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Reunited dad, son head to Disney World

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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Father and son arrive in Orlando at 6 pm ET from Brazil
  • NEW: Lawmaker reads dad's letter offering "sincere and humblest gratitude"
  • David Goldman and son en route to U.S. for first time in five years
  • Goldman was battling the family of the boy's deceased mother for custody

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (CNN) -- A father and son reunited after an international custody battle planned to spend their first holiday season together in five years at Disney World in Florida, a family friend said.

David Goldman and his 9-year-old son, Sean, arrived at Orlando International Airport just after 6 p.m. Thursday after meeting earlier at the U.S. Consulate in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Sean Goldman had been living in Brazil since 2004 when his mother, Bruna Bianchi, took him to Rio de Janeiro for what was to have been a two-week vacation. She never returned, instead remarrying there and retaining custody of Sean. She died last year in childbirth.

The Goldmans will spend their first holiday season together in five years at Disney World, a family friend told CNN.

Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, who flew to Rio to support constituent Goldman, called the father-son reunion "extraordinary" in a conference call with reporters.

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The lawmaker said "there were lots of smiles, hugs" when the two were reunited. "They talked about basketball, the snowfall in New Jersey just recently and how much fun it is to play in the snow."

The Christmas Eve reunion follows a five-year battle that involved U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and numerous Brazilian courtrooms.

The chief justice of the Brazilian Supreme Court ruled Tuesday in favor of Goldman, who had been battling the family of the boy's deceased mother for custody. The ruling by Chief Justice Gilmar Mendes paved the way for the reunion when the family said they would not file any new appeals in an attempt to keep the boy with them.

Goldman argued he should be granted custody as the sole surviving parent.

The Bianchi family maintained it would traumatize Sean to remove him from what has been his home for five years.

Smith criticized the decision of Sean's stepfather and other members of his Brazilian family Thursday to "walk [Sean] through a group of reporters and people outside the U.S. Consulate in Rio," Smith said.

The boy's maternal grandmother, Silvana Bianchi, had declined a consulate offer of a police escort Thursday morning from the family's Rio home, saying it would harm the boy psychologically, according to the Brazilian broadcast network TV Record.

The boy, appearing worried and frightened, arrived at the consulate wearing a yellow and green Brazil soccer jersey, and clutched his stepfather as he walked past a throng of reporters.

TV Record reported that Sean's grandmother provided David Goldman with a list of the boy's allergies and medications.

In a statement read to reporters by Smith, David Goldman offered his "sincere and humblest gratitude" for the help he received in getting his son. "Please know that my love and the rest of Sean's family's love for him knows no boundaries."

Goldman later let his son speak on the phone with his paternal grandparents, Smith said.

The custody battle garnered much media attention and spilled over into the political arena as well.

U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-New Jersey, had placed a hold on a trade bill that would have benefited Brazil to the tune of $2.75 billion, but he lifted it after the court's ruling, spokesman Caley Gray said.

Clinton also has issued statements calling for an amicable conclusion to the case.

"I am thrilled that 9-year-old Sean Goldman was reunited with his father David Goldman earlier today in Rio de Janeiro and that they are flying home to New Jersey," Clinton said Thursday in a statement.

"I want to thank everyone who helped bring this long process to a successful conclusion, including a number of members of Congress and many concerned parties both here and in Brazil.

"We also appreciate the assistance and cooperation of the government of Brazil in upholding its obligations under the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction. I offer my warmest wishes for father and son as they celebrate their first holiday season together in five years."

Sean led a privileged life in Rio de Janeiro, TV Record said. He lived in the wealthy neighborhood of Jardim Botanico and attended Escola Parque, one of the most prestigious schools in the city.

CNN's Adam Reiss and Luciani Gomes contributed to this report.

 
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