NEW YORK – Tiffany Rubin had all but given up hope of ever seeing her abducted child again when she received an anonymous tip through her MySpace page. Someone had spotted her 7-year-old son and ex-boyfriend in South Korea.
On Easter Sunday, the Queens special education teacher caught a 15-hour flight. She sneaked into her son's school, found Kobe Lee in a classroom, disguised him with a wig and sought refuge in the American embassy before bringing him home to Queens Wednesday.
"It's great," Rubin said. "I never thought this day would come."
Her nightmare began on Aug. 21, after her ex-boyfriend Jeffrey Salko disappeared with their child after a visit.
At the time, he had joint custody of his son but was facing up to six months in jail for not paying child support. The boy lived with his mother and saw his father on alternate weekends.
Kobe's court appointed law guardian, Joseph Fredericks, had recommended Rubin receive sole custody of the boy.
"They were constantly at war over this child," Fredericks said of the parents, who had separated when Kobe was four months old.
After Salko disappeared with her child, Rubin was afraid her ex, born in South Korea, had taken the boy abroad.
"I was just basically panicking," Rubin said. "I was hoping they were still in the United States."
Her fears were realized when she hacked into Salko's e-mail account, she said. She discovered an e-mail he had sent to a friend saying he was flying to South Korea — and wasn't coming back.
Rubin, 30, wanted to hire a private organization that specialized in recovering lost children, but couldn't afford the steep fees.
Mark Miller, founder of the American Association for Lost Children Inc., a Christian charity that recovers missing children, convinced her to put him on the case — free of charge.
"She was so distraught," Miller said. "Her whole world was taken from her."
Almost 800,000 children are reported missing each year, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. About one-quarter of them are abducted by family members.
The FBI issued a warrant for Salko's arrest. But Rubin didn't get her big break until January.
She received a message on her MySpace page from someone who had seen her son and knew where he went to school.
Shortly after, she received a phone call from Kobe telling her he missed her. Salko was on the line.
Rubin said her son "wasn't aware he had been kidnapped."
Shortly after, she flew to South Korea with Miller and Bazzel Baz, Chief Executive Officer of the Association for the Recovery of Children, to recover Kobe.
Rubin was nervous, but Miller and Baz had done several of these missions before.
The men surveyed the school while Rubin waited in the hotel. Security seemed to be lax there, Rubin said, and the next day she went to her son's classroom and called his name.
"I was like, oh my God," said Kobe. "I can't believe she's here."
Rubin explained who she was to her son's teacher and said she needed a minute to speak with him. Then mother and son walked out of the building and hailed a cab to the American embassy.
As an added precaution, she made Kobe wear a wig, so anyone looking for them would think he was a girl.
On the following day, mother and son returned home.
"He's doing good, watching cartoons and wanting to play video games," Rubin said. But "he's a little worried that his dad's going to take him again."
FBI spokesman Matthew Bertron said the bureau was attempting to work with South Korea to secure Salko's arrest and extradition. Calls to his family Thursday went unanswered.