THE brisk knock to the door came at teatime as they were trying to get the children to bed.
Iancu Muntean (22) recalls he had simply no idea what might have brought the gardai to his small bungalow, at the rear of a sprawling housing estate, but tentatively offered them a cup of tea or coffee.
"It was 7pm. I didn't know what was the story," he said. "They tell me, 'I apologise Iancu, can you come to the gardai station?' I say, 'Yes, why not?'."
Mr Muntean and his girlfriend Loredaiva Sava (23), originally from Bucharest, Romania, began searching for the passport and birth certificate for their young blond child, Iancu Jnr (2).
They were unaware that a Roma family over 100km away were spending a second night away from their blonde-haired daughter after they too received a knock to the door.
In both cases it was to bring national and international media pounding the path to their homes.
The events had unfolded amid blanket coverage of Maria, who was taken from a Roma family in Greece who were found not to be her biological parents.
After spending two hours in the garda station in Athlone, Co Westmeath, father-of-two Mr Muntean said he was informed by gardai they would have to remove his son for one night.
"I said, 'What? Why?'," the father recalled, as he was asked had he not seen what had happened to a Roma family in Tallaght, Dublin, whose seven-year-old had been removed. He hadn't.
"I said, 'I don't care about that, this is my kid'. You can take my blood, everything," he insisted, as he, his partner and son underwent a DNA swab.
Reluctantly, he agreed to handing his son over to authorities for a night. And he placed him in the car himself and fastened the seatbelt, as he didn't want him to cry.
"I was shocked but it is the guards. I said to guards, 'You have power, I don't have power'. What can I do? I don't make trouble," he explained.
In broken English, interspersed with Romanian, his partner said their youngest son had been born in Portiuncula Hospital, Ballinasloe, in 2011, just two years after his big sister Regina (4).
They had felt nothing but pride at Iancu Jnr's fair hair and piercing blue eyes. Holding out a torn photograph, she sought help to explain her father Angel Bascu, now living in the UK, also had blond hair and so did her aunt.
The family told how the young boy's 'Irish' features had been a talking point when nurses from the Health Services Executive (HSE) called to their home.
"If he have blue eyes and blond hair, why is it my fault?" the father said.
After picking him up from the Health Centre at midday on Wednesday as the probe came to a close, the relieved father swiftly gave him a 'reward', a trip to McDonald's for ice cream.
Even as the HSE, the gardai and the Children's Ombudsman all launch in-depth reviews, it is the simpler questions that leave the parents naturally concerned and puzzled.
"Where was my son kept for the night?" Mr Muntean still wonders.
The mother of the seven-year-old girl, who cannot be identified, in Tallaght, told how she was never really told why the authorities first came knocking on her door.
In both cases it was tip-offs from members of the public who felt the fair-haired offspring contrasted with the rest of the Roma family members living in the house.
However, the families were found to be the genetic parents, with little Iancu returned after a single night and the girl after two nights.
Both Roma children were provided with foster care under Section 12 of the Child Care Act, 1991, after the garda inquiries. It allows a garda to act where there are "reasonable grounds for believing that there was an immediate and serious risk to the health or welfare of a child".
Geoffrey Shannon, the Government's child protection expert, said the power remained essential to a "robust" child protection system.
Mr Shannon said he had no doubt but that gardai had acted "bona fide". "If they failed to act, we may very well have had a different debate on the failure of state agencies to react," he added.
Legal battle looms in Maria case, Page 30