SANFORD, N.C. — A young Lee County boy is adjusting to his new life four years after his father took him to Alabama without his mother's permission.
Most 6-year-old boys do not get excited about their rooms, but it is the first time Nicolas DiPietro has ever had his own room or his own toys.
"I get to play with toys. I get to go outside. I get to ride my bike, and I get to go swimming," he said.
Police said Nicolas did not get to play outside in Alabama where he lived with his father, Gianni DiPietro, for fear someone might recognize him. Four years ago, Gianni DiPietro took the then-2-year-old boy from his Lee County home.
"For six or seven months, I couldn't function," Johnson said.
Dana Johnson, Nicolas' mother, who has full custody of the child, turned to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children for help. The agency circulated Nicolas' image on its Web site. Last week, acting on a tip, Alabama police reunited Johnson with her son.
"When I walked in he said, 'You're my real mommy. I knew you were coming,'" Johnson said.
Johnson said her biggest fear was that her son would not want to be with her.
"I was scared. That was the worst part -- that he would be scared of us or he didn't want to be here, but he told us the other night he wanted to stay here forever," Johnson said. "I was like, 'You sure can.'"
For Nicolas, the transition to his new life will have obstacles. Johnson said her son missed out on nutrition, medical care and education in the past four years. He also has a stepfather and two sisters to get to know, but emotionally, the homecoming has been better than anyone could have expected.
"I never stopped wondering about him, never stopped caring about him, never stopped loving him," Johnson said. "It's like he was never gone. I feel now my life is complete. I got my little boy back."
Last week, Johnson said she had her first full night of sleep in four years because her son, who had been missing for four years, was finally home. Now, she does not want to let him out of her sight.
Johnson said although Nicolas is six, he has never been to school, nor has he been to the doctor or the dentist. She does not expect Gianni to fight her for custody of Nicolas. Johnson said she will allow him to have limited phone contact with their son.