark DeAngelis: Probably not more than 30 minutes into the trip, David pulled me aside and apologized that he was going through a very difficult time, pouring his heart out to us. And I just remember being very taken aback by the whole thing.

Mark became a staunch ally of David's. Although he's a finance guy, not a lawyer, he did meticulous research, trying to comprehend a legal process he calls infuriating.

Mark DeAngelis: One unfavorable ruling after another, one unfair outcome after another. Almost as if the Brazilian judicial process seemed to work backwards.

What's more, despite traveling to Brazil for each ruling, David never once saw Sean -- and, he says, Bruna and her family soon cut off all contact.

David Goldman: My father-in-law hung up on me too. They slammed the phone down on me. They tried to cut all communication and they could, ‘cause they had Sean.

Karen Bott: The audacity of her and her family to think he would just accept their conditions and let them take his son from him? It's ludicrous.

Yet Bruna seemed oblivious to David's pain, moving on with her life as if he'd never even existed. She opened a children's boutique in Ipanema - the same place that inspired that tune David used to sing about her.

Then, even though she was still legally married in the U.S., she got a Brazilian divorce - and three years after leaving David, Bruna married a Brazilian lawyer named Joao Paulo Lins e Silva, who along with his father, specializes in, of all things, family law.

David Goldman: Their practice is fighting against international child abduction. His father travels around to different countries lecturing on the Hague Convention and children's rights. He's even written an article about how important a father is in the child's life. You can't make this up.

It was a bitterly ironic twist in David's nightmarish saga - one that was about to take a shocking, devastating turn.

David Goldman likes to think of his house in Tinton falls, N.J. as the kind of magical place that Tom Sawyer, that mischievous boy in Mark Twain's novel, would have loved to explore.

Once, his son Sean had made it all seem so perfect, enchanted. But four years after his wife abducted Sean, it just seemed sad. Interrupted.

David Goldman: This is where I got when he was taken and I just stopped.

That dock unfinished, this safety gate never taken down.

In Sean's bedroom, little shoes still neatly lined up, little clothes still hanging, favorite toys still piled on the bed. The memories so vivid, friends like Gene Quigley and Tony Rizzutto found it unbearable to watch David open the door.

Gene Quigley: You see the pain right away, you see the horror.

Tony Rizzutto: The thing that he loved the most, that he put every ounce of himself into taking care of this kid. And somebody just took that away.

The little guy David had lovingly tucked into this bed was now an 8-year-old boy with a striking resemblance to his dad. Bruna emailed these photos to David's mom after she persistently pressed for news - any news - about her growing grandson.

The photos haunted David. Did that boy still love him? His only hope came in a chance phone call in January last year.

David Goldman: My mom was in the hospital and her cell phone rang - and it was Sean. And I said "Hey Sean, it's Dad," And he goes "Oh, hi Dad." And I said "Hey, buddy, I love you. I ..." And he goes, "I love you too." "I miss you, Sean." And he goes, "I miss you, too." // And I hear the voices in the background of where he is. And as soon as they find out it's me they're gonna take it and slam it down, which they ended up doing. But I was able to ask him if he remembers things about home, and he said "a little."

Meredith Vieira: Did you get the sense that his memories are starting to fade?

David Goldman: Oh yeah, they have to, you know.

Meredith Vieira: How painful was that conversation?

David Goldman: It's bittersweet. It was wonderful to talk to him, and it's very, very, very painful.

A pain so wrenching, David's friends say over four years, he lost what had once been a contagious joy for life.

Karen Bott: He was always the jokester and the prankster. The jokes don't come anymore.

Tony Rizzutto: His ability to be happy, you know, it's not the same.

But functioning on subdued auto-pilot was the only way David could cope. Until August, when everything took a tragic, startling turn.

Karen Bott: Jaw dropped to the ground and I thought "Oh, my god." Couldn't believe it.

Bruna was dead. Pregnant by her new Brazilian husband, she'd given birth to a baby girl only to die from complications eight hours later. She was 34.

Karen Bott: My first thought was karma. I'm a firm believer in karma.

David's only concern was Sean.

David Goldman: My poor son. He just lost his mom. I need to see him. He needs to see me.

Shaken, David immediately called both his U.S. and Brazilian attorneys.

David Goldman: Both of them said, "It's over. You should be able to go down there and bring him home."

Meredith Vieira: Because you're the only biological parent left?

David Goldman: Yes, who's been fighting for this long.

Patricia Apy: We're done. We're done. We have to be done because at that point a fit biological parent, always trumps a third party.

Michelle Langdon: I thought, "Oh my god, David's gonna get his son back now."

But when David arrived in Brazil, he was hit with a blizzard of crushing news. Bruna's new husband, the lawyer Joao Paulo Lins e Silva, had already been granted temporary custody of Sean. And, he'd taken the unusual step of asking a court to remove David's name from Sean's birth certificate.

David Goldman: Apparently they have a Brazilian birth certificate for him with my name on it. And this guy wanted to erase me from any connection with my son, and put his own name on it

What's more, Lins e Silva was arguing something he calls "socio-affective paternity" - claiming that since Sean had been living with him in Brazil for almost 4 years, he was now the most qualified person to raise him.

Mark DeAngelis: Essentially they're trying to argue that if you kidnap a child and take him away from his biological parent or parents long enough, that eventually he should stay with his kidnappers because those are the people he knows best and that's where he's most comfortable.

Meredith Vieira: What would his motivation be for doing this?

David Goldman: I have no idea. Maybe he even does have some affection for my son, and I hope he does, but he's my son. This guy's got his own kid. He's got his own baby. He would know what it's like to lose a child, why is he holding onto mine?

It was a seemingly baffling move that even caught David's attorneys off-guard. Was grief over Bruna's sudden death behind it?

Patricia Apy: This man may have made David the bad guy, the villain in the story, because of this astonishingly awful family situation.

Whatever the reason, David was livid. And for the first time, he felt compelled to talk publicly about his battle.

Michele Bond, a senior State Department official who deals with international child abduction, was appalled.

Michele Bond: This is an abducted child, an American citizen, and I think it's ludicrous for the Brazilian stepfather now to make the case that Sean should not be with his father because he hasn't had a relationship with him.

The battle for Sean was about to get vicious. David was heading back to Brazil.

Last October, David Goldman nervously took his seat on yet another red-eye to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He'd finally won a small victory: For the first time in four years, he'd be allowed to see his son.

Meredith Vieira: You had reason to hope. The courts in Brazil had said that you could see your son for weekend visitation. So you go down there.

David Goldman: A-huh.

Meredith Vieira: Along with Dateline.

David Goldman: Obviously it's not my ideal scenario is to go visit my son. But if that's all I got, I'm like, "Finally!"

Rio de Janeiro, nicknamed "the marvelous city," has a seductive appeal, famous for its natural beauty, pulsating rhythms and tantalizing beaches. But David had come to loathe visiting here. In his hotel room, David prepared himself for what he knew might be a difficult visit with Sean.

David Goldman: I haven't seen him in 4 years, and who knows what they've said to him

He'd packed a suitcase full of gifts, old toys...

David Goldman: He used to love this little rubber frog.

And photos of them as loving father and son.

David Goldman: To help him remember and remind him of our happy life we had.

But as the 8 p.m. visitation time approached, David anxiously eyed the unusually gloomy weather on Copacabana beach. Was it a foreboding sign?

David Goldman: It's always something. A roller coaster. As soon as you walk out the door, somebody's gonna come and say something's changed.

And at 6:50, it did. David's attorney called from court -- Bruna's new husband, who was given temporary custody of Sean after she died, had filed a last minute appeal.

David Goldman: At the 11th hour, it's off.

But just as quickly, the appeal was denied - Bruna's husband, Joao Paulo Lins e Silva, was ordered to hand Sean over the next morning.

David Goldman: It's a very positive step from these judges in Brazil to stop bending at everything this Lins e Silva guy wants.

Until then, Lins e Silva, an attorney specializing in family law, had seemed adept at manipulating the system. He got a court to block a Brazilian network from airing an interview with David. Then, he tried to impose a blanket ban on all Brazilian media - scaring much of the press into simply steering clear of the story.

Patricia Apy: He's up against people who have a lot of resources, both in finances, and in their influence and abilities.

Meredith Vieira: Doesn't that scare you?

David Goldman: Yeah. What am I gonna do? It's not gonna make me stop trying to get my son home.

At least David wouldn't be alone. The U.S. Ambassador to Brazil had called, promising a representative would be at his side all weekend.

On Saturday morning, the embassy representative in tow, David set out for the gated community where Bruna's parents live - the address her husband had given to the court.

While court and police officers went inside to get Sean, David waited anxiously in a secure van. In the backseat, he tried to distract himself with home movies.

Nearby, a bodyguard kept watch. After getting those death threats, David was too terrified to take any chances in Rio.

David Goldman: I'm in a foreign country, I don't speak the language. I don't know who to believe, who to trust.

Minutes, then hours, ticked by. David put the movies away. His Brazilian attorney paced the sidewalk. Three hours of restless waiting, all for nothing: Sean wasn't there.

David Goldman: No one knows where he is. All we know is that he left yesterday. Lins e Silva took Sean and left. And I get screwed around again.

Meredith Vieira: How devastated were you?

David Goldman: It's tough, but I wasn't devastated. I'm thinking, "This guy just broke federal court orders. It's a good thing. Let him do that."

Meredith Vieira: They're gonna bring him in now.

David Goldman: They're gonna go get him.  This is a federal case and he's interfering with custody.

Meredith Vieira: Did they go get him?

David Goldman: They didn't. (laughs)

Desperate to see his son, David decided to stay in Rio and wait it out.

David Goldman: These blows keep coming, but they're not going to knock me down.

Too frightened to go anywhere, he spent his days holed up in room 1420. But even there, he wasn't safe.

David Goldman: The front desk keeps calling, there's men waiting, they need you to come down here, and I said "I'm not comin’ down."

Frantic calls to his attorneys and the embassy revealed that the strange men wanted to serve him papers . Now, the Lins e Silvas were accusing him of defaming their storied family name.

David Goldman: The guy runs and hides, disobeys court orders and then starts filing lawsuits against me. It's crazy, where is the justice?

David felt trapped in a city where it seemed no one else had a care in the world.

The complaints read to David in court included a demand from the Lins e Silvas that he somehow stop the press from saying anything negative about their family – even a false claim that he'd been harassing them with a helicopter.

David Goldman: He's accusing me of hiring a helicopter and circling over his house to harass him or something. I mean, it's absurd. My attorney said its intimidation tactic by this guy. They're trying to do everything they can because the law is totally against them.

David was fed up. He hopped the next flight out of the magnificent city.

Meredith Vieira: You came back without Sean.

David Goldman: Without even being able to see Sean. These courts just, like, thumbing their nose at me, saying "Well, this guy's been raising him. He's the father figure. You don't even count."

But why? Even the Brazilian authorities working on David's case were urging the government to send Sean home.

David Goldman: If you were a law student and you were going over Hague 101, and they brought you my case, the only answer is to send the child home.

Meredith Vieira: So you why do you think, deep down in your gut, why do you think? If everything is so clear-cut, you don't have your son?

David Goldman: I don't know. I wish I knew.

It's an 8-year-old American boy, he's being held hostage in Rio de Janeiro. On the streets of Ipanema on a rainy Sunday morning, the small group handed out flyers to anyone who would take them.

Rachel Glickhouse, a New Yorker living in Brazil, writes a blog about her adventures in Rio. She had never met David, but when she heard about his battle to see his son, she says she was so angry, she wanted to help.

Rachel Glickhouse: The major news sources here have absolutely refused to cover the story, so the only way to get it out to the Brazilians is by physically giving it to them.

Here in the U.S., David's friends are using the Web to get his story out - saying the family who is keeping him from his son is being blatantly unfair.

Mark DeAngelis: They don't let any inconvenient law stand in the way of how they do things down there.

Dateline wanted to talk to Bruna's husband to find out why he is blocking David's efforts to see Sean, and why he wants David's name erased from his own son's birth certificate, but he declined, telling Dateline in this brief e-mail that he can't talk about the case, and that “I'm not blocking anything, I am just respecting the decisions of the Brazilian superior court."

But in other e-mails, the family has had plenty to say. This one, addressed to "Dear journalists," calls for an investigation into David's "real motives" - suggesting all he really wants is money.

David Goldman: It's not about money, and for them to suggest that is even sicker.

Mark DeAngelis: It's a slanderous charge, to say that he's basically sold Sean for money and he's only interested in money.

The allegation stems back to a 2006 settlement David made with Bruna's parents. They admitted no wrong-doing, but in exchange for David dropping them from his civil suit and giving them access to their frozen assets, they paid him $150,000.

Meredith Vieira: They're throwing that back in your face and saying, "He's not interested in Sean. He just wants cash." Do you regret that you settled? Do you think that muddied it?

David Goldman: Legally, absolutely not. I didn't want to settle that day in court, and I was advised by my attorney to do so. It enabled me to pay off some legal bills.

Meredith Vieira: What has it cost you? This search for your son?

David Goldman: Last time we figured it out, it was somewhere around $350,000 - or more. I've spent every resource that I had without result.

Outraged by the whole situation, David's supporters have organized rallies like this one in front of the Brazilian consulate in New York. Video: Dad divulges on struggle for son

Mark DeAngelis, at rally: They need to follow the law and obey the treaty and bring Sean home.

The State Department's Michele Bond says the treaty makes it very clear: Brazil should have sent Sean back to New Jersey years ago.

Michele Bond: Brazil's non-compliance in the Hague Convention is of tremendous concern to us because it encourages the continuation of this kind of abduction. This little boy has now had more than four years when he wasn't even allowed to see his father. It's cruel.

Encouraged by sympathetic letters and e-mails, like this one from then-Sen. Barack Obama, David has taken his fight to Washington, meeting with groups like the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

David Goldman: For the most part of four years, I didn't have enough support. And in the last few months, it seems like there's been a lot more interest.

Meredith Vieira: After four years, I would think you'd be pretty beaten down, but you seem determined.

David Goldman: I won't ever quit on my son.

Meredith Vieira: Never?

David Goldman: Never. How can you? How can you give up on your child? It's my legal, my moral, my God-given right to raise my son.

Meredith Vieira: Have you ever considered -

David Goldman: Getting him back not without the courts?

Meredith Vieira: Right. Kidnapping him.

David Goldman: Would it be kidnapping? He's got a court order from America to have him home.

Meredith Vieira: Has that ever crossed your mind?

David Goldman:  It's crossed my mind. Obviously I didn't act on it. Maybe I should have. But maybe it could have put him in harm's way. I don't wanna ever harm my son.

Meredith Vieira: Does it ever cross your mind that you won't see your son again?

David Goldman: I can't think that, no, no. This is so wrong on every level. He's gotta come home.

Meredith Vieira: How can any of this be possible? Video: Father waits and wishes

David Goldman: It's sick. Who can help me? Who can help? I just need help.

The loneliness is piercing. Now, when David canoes on the river behind his Tom Sawyer house, Sean's vacant seat seems to glare at him - such a painful reminder of a time when life had seemed like a blissful fairy tale.

Meredith Vieira: How much do you miss that little boy?

David Goldman: I miss him every second of every day, and in my sleep. The time we had together was the most special, precious moments (struggling to fight off tears). I can never describe the love I have for my son — there are no words.

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