ORLANDO - A father and son played with toys and puzzles and rested on a quiet nine-hour flight from Brazil to Florida, a peaceful conclusion yesterday after a tumultuous reunion that brought a five-year custody battle spanning two continents to an end.
David Goldman and 9-year-old Sean Goldman landed in Orlando on a jet chartered by NBC. Later they were driven away in a caravan of three SUVs to an unknown destination. They did not speak with reporters at the airport, but NBC broadcast an interview with the father and footage from the flight.
"My little boy is 5 feet away, sound asleep, peaceful," Goldman, of Tinton Falls, N.J., told the network. "We're on our way. My heart is just melting. I love him."
Earlier in the day, when the father and son were reunited in Rio de Janeiro, the youngster was forced to squeeze though a jostling throng of reporters and photographers.
The reunion ended an epic battle that pitted Sean's father against the boy's Brazilian stepfather, who had cared for Sean since his mother died last year. The dispute strained relations between the two countries and reached the highest level of government.
Soon after he fought his way through the crowd, a smiling Sean Goldman was back in his father's arms, talking about basketball and how much snow there was in New Jersey.
"It is now time for our new beginning, the rebirth of our family at such a special time of the year," David Goldman wrote in a letter read to reporters after his departure.
Sean had lived in Brazil since Goldman's ex-wife, Bruna Bianchi, took him to her native country for what was supposed to be a two-week vacation in 2004. She stayed, divorced Goldman, and remarried, and Goldman began legal efforts to get Sean back.
After Bianchi died last year in childbirth, her husband, Paulo Lins e Silva, a prominent divorce lawyer, continued the legal fight and won temporary custody.
"Today, the abduction has ended," said Rep. Chris Smith, a southern New Jersey Republican who was with Sean's father in Brazil to support him.
The boy's maternal grandmother, Silvana Bianchi, however, said: "My heart is empty and broken because our love is missing. To take the boy on Christmas Day is a heinous crime."
The last act in the drama played out partly in public view. Wearing a gold Brazil Olympic T-shirt, a tearful Sean was walked a block to the American Consulate, surrounded by his stepfather, other members of the family, and their attorney.
Once spotted by the more than 100 reporters and cameramen waiting for their arrival, the group had to drag, shove, and push its way about 50 yards to the consulate's front door.
"I was disappointed to see him marched through the streets like that," Smith said.
Orna Blum, the U.S. Embassy spokeswoman, said the Brazilian family was offered the same secure entrance to the consulate garage that Goldman used, which would have shielded the child from view, and that she had no idea why they decided to walk the boy a block through Rio's streets.
Smith, however, said the Brazilian family's attorney told him it was their way of protesting the handover.
Once inside, the mop-haired boy calmed down after a few minutes, Smith said. Father and son were soon eating hamburgers and talking, the congressman added.
"Once he was with his dad, they were smiling, with their arms around one another," Smith said. "They looked just like best buddies."
Smith would not say where they were headed, only that they wanted to "cocoon" somewhere other than New Jersey for a while.
Soon, they were on a plane home.
A charter flight on a passenger plane nonstop from Rio de Janeiro to Florida would cost about $90,000, on average, said Marc Hollander, a senior passenger sales executive with Air Charter Service, an international charter company based in Uniondale, N.Y.
Goldman fought a long battle against one of Rio's best-known legal families to regain custody of his son. On Tuesday, Brazil's chief justice finally cleared the way for Goldman to take his son home.