After nearly a decade of searching, Giovanni Burrows finally has his son back.
Following a court hearing in Jacksonville, Florida, yesterday afternoon, Mr Burrows said he was confident the courts would find in his favour, but added that the financial impact of the prolonged search will cause lingering challenges.
“I just knew this was what was going to happen,” he said. “One battle is now finally over, but there’s now another struggle that has just begun.”
The court decision brought an end to a nine-year search and several hearings about the future of 14-year-old Jasai Swan-Burrows.
Mr Burrows won full custody of Jasai from his ex-wife, Kim Sakena Swan, in 2001.
Ms Swan fled the country with Jasai in 2003, when he was five years old.
Since then, Mr Burrows has dedicated himself to tracking down his son and bringing him back to Bermuda. Every time he thought the search was nearing an end, he struck another roadblock.
Mr Burrows and US authorities tracked Ms Swan down in St Petersburg, Florida last May.
However she and Jasai disappeared on May 11, just before a hearing was scheduled to take place.
According to Clearwater police Jasai asked a caretaker to go to the bathroom and instead met with his mother and fled.
“It seems like every year we would get close, but then something would happen. I would fly to Florida, and they would be gone,” Mr Burrows said.
“We knew they were still in Florida. They really couldn’t go anywhere else, but they kept getting tipped off.”
The search ended Thursday when Ms Swan was arrested in Jacksonville and charged with interference with child custody and parental abduction.
Both Jasai and his younger sister, who was born in the United States, were taken by the authorities.
Mr Burrows flew to Jacksonville for an emergency hearing on Sunday. He hoped to pick up his son and return to the Island, but that was not to be the hearing was adjourned. A second hearing was scheduled for Monday but that too was set back.
Prior to yesterday’s hearing, Mr Burrows said: “Every time I think ‘It’s happening again’. Every day my son disappears again.
“I’m wearing the same clothes I came up here in. All that’s happening now is my debt is growing bigger, but it’s all right. I would go into a million dollars in debt if it meant I would have my son back.”
He said he had no doubt the courts would return his son to him, but after years of hard work and near misses, he found it hard to get excited about the court’s impending decision.
“I have told myself that this is not over until the plane lands in Bermuda,” he said.
Mr Burrows said he has spoken to his son everyday since he arrived in Florida.
“He said he didn’t want to come back to Bermuda without his sister, or without knowing that she was coming soon, so I’ve been doing everything I can to make sure that happens,” he said. “He loves his sister, so I have to do what I can.”
Once back in Bermuda, Mr Burrows has to deal with the bills he has racked up in his nine-year search. Between the flights to and from Florida and the cost of the prolonged legal battle, he has spent about $500,000.
Even yesterday he was unsure as to how he was going afford to get back to Bermuda. His best option was to rent a car and drive with Jasai to Miami in hopes of getting less expensive airfare for his teenage son.
“I have maxed out all my credit cards; I have sold possessions,” he said. “The bank is helping me pay my lawyer, who was kind enough to offer me a reduced rate, but that’s something I will have to pay back.
“I’m renting a place that has a loft for my son, but that’s up for sale now so they could make us move out. All I want is for my son to be happy and stable.
“I’ve sent a letter to the Premier, to the Government, asking if they might be able to help me buy some sort of house, a fixer-upper, so I can have a stable home for my son.”
He hoped others might be able to learn from what happened to him, he added. Since his story has come out others in similar situations have come to him asking for advice.
“One man contacted me on Facebook in pretty much the same situation so I told him who he should contact and what he needed to do,” he said. “I felt a little jealous because he was able to get his son back a week later while I’ve been working for ten years, but it felt good to know that I helped someone.”
The long search
2001: Giovanni Burrows is granted full custody of his son, Jasai Swan-Burrows. Jasai’s mother, Kim Sakena Swan, is allowed to see their son on weekends.
January 18, 2003: Ms Swan leaves Bermuda on a flight to Atlanta, taking five-year-old Jasai with her. She lists Stone Mountain, Georgia, as her intended final destination on her departure card.
September 2006: Mr Burrows moves to the United States to search for his son, spending a year speaking with media outlets, the British Consulate and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The search leads Mr Burrows to St Petersburg, Florida, but all he found was an empty residence with pictures and other paraphernalia left behind. He eventually returns to Bermuda empty-handed.
May 2011: Authorities find Ms Swan and Jasai, now 13 years old, living in a homeless hostel in St Petersburg. Mr Burrows flies to Florida and, for the first time in more than eight years, gets to spend time with his son.
May 11, 2011: A hearing is held in Clearwater to return Jasai to Bermuda. However just before the hearing, Jasai leaves his caretaker and secretly meets and leaves with his mother.
February 2, 2012: Ms Swan is arrested in Jacksonville, Florida, and charged with interference with child custody and parental abduction.
February 7, 2012:Jacksonville courts return Jasai to Mr Burrows, allowing him to return to Bermuda.
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