N.Y. Mom Tracks, Retrieves Missing Son in South Korea

A Web tip led Tiffany Rubin to seek out her 7-year-old son overseas.


March 31, 2008 — -- One of the first things 7-year-old Kobe Lee did when he got home following his seven-month abduction in South Korea was play with his cat.

That mundane reaction was a relief to Kobe's mother, Tiffany Rubin, who had spent months trying to track down her son after he disappeared Aug. 21 following a visit with his father, Jeffrey Salko.

"I wasn't sure that I was going to see him again. I hoped I would. But part of me was just saying, 'You may never see him again,'" Rubin said. "I didn't get out of bed for a week. I was completely depressed. I lost like 20 pounds."

Rubin feared her ex-boyfriend, Salko, had taken Kobe his native South Korea. After she hacked into his email account, her fears were confirmed.

"It's like the worst feeling I could ever imagine a person feeling. It's like you're accepting a loss that a loved one has passed away, but they haven't died. They are just being kept from you, which is kind of harder," said Rubin, a special education teacher in the New York City borough of Queens.

Rubin, who is 30 and married, got new hope in January when she received an online anonymous tip on her Myspace page telling her where to find Kobe.

Rubin sought the aid of American Association for Lost Children founder Mark Miller, but she was so emotionally battered by her previous efforts to find Kobe, she nearly didn't accept his aid.

"I really felt hopeless for a long time almost to the point where I didn't accept Mark's help because I was afraid," Rubin said on "Good Morning America" today. "I had been so disappointed and then I guess God spoke to my heart and said, 'Let him help you.'"

Miller and Rubin concocted a plan, which took months, and decided to travel after an extended school break to ensure Kobe would be at school when they went to retrieve him.

When Rubin arrived in South Korea March 23 after a 15-hour flight, she met with the tipster, whose name she's declined to reveal. That person told her how she would be able to enter the school unnoticed. Miller and Rubin also watched the school to determine the extent of its security.

"There's no real security. So you walk up to the classroom," Rubin said.

Disguised in a wig, Texas Longhorns baseball cap and with makeup to help lighten her skin so she could hide her identity, Rubin went to Kobe's classroom and called his name three times to get his attention.

"My heart was thumping out of my chest. I was so so nervous and excited at the same time," Rubin said.

Kobe didn't hear his mother's calls and it took a classmate to alert him. He instantly recognized his mother, who by then had taken off her hat so her son would know who she was. Miller was nearby to offer support and act as a lookout.

"We went up to the school with her to the classroom, but we stayed in the hallway and I was by the stairs," Miller said.

"She talked to the teacher and said she wanted to speak with Kobe for a couple of minutes. Then she came down the stairs and at that point I was following behind doing the surveillance," he said.

The hailed a taxi while Rubin disguised her son as a girl with a wig and pink and blue shirt. They told the driver to take them to the U.S. Embassy.

While at the embassy, Salko called pretending to be a school official.

"He told them not to issue Kobe a passport without his permission," Rubin said.

But embassy officials already were aware of what was going on. Still Rubin couldn't rest until she was on the plane with her son. The tensest moment came when she arrived at the airport and Korean immigration officials balked at letting Kobe leave the country.

It turned out Salko already had begun the process of making Kobe a Korean citizen, but U.S. officials negotiated with the Korean immigration officials and with a $100 fine to cover Kobe's expired passport, Rubin was off with her son and headed back to Queens.

Since Rubin and Kobe arrived back home last Wednesday, Salko has reached out to them via email.

"He's emailed us a few times just, you know, being very nice saying that he thinks Kobe will be better off with me and my husband," Rubin said. "[He said] we'll make great parents and he hopes I'll let him talk to [Kobe]."

Rubin hasn't responded to Salko and forwarded his messages to the FBI. If Salko returns the U.S. he will face kidnapping charges, in addition to the failure to pay child support allegations he had before Kobe left New York.

Find out more information on American Association for Lost Children.

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