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April 22, 2000: Elian Gonzalez raid transfixes the nation

On April 22, 2000, the nation watched as U.S. Border Patrol agents entered the home of Elian Gonzalez's Miami relatives and removed him from their care
On this day: Elian Gonzalez reunited with his father 02:00

The raid started at 5:15 a.m. on a small Miami street on the morning of April 22, 2000. By 5:18 a.m., it was over.

Elian Gonzalez was removed from the home of relatives to be reunited with his father, and a chapter of the family's bitter custody battle was closed.

Elian Gonzalez is held in a closet by Donato Dalrymple, one of the two men who rescued the boy from the ocean, right, as government officials search the home of Lazaro Gonzalez for the young boy, in the early morning, in this April 22, 2000 file photo, in Miami. AP Photo/Alan Diaz

"In three minutes," reported then-CBS News correspondent Byron Pitts, "six-year-old Elian Gonzalez -- dressed in a t-shirt, draped in fear -- was gone."

Elian had been rescued by two fishermen on Thanksgiving Day in 1999, floating alone off the coast of Florida. His mother had drowned during their attempted escape from Cuba.

He was placed with relatives in Miami, but his father -- with the backing of former Cuban President Fidel Castro -- began an campaign to have the boy sent home to Cuba.

Elian Gonzalez is taken from his relatives' home in Miami by a government worker CBS News

The custody fight came to a dramatic head on that April morning, with Elian being whisked away in the arms of a Spanish-speaking federal agent assigned to the case to provide the child comfort.

"They came into our house, took the boy, threw us down like dogs," one relative told CBS News outside the home after the raid had ended.

Dubbed "Operation Reunion," the entire mission was carried out with military precision as demonstrators protested in the streets.

A protester throws a stool at the car driving Elian Gonzalez away on April 22, 2000 CBS News

"Three minutes of calculated chaos by heavily armed agents from U.S. Immigration, who sprayed anyone in their path with pepper spray," Pitts said. "It was force met by anger."

By the end of the day, Elian was back with his father under military guard at a U.S. Air Force base near Washington. His relatives also flew to Washington to fight for him to stay Miami, but when it was all said and done Elian returned to Cuba with his dad in June of 2000.

Elian 12:51

Now 22 years old, he has lived a relatively quiet life and has rarely spoken to the press. In 2005, CBS News' Bob Simon interviewed him for "60 Minutes." Elian told Simon what he remembered about the raid.

"When they said I was going to see my father, at that moment, then I felt joy that I could get out of that house."

Last year, 15 years after the chaotic raid, he spoke to ABC News about his life as an adult. He revealed that he was engaged, studying to become an engineer, and would like to one day visit the U.S. to go to a baseball game and see the monuments in Washington, D.C.

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