An Arizona father reunited in July with a 10-year-old son abducted seven years ago by the boy's mother urged parents of missing children to hold on to hope at all costs.
"Don't give up, don't give up," Gary Wood, a 57-year-old truck driver and single father, told ABCNews.com. "Be proactive. Don't count on the police to do everything for you -- you've got to keep on it."
Wood said he has been haunted since Aug. 30, 2001, when Kathleen Mary Rock, then 38, abducted their 3-year-old son, Matthew, during a supervised visit at a Phoenix amusement center. Wood had "primary residential custody" at the time, according to Reuben Gonzales, a spokesman for the Phoenix Police Department.
"I turned my back for about two minutes. I looked around and didn't see Matthew or Kathleen anywhere," said Wood, who made the original 911 call to report his son missing. "You wouldn't believe the amount that I've beaten myself up over the last seven years."
On July 15, investigators from the U.S. Marshals Service called Gary Wood and asked him how long it would take him to get to Houston. Kathleen Rock had been arrested in Veracruz, Mexico, on attempted robbery charges, according to Steve Blando, a spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Service. Authorities had Matthew, now 10, safely in their custody.
After Rock faces charges in Mexico, she will be transported to Phoenix to answer a federal kidnapping charge, Blando said.
Wood, who described himself as in disbelief, waited until Matthew was safely in the air until boarding a flight for Houston with plane tickets that required the single father to max out his credit card. When he received the word, he and his 17-year-old daughter, Holly, the boy's half-sister, were on the first flight they could catch.
Investigators from the U.S. Marshals Service and FBI met Wood and his daughter in Houston and briefed them before the emotional reunion. "Matthew doesn't remember you at all," an agent told him. "As much as you both want to hold him, don't do it."
Wood said there was no way to hold back the tears when he entered the room and saw his boy. "I said, 'I'm your dad, and this is your sister. I understand you don't recognize us and that's fine.'"
Wood said they have tried to ease Matthew into acclimating, but the whirlwind introduction to a father, family and country he never really knew began immediately.
The American-born boy, whose mother took him to Mexico to start a new life, spoke some English, but his Spanish was better.
Matthew apparently was used to working odd jobs for extra money. As they attempted to leave the Phoenix airport for home, Matthew stopped to talk to a woman working at the shoeshine stand, Wood said. Holly, his half-sister, asked Matthew why he was talking to the woman. "He was asking her how much money she made because he used to shine shoes in Mexico," Wood said.
Matthew's highlights have included Buffalo wings and hot fudge sundaes, an allowance and a ride in the front cart of a rollercoaster. Matthew is also looking forward to a first day of school on Aug. 11 -- as much as a 10-year-old boy looks forward to going back to school.