An Irish father is facing a court battle to be reunited with his son after the mother who fled with the child to the U.S. died earlier this month.
John Hopkins, 40, hasn’t seen his son since 2013, when his wife and their son Cody, then nine-year-old, left for a holiday in America and never came back, the Irish Independent reports.
Hopkins met Cody’s mother, Jackie, an America, online in 2002. He traveled to Wisconsin to meet her and a few months later, they were married in Las Vegas.
On September 10, 2003, Cody was born. The family lived in the United States until 2006, when they decided to move to Northern Ireland after John’s mother suffered two strokes.
In 2013, Jackie began feeling homesick, and a two-week trip was arranged for her and Cody, to visit Jackie’s family in the States.
Throughout the trip, Jackie kept in contact with John, sending him messages about what they were doing and finishing each one with the words “love you.”
Jackie and Cody were due to fly back home on July 13. John stood waiting at the airport, but his wife and child never arrived, and from then on, all contact ceased.
"My wife couldn't make friends and couldn't get a job," John said. "I knew she was struggling, but it was a complete shock when she just didn't come back."
John contacted police in Wisconsin, where Jackie was staying, and was told she was fine and that she would be catching the next flight to Northern Ireland. However, a few days later, police said they did not know where Jackie or Cody were and had listed Cody as missing.
"I was always expecting her to come home," John said. "It was hard when I realized. I've left Cody's bedroom as it was. I couldn't go into it for the first year, but it's basically untouched.
"Cody is my only son and for the last three years I've been contacting someone nearly every day to try and get information."
"I did almost give up at times, but I've had a lot of support from groups on Facebook and the charity Reunite, who all told me never to give up."There have been children who have been found after five or six years. I had to keep working at it."
This month, John received news that Cody had been found.
On May 8, Jackie had died of a massive heart attack in Tennessee. She had been on the run for three years and had used a false name to avoid detection.
Following her her death, the authorities were able to identify her and contacted John to tell him Cody was safe.
"I have been suffering with severe anxiety because of this, but the moment I found out that Cody was safe, it just dropped away - it was a sense of pure relief," he said.
John’s happiness was short-lived because Cody is now in the custody of child protection services in Tennessee, and his father faces a lengthy and expensive court battle to bring him back to Ireland.
So far, John has been unable to contact Cody.
"When I heard the news, I just wanted to be with my son," he said. "But I'm not allowed any contact whatsoever until it goes through the courts, which will be by June 8 at the latest.
"I just can't wait to see him. I haven't even seen photographs of him, so I don't even know what he looks like now."
John has set up an online petition in a bid to show the courts how much love and support Cody will have in Northern Ireland.
"He's pretty much on his own over there and we just want to show that we want him back," he said.
"He lived here for seven years and he has loads of friends around here."We want him to come back to his life here."
The State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs said: "We are aware of reports of an international parental child abduction from the United Kingdom to the United States. The 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction is in force between the United Kingdom and the United States.
"The Bureau of Consular Affairs, along with our Embassies and Consulates, works with parents and foreign governments to try to resolve these difficult cases. Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment."