Losing a child is one of the hardest things that any family can go through. But when you’re not sure exactly what happened, it’s even worse.
Life-Changing Phone Call
Steve Inman never stopped wondering about his missing sister but didn’t have high hopes about finding her. Until one night, when Steve’s phone started ringing. It was a call from an unknown number that would change his life forever. The person on the other end claimed they knew his missing sister very personally.
In The Far East
Steve Inman Sr. was an American soldier in South Korea when he met local woman Chum Ku Yi. They married and had a daughter, who they named Sally. Because they lived in a rural village, they didn’t have time to get to the hospital and Sally was born at home. They began raising her together with the help of an older woman who became Sally’s nanny. But the family wasn’t meant to live happily ever after so easily.
A Family Divided
Steve Inman Sr. was ready to return to his hometown of Salt Lake City, Utah, with his new bride and infant daughter, but there were some issues. Because Sally wasn’t born at the American army base hospital, she hadn’t automatically received US citizenship. Additionally, problems with paperwork meant that the US and Korean governments didn’t consider Sally to be Steve’s daughter. A lawyer advised the couple to leave Sally in South Korea and return to America to sort out the issues.
A Hard Decision
Like any new parents, the Inmans were worried about leaving Sally behind in South Korea. But Chum’s mother loved Sally, and eventually, Chum was convinced that leaving Sally with her grandmother temporarily would be just a bump in the road. The couple flew to Salt Lake City to get Sally’s paperwork in order, but there were more obstacles. Due to bureaucratic issues, the US government wanted Steve Sr. to formally adopt Sally – even though she was his biological daughter.
The process to formally adopt Sally was expensive and was moving slowly, and Steve needed to work for a little bit in order to save up money for the courts and lawyers. But after about eight months back in America, the Inmans received a phone call that is every parent’s worst nightmare. Chum’s mom called and said that Sally’s nanny had asked to take her for the weekend. Chum’s mom agreed, but the nanny never returned. She had kidnapped Sally.
Steve Sr. fell into a deep depression and began to abuse alcohol. He had two more children with Chum, a daughter named Connie and then Steve Jr., and subsequently left the family. Chum remarried and settled in California with her kids. But she always kept framed photos of Sally in the house and told them that they had a missing sister. Chum made several solo trips to Korea to look for Sally, but she was never able to find out anything.
Gone But Not Forgotten
Life went on. The children in the family grew up, got their first jobs and first drivers licenses, and graduated from high school. But a deep aura of gloom hung over these happy events. At Christmas dinner, an uncle would always say sadly, “Sally should be here.” Though the family continued with their lives, they never stopped yearning for their missing sister. The birth of Steve’s first child triggered in him an even stronger urge to finally find his sister.
Where To Turn?
Steve was so bothered by the fact that he never knew what became of his sister that he couldn’t sleep at night. He looked into hiring a private investigator, who said he needed an initial payment of $30,000 – way more cash than Steve had laying around. Steve’s dad advised Steve to just give up the search. But determined, Steve couldn’t be discouraged from his mission to find his sister, so he turned to an unexpected place for help.
The Internet To The Rescue
Steve had heard about cases where people located their long-lost relatives through Facebook, and since he was so short on leads and had nothing to lose, he figured it was worth a try. He set up a profile called Sally Inman (Missing Child). He wasn’t even sure that his sister used that name – if she grew up in Korea, it was likely she had a different Korean name. But the name Sally Inman was all he had.
Cry For Help
In the “About Sally” section, Steve wrote a heart-wrenching plea to the general public: “I was last seen in the city of Chang Mal near Camp Casey in South Korea. I have been missing since February of 1974. Please post this where you can and hopefully through social networking we can help me reunite with my long lost family.” He posted every single one of the photos of Sally that he had. It was a long shot, but Steve was hopeful.
Several people sent messages to Steve claiming that they either were Sally or a child of hers – but they never had any evidence to back up their claims. Steve said they seemed to be mentally ill or teenagers that were playing a mean prank. After several months of the profile being public, a few false starts, and a whole lot of sleepless nights, Steve’s hope began to fade. He figured they’d never find Sally. That is, until one fateful Sunday night.
“It was like a normal day, laying around watching the Food Network,” Steve said in an interview with Pasadena Star News, “and then the phone rang.” Steve didn’t pick up because he didn’t recognize the number. The caller left a voicemail. At the time, Steve had absolutely no idea that this was a phone call that would change his life forever. After listening to the voicemail, it was clear that things would never be the same again for the Inmans.
“Steve, I was on Facebook, and I noticed you were looking for your sister and I read the whole thing . . .” Steve noticed that the woman had a trace of a Southern accent. “And I would like you just to give us a call because the girl you’re looking for is actually my mom.” Steve was so stunned that he was temporarily at a loss for words. Could it really be? Or was this some sort of cruel prank?
“Steve, This is Sally”
The woman passed the phone to her mother. “Is this Steve? This is Sally,” said a voice on the other end of the line. Steve’s heart was beating fast. Steve wanted to know how she was sure she was who he was looking for. “I have those same pictures,” the woman said, referencing the baby photos that Steve had posted on the missing person Facebook page. Steve felt too skeptical to believe her, so he asked the only question he could think of.
Who’s The Father?
Steve became worried very quickly. What if this was an Internet scam – some clever con artist thinking that this was an easy way to make some under-the-table cash by tricking a stranger? Steve wasn’t sure what to do and began racking his brain for ways to confirm it was really his long lost sister. “Maybe we could take a paternity test,” he blurted out. The woman sounded annoyed and said something that totally shocked Steve to the core.
The woman told Steve that a paternity test wasn’t necessary, as she knew who her true biological mother and father were. She said that her mother would know that it was really her. “Well, my mom would know it’s me, because I have a birthmark on my lip.” Steve dropped the phone. “That was the secret password,” Steve said in an interview with Pasadena Star News. “That was information we didn’t post.” Steve began to realize exactly how major this development was.
Too Late To Say Sorry?
“I’m going to call you right back,” he told her, sweat dripping from his forehead. “I need to call my mom.” Steve rang his mom and explained what the woman had said about the birthmark. He then connected them all on a three-way phone call. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” their mother cried hysterically. “I don’t know what happened. I’m sorry that 37 years went by. I thought you were eating out of a trash can. I’m so glad you’re alive.”
Steve asked Sally to fill in the gaps about what had happened in the last 37 years. Sally explained that she always knew that her adoptive mother was originally her nanny, and she had been told that her biological parents stopped sending money and letters to her after a few months back in the US. Eventually, Sally’s nanny married an American soldier and the family immigrated to Texas. Sally ended up moving to South Carolina, and was married with 7 kids.
“My adoptive mom gave me all the information she could, but I was half-Korean and half-American and didn’t fit in in Korea or in Texas when we came to the States,” said Sally. But it wasn’t just the international move that made her feel like a misfit – Sally never felt truly accepted by her adoptive family. When she acted out as a child, her adoptive mom would scold her by saying that Sally was “wild, just like your father.”
It Doesn’t Add Up
If she had been kidnapped, Sally wondered, wouldn’t her abductors try to pass her off as their biological child? Why would they tell her at a young age that she was adopted? There was another strange detail which didn’t add up – Sally’s adoptive mother always told her that she had the blood type A Positive, but at a routine medical checkup Sally discovered that she actually had type O blood. What else had her adoptive mom been dishonest about?
No Easy Answers
Sadly, Steve realized that he and his family had many questions which would never be answered. “A lot of crazy things were going on in Korea. At the time, there was no technology,” Steve said. “Korea was like a Third World country. There were no records of what happened. And now, the only people who have the answers – our grandmother and the nanny – are dead.” The secrets were taken with the women to their graves and the mysteries may never be solved.
Face To Face…Virtually
The next step was a face to face meeting – or at least as close to face to face as you can get when you live on opposite sides of the country. From Steve’s living room in Fontana, California and Sally’s home in Lillington, South Carolina, the two siblings decided to make a Skype call. They were astounded by what they saw. Both described the experience as “like looking into a mirror.” They had the same mannerisms and facial expressions.
Steve knew what the logical next step was – he definitely wanted to see his long lost sister face to face, preferably with his other sister and parents present. But who knew if they would get along in person? It’s one thing to talk over Skype, but interacting in person with someone who is basically a stranger could easily get awkward. Even though they shared DNA, did that mean that Steve and Sally would feel comfortable with each other? He was about to find out.
Three days later, Steve and Connie paid for plane tickets for Sally and three of her kids. Steve Sr. drove in from Colorado, and the newly reunited family spent a week together in Steve Jr.’s Fontana home. From their natural chemistry together to their shared facial features, the siblings felt at ease with each other right away and quickly settled into being a family, despite never having met before. “I don’t want these few days to ever end,” Sally said.
Happily Ever After
The family is still very close, meeting several times a year to catch up and make new, shared memories together. The kids are getting along great, automatically becoming close as cousins. But for Sally, the experience of discovering her long-lost family and spending time with her siblings has been especially meaningful. “I grew up an only child, so this feeling is once-in-a-lifetime,” Sally said in an interview with Pasadena Star News. “A big void has been filled.”