Today, May 25, is International Missing Children’s Day. So to remember and honour the children who are stolen for adoption, here’s a list of some amazing stories of adoptees who solved their own kidnapping cases and were reunited with their parents after being kidnapped as infants or young children.
Travis Tolliver – International adoption from Chili to the USA (Stolen at birth in 1973. Reunited in 2015)
Trevis Tolliver was stolen from his mother hours after his birth in Chile in 1973. The mother, Nelly Reyes, was told that her newborn son had died of a heart condition. She never saw her son’s body or received a death certificate. The newborn baby was adopted by a couple in Washington who had no knowledge of what had happened, while his mother was crying and desperately trying to find her son.
Travis and his adoptive parents believed he was abandoned. He tried to find his biological parents when he was in his 20s, but didn’t have the connection to make it happen. In 2014, he was motivated to find the truth for him and also for his two children after seeing several news stories about stolen children in Chile, including CNN’s Children of Silence. He was matched to his biological mother through DNA testing. Mother and son were reunited in 2014, after forty one years.
Read more at CNN.
Nicole Culverhouse / Irene Blanco – International adoption from Colombia to the USA (Kidnapped at age four, in 1975. Reunited in 2012).
In 1975, in Bogota, Colombia, 4 year-old Nicole Culverhouse was playing in the park with her brother Jose as her parents worked at a food cart nearby. Her brother ran to get a drink, but she stayed behind. While she was sitting alone, she was kidnapped by a woman dressed in black. She then was brought to an orphanage about an hour away where her hair was cut and her name was changed, within a month, she was adopted in a good-faith by a family in the United States.
After her adoption, she grew up comfortably. She always remembered her kidnapping and the loss of her entire family and national identity, but she didn’t know her real name.
She was happily married and had served in the U.S. Air Force, but her curiosity in her heritage and seeing her family again pushed her to begin searching. In 2011, she stumbled upon on a Facebook group called Adopted from Colombia where she met other adoptees who were in search of their biological families. Through that forum, she learned the 70th anniversary of Casa De Madre y el Niño, the orphanage that took her in. She and her friends of the group decided to return to Colombia for the anniversary. In 2012, Nicole contacted See Colombia Travel agency and asked for a listing of the parks in a one-hour radius of the orphanage. Touched by her story, Marcela, a See Colombia Travel’s blogger, made their mission to not only to find the park, but to help her to find her family.
Eventually after months of searching, Nicole was finally reunited with her mother, father, brothers and the rest of her family.
More at: See Colombia Travel (link1, link 2), NBC Latino, and Huff Post Latino Voices.
Marisa Bocanegra – International adoption from Colombia to the USA (Kidnapped at six weeks old in 1977. Reunited in 2014.)
In 1977, Marisa Bocanegra was adopted at six weeks old from Colombia and grew up in Burnsville, Minnesota. Her adoptive family provided for her, but she never felt like she felt in. This led her to move out at 16.
Marisa knew next to nothing about her background, but she did know that she was from Columbia. In 2010, using the few Columbian documents she had, she officially took her birth surname, Bocanegra and turned to social media. She found a Facebook group dedicated to adoptions from Colombia. For the first time in her life, she related exactly to others. In 2012, she posted a note about her search. Two years later, in 2014, a private investigator read her entry and was able to connect her to her biological family.
It turns out that she had been kidnapped and that her family had been looking for her ever since. Her mother, Ana Elsy Bocanegra Teuta, was offered an adoption form, which was common at the time for unwed mothers and she refused to sign it. But then a hospital worker returned with a blank sheet of paper and told her to sign while she was drowsy under pain medication. Teuta wrote a squiggly line, not knowing it would be used to sign her daughter away. After being allowed to visit her daughter once a week for six weeks at a foster home, where Teuta was told the child could best be cared for, Teuta came one Sunday only to find her daughter was gone. Only then did she learn that her signature had been used on manipulated adoption documents.
More at Forest Lakes Times.
Steve Carter / Marx Panama Moriarty Barnes – Domestic adoption USA (Reported missing when he was 6 months old, in 1977. Reunited in 2012).
At 35 years old, Steve Carter became interested in learning more about his biological background. He knew he was adopted at age four from an orphanage in Honolulu, but his birth certificate was created almost a year after his birth and on it, he, who has blond hair and blue eyes, was labeled as half-native Hawaiian.
In 2011, after reading about Carlina White, (an Atlanta woman who discovered she was kidnapped as a baby from a Harlem hospital after finding her own baby picture on the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s website, missingkids.com, and was reunited with her family), he clicked on the website and he found an age-progression image made from a photograph of five month-old Marx Panama Moriarty Barnes who had been reported as kidnapped in Honolulu in 1977. The picture looked just like him as an adult. So he called the Honolulu police and the department. DNA test concluded that Steve was indeed the missing Moriarty Barnes baby.
His biological father, Mark Barnes, reported him missing after his mother, Charlotte Moriarty, took him for a walk and didn’t return. Three weeks later, Mark reported the pair missing. A short time later, Charlotte was found, but there was no trace of the baby. Charlotte was placed in a psychiatric hospital and then vanished after escaping, never to be seen again. He believes that before his mother was found and hospitalized, she put him in the orphanage under a different name, birthday, and she lied about the race of his father. After discovering his true identity, Steve/Marx got in contact with both family members.
Sunny Jo – International adoption from South Korea to Norway (Kidnapped in 1977. Reunited in 2000).
Sunny Jo was adopted from South Korea to Norway in 1977, at the age of 18 months. She was reunited with her biological family with the help of GOAL., Global Overseas Adoptees’ Link, in 2000. She learned that she and her older brother had been kidnapped. At the time of reunion, her older brother (adopted to the USA) was yet to be found.
Sunny Jo’s journey is recounted in her memoir From Morning Calm to Midnight Sun.
Céline Giraud – International adoption from Peru to France (Stolen at birth in 1980. Reunited in 2004).
Céline Giraud was adopted from Peru by French parents at the age of 16 days old in 1980. She had a happy childhood in a modest and caring adoptive family. Her parents left her adoption record within easy reach and they gave it to her when she left home at the age of 18. They tried to inculcate Peruvian culture in her, but she showed no interest in her origins until she became a mother at 20 years old. In February 2004, she decides to track down her biological parents. Her adoption file contains the name of her mother and her village. Her then Peruvian boyfriend’s father was police officer in Peru. It took him only a few weeks to find her mother and she learned the shocking truth: she was not abandoned, she was stolen from her parents by child traffickers and then sold on the international market of adoption. In April 2004, she went to Peru to meet her family who has never forgotten her.
Once the shock wore off, Céline tracks back and found 25 babies were stolen like her and adopted to France, Switzerland and Holland in the early 80s. In 1980, Cristian, the biological mother of Céline pregnant with Céline. One day she heard on the radio an advertisement of a charity helping expectant mothers in distress. Delivery costs, food during pregnancy and clothes for the future baby would be provided. Being very religious, Cristina considered this as a miracle. At childbirth, they offered to put her baby in a nursery for free so she could continue working and they made her sign a blank paper for registration. She trusted them so much that she called them her guardian angels and she named her baby Doris after Dora, the couple’s daughter who saved her. Three days after the birth, she and her baby were separated. She didn’t see her baby again. Each time she wanted to see Doris she was told it was impossible: the baby was sick, children were quarantined, slum people were carriers of germs… After several unsuccessful attempts to see her newborn, Cristina went to the office of the organization, but she found a closed door. Her “guardian angels” had moved. She filed a complain for child kidnapping, without result. In 1984, thanks to a local journalist in Peru, the scandal was exposed and a lawsuit followed. The aggrieved mothers learned that their children had been adopted abroad – without obtaining the right to get them back. The traffickers who sold Céline were sentenced to 27 years of imprisonment. They had stolen and sold 24 other babies like Céline. But they were released on appeal after two years behind bars. The scandal was huge but it did not cross the Atlantic and stayed inside Peru.
Cai Ruri – Domestic adoption China (Kidnapped in 1984. Reunited in 2014).
In 1984, Cai Ruru was only four years old when she was stolen from her grandmother’s home in the city of Ruian in Zhejian province, east China. Despite searching the area, Cai Ruri’s parents could find no trace of her. Although the grandmother died broken-hearted in 2010, her parents never gave up hope of finding their daughter and were some of the first people to register at a new country-wide DNA database in 2009.
Cai Ruri was sold to a new family in Putian, Fujian, who had wanted a daughter to complement the two boys in the family and gave her the surname Weng. Her adoptive parents believed they were adopting an abandoned child and paid out money thinking it would go towards speeding up the paperwork. At eight, Weng was told that she was adopted, but it was only when she was 29, in 2014, she decided to search for her real parents and she, too, gave a sample to the database.
A positive match was made in the national DNA database for missing and abducted children and it was confirmed she was the missing daughter of parents Li Mianquan and Cai Juanjuan, born in April, 1984, and their only child.
Tinan Leroy – International adoption from Haiti to France (Kidnapped in 1984. Reunited in 2002)
In 1984, Tina Leroy was four and a half years old when he landed on the French soil with other Haitian children adopted by French families. Before leaving for France, he was in a nursery, a place where parents could place their children for some time before taking them back. In 2001, he was looking to track down his biological family since long. He had his original name and his birth place to do that. A friend, in France, was communicating through internet with a Haitian. She put them in contact together. By coincidence, the Haitian had heard about him. He was friend of his cousin who had told him about his story, the story of the little Manassé, his Haitian given name, who disappeared from the nursery he was in. He returned to Haiti for the first time in 2002. He learned the exact circumstances of his adoption: he had been kidnapped with forty children from an institution called a « nursery », where poor families can leave their children, for the time to get out of a distress situation, and take them back. He met with 40 other mothers, victims of the same kidnapping who had gathered to demand accountability from the Haitian government. They begged him to help them to find their children.
Mariette Williams – International adoption from Haiti to Canada (Kidnapped in 1986. Reunited in 2015)
Marietta Williams was adopted at the age of three, in 1986, by a Canadian couple. She was told that her parents had placed her in an orphanage because they were too poor to take care of her. Her adoption papers listed her name, place of birth, and her parents’ occupations as farmers. She tried years earlier to find her them, but the orphanage listed in her adoption papers no longer existed. Her family name, “Etienne,” is common in Haiti. And she knew of a town, Pestel, but had no online records to search. One day, she stumbled upon a Facebook page for Pestel. With the help of a translator, she posted a message online in Haitian Creole. Two weeks later, she got the contact number of someone who knew her parents. Through a friend who spoke Haitian Creole, she found out that she had four sisters and two brothers in Haiti. Her mother was alive, but her father, Berlisse, had passed away about a year earlier. And almost everything in her adoption papers was a lie. Her birthday was changed to make her younger, and a backstory was invented to make her seem more adoptable. Her parents signed no papers and were not aware of her adoption. She was adopted out of Haiti without her parents’ knowledge. She was stolen from her family twenty-nine years ago.
Saroo – International adoption from India to Australia (Lost in 1986: Reunited in 2012)
In 1986, Saroo was five years old when he got lost. He was traveling with his older brother, working as a sweeper on India’s train, and ended up falling asleep. When he woke up 14 hours later, he had arrived in Calcutta, India’s third biggest city and notorious for its slum. The little boy learned to fend for himself. He became a beggar and ultimately he was then in by an orphanage which put him up for adoption. He was adopted by a couple from Tasmania, Australia. Saroo settled down well in his new home. But as he got older the desire to find his birth family became increasingly strong. The problem was that as an illiterate five-year-old he had not known the name of the town he had come from. All he had to go on were his vivid memories. So he began using Google Earth to search for where he might have been born. In 2011, he found his home town on Google Earth. In early 2012, after 25 years of separation, he finally reunited with his mother in Khadwa.Unfortunately, the news was not good about his brother. A month after he had disappeared his brother was found in two pieces on a railway track. His mother had never known whether foul play was involved or whether the boy had simply slipped and fallen under a train.
Luo Gang – Domestic adoption China (Kidnapped at the age of five in 1990. Reunited in 2013.)
Luo Gang was born in a small town in the Chinese province of Sichuan. In 1990, at the age of five, he was kidnapped on his way to kindergarten by a man and a woman and taken to a far away city. He was given a new name and introduced to a new sister and new parents. At first he had assumed living with this new family would be temporary. But when he realised there would be no reunion with his parents, Luo made the decision to start rehearsing his fading memories, so he wouldn’t forget. Luo’s new parents never explained why he had been taken before they died two years after his arrival. Nor did the “grandparents” who raised him after that. Although Luo’s adoptive parents loved him and treated him like their own son, the desire to find his biological parents had always haunted him.
Back in Sichuan, Luo’s family grew frantic. The local police made no progress with the case and his parents searched him, handing out leaflets in neighbouring towns and placing newspaper adverts. But as the years passed and their savings dwindled, the distraught couple gave up all hope and adopted a girl.
Luo registered with a government website that had been set up to reunite abducted children and their families. In October 2012, when he was 27, he turned to a website called Baby Come Home, a volunteer-run forum where parents and abducted children share details of their cases. Luo posted details of everything he could remember – those memories that he had spent years rehearsing each night. The site’s volunteers quickly began to consider the clues. Next, Luo posted a rough map of his village that he drew from memory. The bridges. The walk to school through the rice fields. He thought that the newly built tar road could have been a motorway.
Over the following months, Luo’s case was discussed on the forum and volunteers posted names of towns for him to consider and slowly the search was being narrowed. Soon after he was contacted by a user who told him about a couple from a small town in Guangan city, Sichuan province, who had lost a son at the exact time he was abducted.
The area looked familiar when Luo looked for pictures online, and his suspicions were confirmed when he searched it on Google Maps. After zooming in on satellite images of an area called Yaojiaba, an overcome Luo spotted the two bridges he remembered.
Luo was finally reunited with his family, 23 years after he was taken from them. After an emotional reunion, his mother said, “In the past years, I couldn’t help crying each time I thought about my son.”
Sun Bin – Domestic adoption China (Kidnapped in 1991. Reunited in 2015)
In 1991, 4-year-old Sun Bin was taken by child traffickers from his hometown in Sichuan province and sold to a family who was desperate for a son, in Jiangsu province on the country’s eastern coast. After his disappearance at vegetable market near his home, his parents stopped working to search for him and posted search notices around the area and Sun Bin’s mother traveled to other cities in Sichuan and neighbouring provinces. They always told their daughter, who was born three years after Sun Bin went missing, that she had an older brother.
Sun Bin always thought he was adopted, but he didn’t know where his original home was. He had never asked his adoptive parents how he ended up with them. As he grew older, his wish to find his own family had become stronger and stronger. Sun Bin registered his DNA sample with a national database in October 2014. In 2015, at age 28, Sun bin was reunited with his father. But it was too late for him to see his mother again. She died from cancer in 2012.
Anisha Mörel – International adoption from India to Germany (Stolen at birth in 1992. Reunited in 2010)
Anisha was born in 1992 and was taken by the ‘Tender Loving Care Home’, because her mother Fatima could not pay the hospital bill. Sister Theresa then had her adopted by a German couple. Fathima did not see her child for the next 28 years. ACT, Against Child Trafficking, helped Anisha to retrace her mother.
He Qingtang – Domestic adoption China (Kidnapped at age four, in 1997. Reunited in 2015)
In 1997, He Qingtang aged four was kidnapped outside his home. He was bundled into the back of a car and travelled by train more than 1,000 miles in two days until he was handed over to a new family in Fujian and given the name Zheng. His new family treated him like their own son but he always wanted to return home and he never gave up of seeing his parents again. After getting a job and becoming financially independent, he began the search for his natural family. Zheng approached police and told them that he remembered having been kidnapped as a child. The deputy head of Shenzhen CID said he ordered that a sample of Zheng’s blood be compared with the missing children’s DNA database. It matched with a missing child case from August 1997 when the child’s parents reported their son missing and Zheng, whose real name is He Qingtang, was reunited his family. His relatives told reporters that when he was abducted his father suffered a mental breakdown. He went missing for 10 days after the abduction and when he returned home he neither ate or drank for days on end. In the past 18 years they have been to almost every corner of China looking for their son. When asked what does Zheng plan to do he said that on one hand he had a loving adopted family in Fujian who had raised him for the past 18 years and on the other hand he had his biological family.
Read more at Daily Mail.
There are more cases of reunion stories of missing children in the news…