Girl found six years after she 'vanished' in house fire

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The Independent US

A mother has found her daughter ­ six years after the infant vanished in a fire in which she was believed to have died.

Police said that the blaze was started by a woman who kidnapped the 10-day-old child and used the fire to cover her tracks. Yesterday police were hunting for the suspect, Carolyn Correa, 41, of Willingboro, New Jersey, who has been charged with arson, kidnapping and conspiracy.

A spokesman for New Jersey police said: "This child, who has been raised by Ms Correa as her own, is not her own." Ms Correa's husband was said to be devastated that the girl he thought was his daughter belonged to somebody else.

Luz Cuevas, the biological mother, saw the girl at a birthday party in January in Philadelphia two months ago and recognised her by a dimple on her face. She said: "When I see her, I saw that she was my daughter. I want to hug her. I want to run with her."

"I looked at her. She walked in front of me. She looked at me. I looked at her. I said to my sister, 'That is my daughter. She got my daughter'.

"My sister said, 'You have to take it easy. You need proof. We have to find proof'."

Ms Cuevas told the girl, Delimar Vera, that she had chewing gum in her hair, and as she pretended to remove it extracted five hairs.

She then folded them in a napkin and put them in a plastic bag, which she locked in a safe at home, before going to the police. "Because of television, I knew they needed hair for the DNA [tests]," she said.

Lieutenant Michael Boyle of the Special Victims Unit in New Jersey said: "DNA is basically what proved the parentage here without a doubt."

Delimar is now in state custody in New Jersey as the authorities decide what to do with her, and it was not clear when she would be formally reunited with her mother.

Lt Boyle said: "It is going to be difficult for the child. She grew up with a woman, knowing a woman as her mother, but she is in fact her kidnapper, so it is going to be a very difficult psychological process."

Ms Cuevas told the Philadelphia television station WCAU-TV of her relief when she received confirmation that the girl was her daughter. "I screamed. I felt so happy. I don't know what to say... I was in shock," she said.

She also said that the girl looked like her sons, who never gave up hope that they would be reunited with their sister.

"Every Christmas, my sons say, 'Mommy, we have to find her.' I said, 'Don't worry, we will find her. I knew she was alive'."

After the fire ripped through the family home in Philadelphia on 15 December 1997, a body was never found. Investigators assumed that the infant had been totally consumed by the blaze, but the mother was never entirely convinced.

Instead she clung to the belief her child was still alive partly because it made no sense that a window of the child's room, which was on the second floor, was found open after the blaze, even though it was the middle of December.