U.S. Servicewoman Reunited With Children After Custody Battle With Italian Authorities

A U.S. Air Force staff sergeant stationed in Aviano, Italy got an early Christmas gift: a much-anticipated reunion with her daughters.

The reunion came after an Italian judge dismissed all maltreatment and abandonment charges against Kris Wylie, 30, in her months-long legal battle with Italian authorities, who took away the children after a neighbor alleged they were being abused.

Leighlora, 7, and Lillian Ann, 5, were returned to their mother Saturday afternoon.

"My biggest goal now is to get them settled into a stable atmosphere," Wylie said. "They need to be close to family. They need to be cared for."

Wylie told FOX News the girls were in good physical condition, and described the shelter home where they had been living as well-run. Still, she said, they remained confused about what happened and why they cannot yet go back to the home they've known for three years.

Though charges against Wylie have been dropped, charges against her fiancé, Santo Petron, 40, are still pending. She and the children cannot return to the house they share with Petron until he is cleared of abuse charges.

Francesco Furlan, Wylie's lawyer in Italy, said he hoped the charges against Petron would be dropped in January, when he once again takes up the matter with the prosecution.

"They are very confused. They keep asking — they want to go home, but they can't go back to that house," Wylie said. "They don't understand what's going on here. They keep asking to see Santo at this point. They miss him. They want to see their friends at school."

Wylie said she hoped her story would serve as a warning to other military dependents living overseas and that her case would help facilitate greater cooperation between authorities in her host country of Italy.

"The most important lesson that can be learned is that there should be more communication between the Italian legal system and the base to keep this from happening to other families," she said. "They can just snatch your kids."

Wylie also said she suspected a cultural bias in the charges against her.

"I think the Italian society saw me — being a single military mother — as being an odd duck. I felt very, very discriminated against. I don't think they understood me," she said. "In some ways, they're 50 years behind us, so that was hard for me."

Wylie and her daughters planned to spend the Christmas holidays with relatives in Minnesota, but the trip remained a bittersweet prospect.

"My heart is still broken because there are two other people in this story, and it is still not resolved," she said, referring to the absence of her fiancé and his son from a previous relationship.

Bob Benson, Wylie's father, was anxious to see his daughter and granddaughters, and was thankful the ordeal was over.

"The most important thing in life are not things. It's your family. It's your relatives. It's your kids," he said. "It’s just been horrible. All you can think of is the two little girls — how they are feeling being with strangers, not being at home with someone familiar. The mental stability of the children has been demolished, along with all of our mental stability."

Benson also expressed his thanks to the State Department and other U.S. officials who lent their encouragement and support.

"It’s been nice to know there are people like that in the world still," he said. "Despite all the horror stories, there are good people."

Wylie's troubles started mid-August when a neighbor called Italian police to report Petron was beating Wylie's children. The girls were taken to a local hospital while Italian and American authorities investigated. Italian police later told Wylie and her fiancé that they didn't think there was a problem.

"All the investigations led to nothing," Furlan said in November, as the investigation was going on. "We have the official paper from the Aviano Base command saying there is absolutely no case of child abuse."

But on Oct. 13, a police official in Pordenone, Italy, removed the girls from the couple's off-base home while Wylie was on a mission abroad with the 31st Fighter Wing. Petron had power of attorney over Leighlora and Lillian at the time. His 7-year-old son was allowed to remain. On Oct. 17, Wylie was formally charged with maltreatment and abandonment, and her fiancé with three counts of child abuse.

Furlan said the children's removal was due to "a total and blamable lack of communication" on the part of the Italian authorities.

"She's on a military mission here in Italy," he said. "The local DA says that she's not a suitable mother because she abandons the girls quite often. I mean, of course. She's in the military. She's sent on missions or training in the States or whatever; they cannot interfere about this."

After losing custody, Wylie was allowed to speak to the children for a half-hour each night, but the conversations were recorded and had to be conducted in Italian. She was also granted one-hour, once-weekly supervised visits with the girls.

Wylie has been with the Air Force for seven years, three of which she has spent at Aviano. Her younger daughter is fluent in Italian, while the elder daughter is bilingual. The girls' birth father lives in Wisconsin.

Wylie, who still plans on marrying Petron, said she has no hard feelings toward Italy and its people.

"I still love Italy," she said. "I believe there needs to be more communication in the legal system between the Americans and the Italians; that's what I think this problem comes down to."

Furlan left open the possibility of legal action against Italian authorities, though he said he had not yet talked to Wylie about it.

"At the moment, we are very relieved to have the girls for Christmas. I don't think she has considered to do anything at the moment," he said. "When we met today, we were just celebrating and playing with the girls."

FOXNews.com's Sara Bonisteel and Michelle Maskaly contributed to this report.