For seven anguished months Tiffany Rubin had wondered where her 7-year-old son Kobe was, if he was all right—if she would ever see him again. On March 23, working from an anonymous tip e-mailed to her MySpace page, the elementary school teacher flew from her home in Queens, N.Y., to Seoul. Her mission: to take back Kobe, who’d been whisked from the country allegedly by his father, Jeffrey Salko, Rubin’s South Korean-born ex-boyfriend. (Together for five years, they split after Kobe’s birth and have contentiously shared custody ever since.) Two days later Rubin, 30, stood outside her son’s classroom, her heart pounding furiously. “Kobe!” she yelled. “Mommy!” he shouted and dashed into the hall. Introducing herself to a teacher, she calmly walked the boy to the exit, tugged a mop-top-style wig onto his head—then made a frantic dash for the U.S. embassy.
The next day, delivered to the airport in a black government SUV, Kobe boarded a New York-bound plane with his very relieved, very grateful—and very determined—mother. Helping Tiffany plan and execute the high-stakes mission were former CIA agent Bazzel Baz and Mark Miller of the American Association for Lost Children, the nonprofit group Tiffany turned to after losing patience with the police and FBI. Miller, Tiffany says, “wanted no money. He’s an angel.” (As for Salko, the FBI has issued an arrest warrant on kidnapping charges. Efforts to reach him were unsuccessful.)
At home with his mother and stepfather, Chris Rubin, Kobe, who says he was “bullied” by his South Korean classmates because of his dark skin, is playing his beloved Nintendo Wii and preparing to return to school. Mostly, he says, “I just like seeing my mom.”