LOS ANGELES (CBS) — A 40-year saga involving a child kidnapping and a decades long search for a woman’s birth mother ended in an L.A. courtroom Wednesday, as mother and daughter were reunited and adult adoption papers certified.
Ronique “Pepper” Smith, 41, was 3-months old when she was kidnapped from her biological mother, Jolene Coleman, by her babysitter, Shirley, in the early 1970s. Shirley then gave Smith to Barbara Christie who legally adopted the little girl. When Christie adopted Smith, Coleman’s legal rights were terminated.
Four years later, Shirley abducted Smith for the second time. She forced the girl to live out her childhood in a series of motels, never knowing her true identity.
Smith’s kidnapping case was the topic of a Dateline investigation in March and that is when Coleman identified her daughter. The woman contacted attorney Gloria Allred, who represents Smith, and through a DNA comparison, identified the biological connection.
“I feel for the first time in my life, like a whole person . . . no longer fragmented. I feel like I can stand up proud and tall, speak my name with confidence, knowing it is me,” Smith told reporters Wednesday.
A judge Wednesday restored Smith and Coleman’s legal relationship as parent and child.
“It’s a miracle that I thought would never ever come about. And I’m thankful for it,” Coleman said.