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Families in Chile are being reunited with their children who were stolen in the 1960s

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

An extraordinary scandal has been revealed in Chile. Infants were stolen from their birth parents and put up for adoption, dating back to the 1960s. Authorities are now investigating 20,000 cases. Most of the children grew up in homes in the United States or Europe. Their birth parents were often told that their children had died, but their babies had actually been stolen and sold overseas by a trafficking network that included social workers, doctors, nurses, judges and diplomats.

Now, decades later, families that were torn apart are being helped by organizations that include Connecting Roots, which has helped facilitate hundreds of reunifications. Among them are brother and sister Sean Ours in Springfield, Va., and Emily Reid in Raleigh, N.C. They were both adopted by the same family in Alexandria, Va. And Sean and Emily join us now. Thank you very much for being with us.

EMILY REID: Thank you for having us.

SEAN OURS: Thank you for having us.

SIMON: May I ask you both, how did you hear that you - this wasn't just a far-off scandal, but something that you might be caught up in?

REID: For me, personally, I was just in complete shock. Like, I mean, you read about it, and you just can't believe that, you know, oh, that happened to somebody, but the fact that it happened to us is just -it's unfathomable. We've gone all these years not even knowing. And then all of a sudden, we just found out, like, a few months ago that this all happened. It's just - I mean, almost a year ago. It's pretty remarkable.

OURS: It was shocking at first. Just unbelievable when we found out that she was alive and everything, and it's so many different questions going through my head and just a loss for words and everything.

SIMON: And were you immediately moved to try and find your birth mother?

REID: Oh, yes. Yes. I mean, we did what we had to do, like send DNA to see if we can find her, and we wanted to find her because of the suffering that she may have been through, and we just wanted to know the truth, really.

SIMON: Yeah. Sean, what did this organization, Connecting Roots, help you do?

OURS: So they ended up helping us - doing all the investigation because they had people down in Chile that they could actually work with so they can find people's parents. And for us, once they think they found her, they were able to get in contact with her and then tell her what was going on and eventually get us DNA results to verify that she is our birth mother. And then eventually, they set up a Zoom call for us in November so we could, actually all of us, see each other over Zoom. And then eventually set up a meeting so we could actually go down to Chile.

SIMON: My gosh. What was that Zoom call like? What was it like to see your birth mother?

REID: For me, it was just - it felt like I was looking in the mirror. I was actually able to relate to something. Like, I have my mother's hair. I have her smile, you know, certain facial features and stuff. It's like, I've never had that opportunity, and it was just - I'm getting emotional thinking about it right now. It's lots of tears of joy.

OURS: Emily definitely looked a lot more like her than I did, so it was great to see her. And then I was able to introduce my kids to her so she got to see her grandkids, too. She seemed very excited and so happy to finally see us and how we've grown up and everything.

SIMON: And what did your birth mother tell you - what she was told? There she brought two babies into this world, and what did people at the hospital tell her?

OURS: They basically told her that once she gave birth and they took us into the other room that we both died. So she didn't - she said - I don't believe she heard us even cry before they took us away.

SIMON: What was your trip like, to actually see her and put your arms around her?

REID: For me, it was the best week of my life. I get anxious easily, especially the week of the trip. There was a lot of uncertainties. There was a lot of negative thoughts that were coming to my mind, and then, you know, days beforehand was reassured by one of the connecting roots team who essentially was our translator that he was going to be there the entire time to help us translate, and just having that volunteer help us the entire week made things a lot easier. And so once we actually had the reunion, all emotions went out the window.

All I could see was just going through the hallway to meet her. I just saw her, pretty in pink. She was pink, and then she was surrounded by black, by all the media and all the cameras. And I just saw nothing but pink. And it was nothing but pure joy because it was the first time that I've ever held her.

SIMON: Of course, investigations are still going on, but are you angry towards - it must have been doctors and nurses and judges and social workers and other people that made the crimes of what happened to you possible?

OURS: Yes, we definitely were. It's the fact that it's not just us, that it happened to thousands and thousands of families out there. It's deplorable this even happened and that it went on for so many years. Definitely angry that not more has been done to right those wrongs.

SIMON: How has this experience changed how you see life, do you think, in your lives?

OURS: For me, it's added another family that we never knew about that knows us and loves us and wants to be a part of our lives. So I'm very grateful.

REID: I mean, it's how - the fact that we're able to learn about ourselves even more has just made me appreciate life more because now I'm like, OK, well, this is who I am. This is - you know, we finally were able to see where we grew up, how life could have been, how life could have - you know, a remarkable feeling that I'm glad that I'm alive for it and that as brother and sister are able to experience this together.

SIMON: Well, blessings to both of you. Emily Reid and Sean Ours, and thank you for sharing your story with us.

OURS: Of course.

REID: Thank you so much.

OURS: Thank you for having us and letting us share our story.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.