On the morning of July 8, Camille Colvin woke her sleepy 4-year-old, poured him his Froot Loops, and packed his little shoulder bag for preschool with his lunch and his Legos. It was a perfectly normal day except that Camille, who is usually unflappable, couldn't stop trembling. "Don't worry -- it'll be okay," said her husband, Bob. The couple, who both work for PricewaterhouseCoopers, had married just three months before, on a mountain in Sun Valley, Idaho; wedding gifts in big blue Tiffany boxes still sat in a pile in their Upper East Side living room. "I'm just so nervous," Camille whispered. "These visitations drive me crazy." "Babe, don't worry," Bob assured her, but he was really trying to convince himself. What if? What if this was the day Camille's ex-husband made good on his threats to take Griffin away from them forever?
With the three of them holding hands, they walked Griffin to preschool before heading to their midtown offices. They decided to wait till the end of the day to tell Griffin that he was going to see his "China Daddy" that night. Too many times, China Daddy hadn't shown, and Griffin would cry himself to sleep or wet the bed. His preschool principal would remember that last morning vividly. Griffin kept running back to Bob Colvin, whom he called Daddy, and jumping in his arms. "He had a separation problem; you could see that," says the principal. "He kept saying, 'Please don't leave. I will miss you today so much.' "
Griffin was always an extremely affectionate child, the kid who in the middle of class would walk up to his teacher, tug on her skirt, and say, "I love you." When it rained, he'd instruct the adults not to fret: "The sun has gone in for lunch," he would say, "and the clouds have come out to play." His teachers would later remark that he was such a funny, happy kid -- magical, really -- they had no clue of the trauma he'd been through, how he'd been spirited out of China, with the help of the U.S. Embassy, at the age of 21⁄2, when Camille left Guo Rui, her husband of nine years.
That day, the teacher took the kids to the park. Griffin couldn't stop giggling as he skipped through the sprinklers in his I LOVE NY T-shirt.
At 5:30 p.m., his mother picked him up. She said she would take him anywhere he wanted for dinner; he picked McDonald's. She also told him he was going to see his China Daddy. "China Daddy has the smoothest face in the world; Daddy's is scratchy," he replied. And Camille had to laugh.
At the same time that Griffin was eating his Happy Meal, Bob Colvin was meeting with a private investigator in a coffee shop several blocks away. The Colvins weren't taking any chances. Patrick Colgan, a retired FBI agent, had his orders: Under no circumstances was he to let Griffin out of his sight. If Guo Rui made one step in the wrong direction, Colgan was to rescue Griffin by "any means possible." Camille Colvin had been though family courts from Boise, Idaho (her hometown), to San Jose, California, to New York City, imploring various judges to listen to her: Guo Rui (who was known as Grey) had made numerous threats, she'd told the courts. She was convinced he would steal Griffin and take him back to China. Yeah, lady, right. Even Colgan would later say he didn't really think the guy was going to snatch the kid. He saw his role more as a security blanket for Camille; she needed a "comfort zone."
At 6:30 p.m., the designated meeting time, Camille and Bob sat on the floor in the children's section of Barnes & Noble at Second Avenue and 86th Street, reading books to Griffin. Colgan hovered between the shelves, "getting a sense of the kid." China Daddy was half an hour late, which struck Colgan as pretty odd "for a guy who hadn't seen his kid in four months." But when he finally showed up, bearing Chinese "white rabbit" candy, Griffin ran to his father. Camille pulled her ex-husband aside and in fluent Mandarin gave Grey his instructions: "No buses, no subways, no taxis." She insisted he stay in the blocks around the Barnes & Noble, as the two lawyers had agreed. "And just to remind you," she added, "this visit is being supervised." Grey gave her an icy glare, but she was used to that.
"Bye, Mommy. Bye, Daddy," said Griffin. And then Grey took the boy out into the streets. Colgan followed about a half-block behind -- watching the kid in the I LOVE NY.
T-shirt, green cargo shorts, and a shoulder bag full of Legos. Colgan watched as China Daddy took Griffin into the Häagen-Dazs store -- one of the preapproved sites -- and bought him an ice-cream cone. Grey spoke very little English, and Griffin had lost most of his Mandarin, though his mother had pushed him to use it. "Pleeese, Mommy, don't make me speak Chinese anymore," he'd say.
But Colgan could see that however they were communicating, "they seemed to be laughing and enjoying each other." Then Grey stopped at a phone booth and made a ten-minute call. This was strange, thought Colgan; why blow all this time on the phone if you're so eager to see your kid? Finally, Griffin, says Colgan, "put his arms around his leg, like 'C'mon, Dad, get off the phone.' " And Grey reached down to rub his child's head.
A few minutes later, at 7:40 p.m., Griffin and China Daddy headed south down Third Avenue and turned east on 82nd Street. What was unusual now was that Grey just stopped and stood there on the quiet street, holding Griffin in his arms. Colgan, concerned about being "made" if he turned the corner, kept walking down Third. "About twenty seconds later," he says, he turned around, "and they were gone."
"Hey, I'm on the job. Did you see the Chinese boy with the Chinese guy?" Colgan asked, rapping on the window of a Chevy Suburban with a two-way radio that was parked smack in front of the spot they disappeared from. As Colgan had already figured out ("I've been doing this 28 years"), the driver of the vehicle was yet another undercover guy, a U.S. marshal, who was doing an entirely different surveillance (guarding a judge). "Yeah, they were standing right there a couple seconds ago," said the marshal. "Yeah, where'd they go?" asked Colgan. Damned if he knew.
At 8:30, Bob and Camille returned to the children's section of Barnes & Noble to pick up Griffin. A few minutes later, Pat Colgan walked in by himself. "I lost them," he said.