“It's about three little boys, who were daddy's boys, who loved me as much as any children can love a parent,” John Smith said.
Smith, a Carlsbad resident, last heard his sons call him "dad" 11 years ago.
Keoni was 3 years old. The twins, Lance and Mason, were 2 years old.
In November 2004, Smith and the boys' mother, Francina Fernandez, were in the middle of a heated custody battle, both fighting for more one-on-one time with their boys.
Smith said there were signs Fernandez wanted to leave the country. He shared this with a judge, who ordered Fernandez to surrender the boys' passports within 24 hours.
That same day, Smith said, she flew to the Philippines with his sons.
“It just seemed like such a daunting task of looking at the globe, looking at the atlas, how are we going to find my sons?” he asked. “You're looking at 6,000 islands. I've traveled to the Philippines five times. I've spent 477 days in the country. I've had meetings with the U.S. Embassy many, too many times to count.”
The FBI issued an international arrest warrant for Fernandez.
“At this time she is facing federal charges,” FBI Special Agent Darrell Foxworth said. “If she was brought back here or she was found in a country which would extradite her back here, she could be subjected to criminal prosecution here in the United States.”
Foxworth said the FBI knows where in the Philippines the boys are, but there isn't anything they can do. He said Fernandez can't be forced back to the U.S. because kidnapping your own child is not considered a crime in the Philippines.
“We don't have investigative authority to go over there to that country and assert U.S. law in those situations and demand the Philippines return those children to the United States,” he said.
According to the FBI, any American that willingly helped Fernandez flee the U.S. could face charges.
Smith said Fernandez’s parents have traveled to the Philippines, presumably to visit their fugitive daughter. According to the FBI, there is not enough evidence to charge them for a crime.
NBC 7 Investigates has called and emailed her parents multiple times, but could not reach them.
Smith, who never married or had other kids, said he hopes he'll see his three sons again.
“I wish I could tell them, ‘I love you guys so much,’” he told NBC 7 Investigates.
There are hundreds of kids and adults missing from San Diego County right now. Some have been abducted; some are runaways.
"Searching for San Diegans," an NBC 7 Investigates project, profiles people reported missing in the County with the hope it can help bring loved ones home.
You can search our database of the missing people here.