SANFORD, N.C. — When a child is missing, the more time that passes, the less likely the child will be found.
A case involving a local boy has proven an exception to the rule.
Exactly four years after he disappeared from his mother's home in Sanford, Nicolas DiPietro has been located alive and well in Alabama.
Nicolas DiPietro was just 2 years old when, according to investigators, his father took him without his mother's permission from their home on Colon Road in Lee County.
Four years later, a composite from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children showed what he should look like today. Soon, his mother will find out.
Nicolas' mother, Dana Johnson, got a call from the Lee County Sheriff's Office on Thursday that her son has been found safe and sound in Alabama. Lee County Chief Deputy Kevin Bryant said Johnson was on her way to Alabama Thursday night to pick up her child.
Bryant said Johnson has sole custody of Nicolas and has not seen him since July 2000.
"Anytime you can pick up a phone and tell a parent that a missing child has been found, being a parent myself of a 14-year-old, I can only imagine the excitement that would go through my mind and body that my child had been located," Bryant said.
Investigators are elated the case has a happy ending.
Police in Mobile, Ala., said they got a tip from a neighbor that something was not right at the home where Nicolas was living with his father.
Lee County investigators and the district attorney are trying to determine whether or not the father will be charged.
The couple reportedly was not separated when Gianni DiPietro took the child, so he was not violating a custody order. Johnson reportedly got custody two months after Nicolas was taken.
"It's unusual, but not impossible," Bryant said. "At this time, we're thankful for being able to locate the child and getting the mother and child reunited."
Gianni DiPietro says he fled with his child because his wife neglected Nicolas. He said he misses his son already.
"Not being able to embrace him and give him the love he needs right now," he said. "He's scared, and he wants his daddy, and I want my baby."