TAMPA, Fla. (FOX 13) - Next month will mark one year since Rachelle Smith’s nightmare began.
“I’d wake up every day crying, feeling like I was dying without my son," Smith said.
Last August, her son Dexter’s father, who had partial custody, used Lebanese passports to take the boy overseas, violating a court order that say he couldn’t leave Hillsborough County with the child.
Ali Salamey had previously been arrested for taking Dexter from Smith’s home.
Smith began a media blitz to spread the word about her ordeal.
"I’m here to beg for any and all help to get my little boy returned," Smith pleaded last year.
It began her months-long saga of finding her son.
“I went 281 days without speaking to him, without seeing him, without knowing he was OK," she said. "It was a nightmare. I was grieving every single day for a child that was still alive, but I had no contact with.”
Even more complicated, Lebanon isn’t a signatory of the Hague Convention of Intentional Child Abductions, and doesn’t extradite people to the U.S. That is, until Smith's case.
“I had a lot of help with the highest authorities," Smith said. "I made good relationships with senators and congressmen when I traveled to Washington, D.C. I had a great attorney in Lebanon that worked day and night getting my court orders issued.”
Smith had court orders months ago demanding Dexter's return, but ran into problems.
"Lebanon had recognized my orders to pick up Dexter and take him to the embassy," she said. "Unfortunately, Ali was jumping from village to village, so those orders were in the wrong jurisdiction, so I would have to file in another court, and get that order. And then the judges went on strike."
She says it was then, when the judges went on strike in May, that she started to lose hope. But not long after, she received an e-mail informing her that the pair was heading back to the U.S.
On June 21, the FBI brought father and son back to the U.S. -- father in handcuffs.
Mom and Dexter were reunited.
“It was amazing, but also nerve-wracking,” she said. "I didn't know how he was going to react, but he came in the room, big smile, came and hugged me."
She says her son is adjusting, but it's still bittersweet.
"He's really happy to be home," she said. "But at the end of the day, he still doesn't have his other parent, his dad," she added.
Salamey has been charged with international parental kidnapping. If convicted, he faces up to three years in prison.