A missing seven-year-old girl reunited with her British father — after nearly three years globetrotting and living in hiding for a time in Toronto and Montreal — is back to a life of video games, pop music and Halloween costume decisions.
The long search for Pearl Da Massa ended last week in Montreal, where she was living with her mother, her accused kidnapper.
The girl's father, Henry Da Massa, launched a frantic global search for Pearl in 2008, when she was allegedly taken from her home in Manchester, England. He had posted a $10,000 reward for her safe return.
Da Massa's estranged wife, Helen Gavaghan, is alleged to have fled with Pearl, taking her to Mexico and the U.S. before bringing her to Toronto's Parkdale neighbourhood. The pair lived in the community last year and then moved to Montreal.
In an interview Tuesday with the CBC's Lorenda Reddekopp, Gavaghan alleged that Da Massa had been abusive, and that was why she had fled with their daughter. She acknowledged that her allegations have not been proven in court.
"It was very difficult," she said. "There was no solid proof."
In a phone interview with BBC News, Da Massa said the father-daughter reunion was "surreal" and "an incredible moment," adding that the girl was readjusting well in her native country thanks to Montreal social workers.
Pearl was only four when she vanished. Da Massa said he was astounded by how much she'd changed, but delighted she remained "the same kid with the same spark and the same smile" from years before.
Speaks with 'yeehaw twang'
"She became a video-game-playing fan of the Scandinavian pop princess, Robyn, all of a sudden," he said.
"She speaks like a country kind of cowgirl now, and she has a real 'yeehaw' twang, and even the Canadian kids would remark on it."
Pina Arcamone, with the Missing Children's Network, credited a quick-thinking Montrealer on Tuesday for helping to reunite the pair.
Arcamone said a man riding the Metro in Montreal spotted a woman acting suspiciously with her daughter two weeks ago, and alerted officers, who later confronted the woman and determined she was wanted on an international arrest warrant for kidnapping.
Mother devastated, says neighbour
"Helen used a different name and different passport that we didn't know about," Da Massa said.
When Pearl and Gavaghan were spotted in Toronto in February 2010, Da Massa quit his job in England and relocated to Toronto to continue his search. But the mother and child disappeared again as Canadian investigators gave chase.
'Pearl had gone from understanding she had no family and no father, to actually being aware that she did have a wider family.' —Henry Da Massa, Pearl's father
"It then took a further year and a half for them to materialize in Montreal, where the Quebec authorities this time just over a week ago detained my ex, Helen, again under a different alias, and Pearl was removed from her care," Da Massa said.
Gavaghan is currently in Montreal awaiting extradition.
"I'm going to be extradited," she told CBC News. "I'm still getting advice, but now that my daughter's back in the U.K., I want to get back there as soon as I can and re-instigate some kind of contact with her."
The woman's former Toronto neighbour, Doug Hatlem, said he received a call from a detention centre on Monday from Gavaghan, and that very little of her side of the story has been told.
Hatlem said Gavaghan was devastated to lose Pearl.
"Helen was led to believe that she'd have a chance to fight this in court, and led to believe that she would get to see her daughter periodically," Hatlem said. "Instead, she was told that she was already on a plane."
Pearl worked for 10 days with social workers from Montreal's Batshaw youth centre and the Quebec branch of the Missing Children's Network to prepare for her reintroduction to her father and her new life.
"Pearl had gone from understanding she had no family and no father, to actually being aware that she did have a wider family. She could draw pictures of my bedroom in Manchester, where she used to sleep," Da Massa said.
After so much time apart and such an "unstructured, ragtag life" for his daughter, Da Massa said he's most looking forward to getting back to normal life together — going to the car wash, playing video games and heading to the park.
"She's lived a crazy life, the details of which haven't emerged, and probably, in full, they won't emerge," he said. "But she should be allowed to be a regular kid again. We've got things like school to discuss, and Halloween."