The Heart-Wrenching Reunion of a Stolen Family

Last Updated: June 19, 2024By

The Heart-Wrenching Reunion of a Stolen Family

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Sara’s Agonizing Wait

Sara Melgarejo, a 65-year-old from the working-class suburb of San Bernardo, was pacing anxiously at Santiago airport. She had traveled 30km north to the Chilean capital for a reunion that she had only dreamed of for 40 years. Her heart was pounding, her hands were shaking, and she was holding her breath, waiting for the arrival of the two children she believed had died long ago. “I felt like my heart was going to burst out of my chest,” she shared, “but I was overwhelmed with joy.”

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A Surreal Reunion

Sean Ours, 40, and Emily Reid, 39, stepped off a flight from the US, walking into the arrivals area together. Even though they had never met Sara in person, there was no denying their biological connection—they shared the same eyes and the same infectious smile.

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“When I saw her standing there in pink, I just started crying. I ran to her and gave her the biggest hug because, for the first time, we could actually tell her we loved her,” Emily said.

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Sean added, “Holding her, and all of us holding each other, was surreal. It was a moment we had waited a lifetime for.”

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A Dark History of Illegal Adoptions

Their story is one of thousands involving Chilean families torn apart by illegal adoptions. Parents were often told that their babies had died, only to later find out that they had been stolen and sold. This cruel practice was facilitated by a network of social workers, religious officials, and health professionals. Many American and European families paid thousands of dollars for babies they thought had been given up willingly.

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The Reunification Efforts

Early one hot morning in Santiago, four families torn apart by these illegal adoptions were meeting for the first time, thanks to Connecting Roots, an NGO dedicated to mending the damage done by decades of forced and illegal adoptions. Daughters, sons, siblings, and parents anxiously waited to see each other, and then traveled to their Chilean hometowns to reconnect with extended family and share stories.

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A Government’s Slow Response

Chile’s judiciary began investigating forced adoptions in 2017, but no convictions have been made. By April 2023, 645 cases of forced adoption from 1965 to 1988 were being processed, while 209 had concluded. Despite numerous accounts from mothers and children, the investigation has yet to hold anyone accountable. Campaigners, frustrated by the government’s slow response, are pressing for closure. Tyler Graf, who founded Connecting Roots after discovering he had been stolen at birth, stated, “We’re running out of time to get closure for everybody.”

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The Emotional Rollercoaster

Emily reflected, “I’m so angry and frustrated about how many people were deceived, and how our mother was treated. But now I can finally say, ‘I have my mother’s eyes and hair.’”

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Sara’s reaction to reconnecting with her children was equally profound. “Losing a child and then getting them back is indescribable. The most important thing now is that I have them close. My babies came back to me.”

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A New Chapter for María and Her Family

María Hastings, 37, found her biological family in December 2022. Growing up in Tampa, Florida, she knew she had been adopted from Chile. Her curiosity about her origins was piqued after reading about illegal adoptions from Chile. She reached out to Connecting Roots and soon discovered her real story.

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Her mother, from the Indigenous Mapuche community, had been forced to give María up. When María and her mother embraced for the first time, “it was like a weight was lifted,” María said. Her mother whispered, “I’ve been waiting for this for so long. I love you.”

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Rebuilding Connections

María’s sister, Romina, described the reunion as a dream. The family has started the long process of healing and learning about each other. They don’t yet speak the same language but believe their familial connection transcends any barriers.

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Peter’s Search for Belonging

Peter Smiloff, 42, had always known he was adopted, but discovering the truth about his illegal adoption was a shock. Raised in New York, he felt a void in his life that was filled when he met his biological mother and brother in Chile. “Meeting my mother felt like finding a missing piece of myself,” Peter said.

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His brother Jorge recalled a childhood memory of seeing their baby brother at the hospital. “Finding out he was alive was a complete shock,” Jorge said. The family is now focused on making new, happy memories together.

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Ben’s Unexpected Discovery

Ben Fruchter, 35, learned about his biological family last year. His Chilean mother, María Margarita Vera, had always believed he was lost. His seven siblings never gave up hope of finding him. When Ben met his family for the first time, he felt a profound sense of peace. “Even though I hadn’t been with them for the last 30 years, I definitely felt that family bond,” he said.

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Moving Forward Together

These families, torn apart by a dark chapter in Chilean history, are now working to rebuild their lives and make up for lost time. Their stories are a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the unbreakable bonds of family.

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These reunions are filled with joy, pain, and hope. The emotional rollercoaster continues as they navigate their new relationships, but one thing is clear: they are determined to move forward together, creating new memories and healing old wounds.

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