Veronica, Capobiancos embark on a journey home

By Valencia Wicker, Stacy Jacobson and Sam Tyson,,

(WCIV) - Somewhere between the wide open spaces of eastern Oklahoma and the humid and marshy South Carolina Lowcountry, an SUV meanders over highways and back roads. Inside is buckled a family reunited and on the final leg of a personal journey made public over the last four years.

The literal 1,100-mile journey is the culmination of two years of emotional journeys, both literal and figurative, that led Matt and Melanie Capobianco, Dusten and Robin Brown, members of the Cherokee Nation, and an adorable, curly-haired 4-year-old girl named Veronica - the focus of the travels - through courtrooms at every level in several states.

For the Capobiancos, that tireless struggle to take back custody of their adopted daughter came to fruition Monday night when Dusten Brown peacefully handed over his biological daughter to Cherokee officials who then took the girl to the James Island couple.

The journey of the Capobiancos and their Veronica began Monday evening around 7:30 p.m. with the tiny steps of the 4-year-old away from the place she's called home for nearly two years.

Now, flanked by a pair of Charleston County deputies and a State Law Enforcement Division agent, the family of three is rolling.

It's been a long and grueling wait, not just for the Capobiancos but for the community of people supporting them in this epic custody battle. But neighbors say they still have a lot for which to be thankful.

The news of Veronica's homecoming has taken center stage on Lotus Lane.

"I can't wait to see her again because I hadn't seen her in years," said Jeannie Wiggins, a neighbor.

The emotional roller coaster involved in an ongoing custody battle is personal for Wiggins.

"You've got to think about that child, what she's feeling, who she knows and what she's attracted to, who she loves and what her feelings are," she said.

Considering the best interests of the child was the focus in the Supreme Courts in both Oklahoma and South Carolina. After the South Carolina Supreme Court's initial ruling was vacated, court after court has sided with the Capobiancos.

"There may have been a little bit of shell shock because of course, while we expected the Supreme Court to rule very promptly to lift the stay once the mediation period had ended, nobody knew for sure how long it was going to take," said Lori Alvino McGill, one of the many attorneys involved in the custody dispute.

After last week's closed-door mediation sessions, the two sides still could not agree on a visitation agreement, but both sides say they are hoping for a smooth transition.

Charleston County officials said the Capobiancos are not expected to return Tuesday. A photo taken Tuesday afternoon shows the family together and smiling outside a truck stop.

However, the location of that truck stop is unknown.

With each passing hour, the Capobiancos and Veronica are putting more physical distance between them and Brown, the Cherokee Nation, and the last six weeks of their lives.

But attorneys for Brown say there are still court proceedings that could happen as early as Wednesday.

Both sides admit that the weeks of hearings did not yield a mediation agreement.

Saying goodbye to his biological daughter was not easy, according to Brown's lawyers, but they said it was his choice to give up the fight.

Cherokee Nation Attorney General Todd Hembree said the tough decision was made to make the transition peaceful as possible for Veronica.

"He tried not to cry in front of her. He held back tears as he packed up her bag. He had to quickly look for toys that were most comfortable for her," said Shannon Jones, Brown's attorney based in Charleston.

Jones says the final farewell came after weeks of mediation between the two sides that ultimately fell apart Friday when the Capobiancos rejected a deal that would have allowed Brown to see his daughter for 10 days every summer in Oklahoma.

"We believed there was still a chance for an agreement to get together Monday morning, and we were given every impression of that by the mediator, only to come in Monday and it was announced mediation was dissolved," she said.

The deal also allowed for a two-day visit every two months and the right to Skype and talk on the phone once a month.

"There's no agreement. The Capobiancos have won. They have Veronica. And if her father is ever going to be allowed in her life in any way it's going to be because they allow it. And I don't know if that'll ever happen. We hold out hope," Jones said.

While Veronica's return to James Island life will happen soon, Brown's days in court are not over. Jones said the Capobiancos are suing Veronica's biological father to recover attorney's fees.

McGill said she knew of no new legal action by the Capobiancos.

{}South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley responded Monday night, saying she was happy to know Veronica is returning to the Palmetto State. On Tuesday, Oklahoma's governor weighed in.

"The custody of Baby Veronica is now a matter for the courts to decide. The governor hopes the courts act quickly to provide closure to both families and to restore stability to Veronica's life," said Gov. Mary Fallin's spokesman, Alex Weintz.

But the decision to lift the stay coupled with the state's high court refusal to hear the case leave Brown with apparently no legal options. It is unclear what steps Brown and his attorneys see before them in the custody battle.