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10 Abducted Children Who Found Their Way Home Decades Later

by Julie Henthorn
fact checked by Darci Heikkinen

It is difficult to give accurate statistics regarding the number of children that go missing every year, given that this type of data is not available in many countries. However, an estimated 460,000 children are reported missing every year in the United States alone, and 112,853 children in the United Kingdom.

The term “missing” can encompass a variety of scenarios, from children that have run away to a child that has gone missing under a set of unknown circumstances to children that either family members or strangers have kidnapped.

Regardless of the circumstance behind a child’s disappearance, each passing day, month, and year leaves the family with more questions than answers, especially when there are no solid leads or clues about the child’s whereabouts. Sadly, some cases are never solved.

However, for the families on this list, just when all hope seemed lost, they received a true miracle—a notification that their child had been found 20, 30, or even 50 years after their disappearance.

Here are the stories of ten abducted children who were miraculously reunited with their families decades later.

Related: 10 Vigilante Parents Who Sought Justice For Their Children

10 Mao Yin

Mother in China reunites with missing son after 32-year search

Mao Yin was born on February 23, 1986, in China and was described as a “very clever, cute, and healthy” baby. However, on October 17, 1988, when Yin’s father was bringing him home from nursery school, the toddler asked for water, so the two stopped near the entrance of a hotel in Xian. Unfortunately, as Yin’s father attempted to cool down some water for the boy to drink, Yin was taken.

Yin’s mother worked tirelessly to find her son by handing out approximately 100,000 flyers, quitting her job, appearing on local TV networks, and even volunteering for a group called “Baby Come Back Home,” which helped parents locate their missing children. While Yin’s mother helped 29 other children find their way back home to their families, her own son was still missing.

Then, on May 10, 2020, Mother’s Day in China, and over 30 years after the disappearance of their son, Yin’s parents received the news they had desperately been waiting for. Yin had been located.

Thanks to an incoming tip regarding a man who had purchased a child from Xian in the late 1980s, police were able to use a photo of Yin as a young boy and create an adult image of what he might look like. The image was then run through a government database which located a man with a similar resemblance. From there, a DNA test was done, confirming the man was indeed Mao Yin.

Yin had been sold to a childless couple for $845 (6,000 yuan) and raised under the name Gu Ningning, never aware that his parents had spent the last three decades searching for him. They were reunited on May 18, 2020.[1]

9 Melissa Highsmith

Texas Woman Reunites With Family 51 Years After Kidnapping

Alta Apentenco had put an ad in the local Fort Worth, Texas, newspaper in 1971 searching for a babysitter for her daughter, Melissa Highsmith. Unfortunately, while Apentenco was at work, her roommate allowed Highsmith to go with a woman who answered the ad. This was the last time the 21-month-old girl was seen.

Numerous tips came in over the years, although none of them panned out. Highsmith’s family never gave up hope of finding their daughter. Then, in one final attempt to locate their missing daughter, on November 22, 2022, Highsmith’s father submitted his DNA to the 23andMe website, which matched him to the three children of a couple named John and Melanie Brown.

“Melanie” turned out to be Melissa, who was still living in Fort Worth, Texas, just a few miles from where she was abducted. Highsmith was reunited with her family on November 24, 2022, Thanksgiving Day, after 51 long years.[2]

8 Holly Clouse

Mother-of-5 learns she has been missing for over 40 years | GMA

In 1980, married couple 21-year-old Harold “Dean” Clouse Jr. and 17-year-old Tina Gail Linn Clouse, along with their baby Holly left their home in Volusia County, Florida, for Dean to pursue a carpentry position in Texas. The couple wrote letters to their families back home, but the last time anyone received correspondence from the couple was in October of 1980. However, a few months later, Dean’s family received a phone call from someone claiming to have information about the couple.

The caller, who identified herself as “Sister Susan,” stated she was in possession of the couple’s car, which they were willing to return in exchange for $1,000. Dean’s family agreed to meet the caller at a racetrack in Daytona, Florida. It was during this encounter that “Sister Susan,” along with a group of other women, stated Dean and Tina had joined their religious group and wanted no further contact with their families and were giving up their possessions.

Naturally suspicious, Dean’s family contacted authorities, who reportedly took the group of women into custody, although no formal police report was ever recorded.

Then, on January 12, 1981, Dean and Tina’s bodies were found in a wooded area near Houston, Texas. However, at the time, the bodies could not be identified, only known as the “Harris County Does.” It was not until October 2021 that genetic genealogy would provide a break in the case and allow the Clouses to finally be identified.

While their families were glad to finally have answers, the question remained—what happened to Dean and Tina’s daughter Holly? Therefore, in an attempt to find answers, the Hope for Holly Project was launched, and thanks to DNA tests, screening, and the use of genealogy, Holly was located eight months later in Oklahoma. She was finally able to connect with her family 42 years after her disappearance, on what would have been her father’s 63rd birthday.

Investigators in the case have learned that Holly was dropped off at a church in Arizona in November of 1980 by two women belonging to a nomadic religious group. The investigation into Dean and Tina’s deaths is still ongoing.[3]

7 Li Jingwei

Map helps Chinese man reunite with his family

When Li Jingwei was only four years old, he was kidnapped from his village in Zhaotong, China, by a neighbor and sold into a child trafficking ring in 1989. Jingwei was then taken to live with another family in the Henan province, over 1,118 miles (1,800 kilometers) away.

While Jingwei was very much aware of his abduction growing up, given that he had been taken so far and had no recollection of his own name, his parents’ name, or the name of his village, returning home seemed impossible.

On the other hand, Jingwei could remember the most vivid details of his village, such as where trees and bamboo shoots grew, the twists and turns of roads and rivers, and even where cows grazed, and he often drew maps of his village as a child. It would be Jingwei’s photographic memory that would lead him back home.

In a final attempt to find his parents, Jingwei drew a detailed picture of his village on December 24, 2021, and posted it to the video-sharing app Douyin. The drawing went viral and was shared across social media platforms, eventually getting the attention of the Ministry of Public Security, which then began assisting Jingwei in his search.

Shortly after that, authorities were able to locate a woman they believed was Jingwei’s mother, and on December 28, 2021, a DNA test confirmed their findings. Jingwei was finally reunited with his mother on January 1, 2022, more than 30 years after his abduction. Unfortunately, his father had already passed away.[4]

6 Jermaine Mann

Mother reunited with abducted son after 31 years thanks authorities in emotional statement

On June 24, 1987, 21-month-old Jermaine Allan Mann was abducted by his father, Allan Mann Jr., during a court-ordered visit in Toronto, Canada. Later that year, Mann moved to the United States, creating a new life for himself and Jermaine using fake birth certificates. He also later told Jermaine that his mother was dead.

Although it took nearly three decades, thanks to more than 200 tips received by authorities in both the United States and Canada, they were able to track down Mann using facial recognition. He had been living in Vernon, Connecticut, under the alias of Hailee Randolph DeSouza. Mann was arrested on October 26, 2018, by officials from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development after discovering his birth certificate was counterfeit. Jermaine and his mother were finally reunited on October 27, 2018, after 31 long years.

Mann was charged with making false statements and making false statements to obtain HUD housing after having received more than $180k in housing and Medicaid benefits during his time in the United States. Mann was sentenced to 18 months in prison and was ordered to be deported to Toronto to face abduction charges after serving his sentence in the United States.[5]

5 Carlina White

Carlina White’s Remarkable Reunion

When Joy White and Carl Tyson’s 19-day-old daughter, Carlina, began running a high fever on August 4, 1987, they brought her to the Harlem Hospital in New York for treatment. Little did they know that was the last time they would see their daughter. A woman named Ann Pettway, who pretended to be a nurse taking the baby for treatment, kidnapped Carlina and raised her under the alias of Nejdra Nance.

However, as Carlina grew older, she noticed the lack of resemblance between herself and her “mother.” Her suspicions only grew when Pettway could not produce a copy of her birth certificate or social security card, claiming Carlina had been given to her by a woman who used drugs.

It wasn’t until December 2010 that Carlina went on the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s website. Imagine her surprise to find a photo similar to her own baby pictures. Carlina then called their hotline and was put in touch with her mother, Joy White.

DNA tests later confirmed Carlina was, in fact, her missing daughter, and they were reunited in January 2011, 23 years after her abduction. Pettway turned herself in on January 23, 2011, and was sentenced to 12 years in prison.[6]

4 Sun Wei

Four-year-old Sun Wei was walking home from kindergarten in Lianshan Yi when he was given sweets by a stranger, lured into a van, and kidnapped in 1995. He was taken to the city of Jieyang, sold to a couple, and given a new name and birthdate. While Sun Wei’s identity was changed, he never forgot his kidnapping.

The boy’s father, Sun Zhenghua, reported the kidnapping to the police, but given that he and his wife had no photographs of their son, finding him seemed impossible. However, Zhengua refused to give up and began a cross-country journey, working odd jobs across several provinces in hopes of finding his son. Unfortunately, his attempts were unsuccessful. Refusing to be defeated, Zhengua later registered his DNA with the Chinese missing persons’ authorities.

When Sun Wei was 14 years old, he quit school to begin working and was later persuaded by his friends to register his DNA in the missing person’s database as well. The family was reunited in October 2015, 20 years after Sun Wei’s kidnapping.[7]

3 Dollie Ann Henson

Photo Credit: RJ22 / Shutterstock

At the age of five, Dollie Ann Henson (who was born Darlene McDaniel) was playing at a neighbor’s house in Houston, Texas, when the woman asked her if she wanted to go on a train ride. Little did Henson realize at the time that the “train ride” was a kidnapping. She was taken to Louisiana before ending up in San Francisco, California, 1600 miles (2,574 kilometers) away from her family.

Henson’s kidnapper changed her name, birth date, and birth certificate, even going so far as to keep any information that would lead to Henson’s past locked in the trunk of her car. While Henson’s kidnapper claimed her biological family never wanted her, that wouldn’t stop Henson from eventually finding them. However, the challenge was a bit harder after a fire destroyed all the documents in the car, and her kidnapper passed away in 1977.

After getting married and having children of her own, Henson told them the story of her abduction. It was her daughter Kia’Ora who contacted a local television station that allowed Henson to go on-air and share her story on November 12, 2009.

Miraculously, Henson’s family members happened to be watching the broadcast, and they were able to connect by phone on November 13, 2009. Unfortunately, Henson’s birth mother had already passed away, but she was able to spend Christmas that year getting to know the rest of her family and making up for the previous 55 years.[8]

2 Susan Gervaise

Photo credit: ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock

Susan Gervaise, born Susan Preece, had a rough beginning as a young child. Her mother was a single mom, and she and her six siblings lived on a traveler’s site, in and out of foster care in Yorkshire, England.

Therefore, when a Scottish couple who also lived on the site offered four-year-old Gervaise the opportunity to go to Disney World in 1969, her mother agreed. The couple asked Gervaise’s mother for her birth certificate as well so “she could be put on their passport.” Unfortunately, this ruse was nothing more than a disguised kidnapping that would take Gervaise from Canada to New Zealand and Australia.

While Gervaise claimed she had “a cherished life where she was spoiled rotten” with her traveling family, it wasn’t until she was 16 years old that she found out she had been stolen from her family. Gervaise later moved to Australia as an adult, got married, and had three children, never thinking much about her “real family.” That is, until a friend of Gervaise’s, who had been adopted, caused her to think about what her family must have gone through all these years.

Gervaise then located a Facebook page dedicated to the auburn of Pontefract, where she had been taken, and posted her story. Within 30 minutes, her family had been found. Gervaise was reunited with four of her six siblings and other family members in September of 2022, 53 years after her disappearance. Unfortunately, Gervaise’s biological mother had passed away eight years prior.[9]

1 Feng Lulu

At 22 months of age, Feng Lulu was abducted in 1989 while playing outside her home in Xinxing, China. Lulu was later sold to another family and renamed Zhang Qianqian. While her foster family later claimed that Lulu’s parents couldn’t afford her as the reason they sold her, that was far from the truth.

However, thirty years would pass before the All-China Women’s Federation learned of Lulu’s parents’ search for their missing daughter and assisted them in contacting local police. Thanks to a “statistical database,” Lulu was located, and a DNA test confirmed her identity on March 30, 2021.

On April 2, 2021, Lulu was reunited with her parents after 32 long years and was able to meet her younger brothers and sister for the first time.[10]

fact checked by Darci Heikkinen