Chilean Adoptee Stolen as a Baby Reunites with His Sister

Chilean Adoptee Stolen as a Baby Reunites with His Sister

Scott Lieberman, 42, from San Francisco, was born in Chile in August 1980 and adopted within a month by a US couple. The parents also adopted a girl a year later.

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Scott knew he was adopted as a child, and as he grew up, he wanted to learn more about his origins. All he knew about his birth family was that his mom was from a little town in the south of Chile called Cañete, and that he was placed for adoption because she wasn’t able to raise him.

Scott as a child

Scott as a child

A year ago, Scott read an article in People magazine that made him question that narrative.

The article described the story of Tyler Graf, a firefighter from Texas who discovered that he had been stolen from his parents and placed for adoption in the U.S. against their will — and that he was just one of the thousands of babies taken forcibly from their parents as part of a national policy to reduce poverty under the dictatorship of General Augustus Pinochet from 1973–1990. Tyler went on to found Connecting Roots, a nonprofit organization that helps the families affected, which MyHeritage is proud to support by providing DNA kits to confirm the relationships between the adoptees and their birth families. We also connected Connecting Roots with their counterpart in Chile, a nonprofit called Nos Buscamos, and the two organizations have been working together ever since.

When Scott read the article, he couldn’t help but wonder: was he, too, one of these stolen babies?

“The limited knowledge I knew about my adoption, it all made more sense in that one article than what I had been told and what I had thought my entire life,” he told USA Today in a recent interview.

He decided to register with Nos Buscamos and ask for assistance in December 2022.

Nos Buscamos takes on the challenge

One of the volunteers from Nos Buscamos, Suzi Wortman, took on the challenge. Based on the information Scott had in his adoption files, she found supporting documents, and she sent messages via social media to potential family members. A couple of days later, she received an answer: a woman replied, saying that she could be one of Scott’s aunts. This was a great lead, and after speaking to her and many other possible relatives, Suzi finally managed to find Scott’s half-sister, Jenny.

Jenny Escalona Mardones, Scott’s sister

Jenny Escalona Mardones, Scott’s sister

Suzi and Jenny spoke and shared information. The call was very emotional for Jenny, who couldn’t hold back tears of happiness. From the first moment, she was certain it was true that Scott was her brother. Jenny gave Suzi details on their shared biological mother: her name was Rosa Mardones, and she passed away a few years ago.

Right after that call, Suzi wrote to Scott to reveal her findings. “This news is bittersweet, as sadly, your mother, Rosa Ester Mardones Peña, died from bone cancer in 2015,” she wrote. She relayed the information she had learned about Rosa: that she grew up in a small town called Cañete in a family with 7 kids, and was a “beautiful, humble woman who was loved by everyone.”

Rosa’s story

Rosa had her first child, Jenny, on April 5, 1978 with Nazario Escalona. Later on, she fell in love with a man named Hugo Eugenio Salas Ramos. Rosa and Hugo loved each other deeply, but Hugo came from a well-to-do family, while Rosa’s family was poor. When at 23 years of age, Rosa discovered that she was pregnant with Scott, she apparently thought that Hugo and his family wouldn’t accept her, and told almost no one about the pregnancy. Given her unmarried status and financial situation, she sought help from a group of Catholic nuns who went to visit her; they offered her a job doing domestic work in Santiago, so she moved there. She also received “assistance” from a social worker who took a special interest in her case and made her sign multiple documents over the course of the pregnancy that she didn’t really understand.

Scott was born on August 21, 1980. Rosa barely got to see him after he was born. The social worker swept in and took custody of him before Rosa had even been released from the hospital. When Rosa tried to contact the social worker to ask about her baby, the social worker threatened to call the police, saying that the baby had already been taken to a different country, that Rosa was not in a position to raise another child and that she had signed away her parental rights.

Rosa returned to her home village brokenhearted. Her sisters said that she was very depressed and cried often, asking God to forgive her.

“Never, ever, did my mother talk about the fact that she had had a child and that he had been stolen,” Jenny told CNN in a recent interview. “It was the painful truth that she kept to herself for many years. I even think that her pain took her away.”

Though Rosa sadly passed away in 2015, Hugo — Scott’s birth father — is still alive… and had never known that he had fathered a child with Rosa.

MyHeritage DNA verifies the connection

Shortly after Scott received the news, Jenny contacted Scott directly on social media. Just 3 weeks after registering with Nos Buscamos, Scott was in touch with his biological sister in Chile!

On January 30, 2023, Jenny traveled from Cañete to Concepcion to meet with Nos Buscamos volunteers and take a MyHeritage DNA test to confirm her relationship with Scott.

Jenny takes a MyHeritage DNA test with Constanza del Río, Nos Buscamos founder and CEO

Jenny takes a MyHeritage DNA test with Constanza del Río, Nos Buscamos founder and CEO

The results arrived after a few weeks, and they were crystal clear: Scott and Jenny are half-siblings. Scott documented the powerful moment he reviewed the results on the MyHeritage DNA platform and all the niggling doubts were laid to rest:

‘Loved in a way I’ve never felt before’

This April, Scott flew to Chile to meet Jenny, Hugo, and the whole family. Jenny met him at the airport, and the two embraced for the first time. Watch their tearful reunion here:

Here they share their thoughts and feelings after their first meeting:

Jenny, who speaks only Spanish, shares her gratitude to everyone who helped find her brother and encourages people to support this cause, because many, many more children were taken from their parents in Chile and deserve to have the happy ending she and Scott were given.

“It was a lot,” Scott told USA Today. “I’ve never known anyone who’s ever looked like me. I’m 42 years old and here I am looking at my father and we’re at the exact same height, we have the same ears and the same nose and I’m looking into his eyes and I’m seeing myself there. I cried a lot.”

Scott takes a selfie with his newfound family

Scott takes a selfie with his newfound family

“A lot of us have the same shaped eyes and the same smile,” he added. “It’s absolutely wild.”

Scott spent 12 days in Chile. Jenny took him to visit his mother’s grave, which had been decorated with a placard that read, “Hijo, Gracias por venir a verme” — “Son, thank you for coming to see me.”

Scott and Jenny visit their mother’s grave

Scott and Jenny visit their mother’s grave

The joy of being reunited with all his Chilean relatives was marred only by the sadness that he never got to meet his mother, and she never got to see him again. Jenny gave Scott a bottle of their mother’s old perfume and a box of mandalas she’d been working on before her death. “I lost it,” Scott told USA Today. “I’m like, ‘This is the most physical connection I could have with her.’ Just having this perfume and knowing what she used to smell like.”

Despite the deeply painful situation, Scott is grateful that she at least knew he was alive and safe. “There are other mothers who were told their children were stillborn,” he told CNN in a recent interview. “They don’t know that their child could still be alive in another country.”

“I didn’t feel that my life wasn’t complete before,” Scott explained to CNN. “I had a lot of love from my family growing up. I have a lot of love from my friends. But now, it’s weird, but I do feel more complete. [I feel] loved in a way that I’ve never felt before.”

Scott with Jenny and another half-sister, Karina

Scott with Jenny and another half-sister, Karina

Jenny says that learning the truth about her brother’s birth helps her understand some things about her mother that were confusing to her before — such as her mother’s choice to live near the airport in Santiago towards the end of her life.

“She liked going to the airport and she would ask us to go with her,” Jenny told CNN. “She would just sit down and watch people, especially those who were arriving.”

Jenny now understands that she might have been looking for Scott, hoping against hope that she might spot someone familiar among the arrivals.

Jenny told USA Today that she felt her mother’s presence within her since her death, but that it lifted when she learned about Scott.

“She believes that our mother’s work is done,” Scott added. “She wanted us to know each other. She wanted me to come back to Cañate to know my family… She can finally rest. She can finally be at peace.”

“Thank you, MyHeritage. Thank you for everything,” says Jenny.

Many, many thanks to Scott and Jenny for sharing their journey with us and allowing us to experience these intimate emotional moments with them.

As Scott’s story painfully demonstrates, time is running short for families torn apart by coerced adoption under Pinochet to find each other again, as the parents are aging. Please consider donating to Connecting Roots or Nos Buscamos, and if you know anyone who might have been a victim of forced adoption, please direct them to these organizations.

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