These Two People Learned They Were Siblings 34 Years After Being Separated

Renee Alanko and Justin Kragt were only children when each of them were separately abandoned. Being raised by different families, little did they know that their stories were actually linked. It was only 34 years later that they made a striking discovery that would shed light on their hidden past.

#20. Alone In The Streets

It all started in March 1984, in the South Korean capital of Seoul. One day, a man came across what appeared to be an abandoned baby, who was crying on the steps outside Yongsan Theater. The baby appeared to be around two years old.

Photo: Courtesy of ABC News

The man reported this to the nearest police station. The police didn’t manage to find out who the baby was or who his family was. Therefore, the baby was soon handed over to local authorities and was quickly placed for adoption.

#19. Wandering Through The Market

Less than a day after this little boy was discovered, and less than a mile away, a four-year-old girl was dropped off by her father at a marketplace. The man gave her daughter 1,000 won and told her to buy herself some food. He said that he would come back soon, but he never did.

Photo: Courtesy of ABC News

The girl spent the whole afternoon by herself, wandering through the market’s stalls. But eventually, a woman found her strolling across the marketplace. She tried to talk to her, to see if she could get any information as to what her name was and where she lived.

#18. A Mysterious Note

The woman couldn’t get the girl to reveal any meaningful information. However, she found a note in one of her pockets. The note read “Please send this child to an orphanage through [a]police station. At present, she has no parents“.

Photo: Courtesy of ABC News

The woman wondered who had been the author of the note. ¿Had it been the girl’s mother or father? Aware that she had no means of solving the mystery by herself, she immediately reported this to the local police.

#17. Brand New Family

The boy, whose birth name was Hong Ki Hong, was eventually put up for adoption. After a few months, he was adopted by an American family. He was raised by his new parents in Salem, Oregon, together with four adoptive siblings. His parents chose to rename him Justin Kragt.

Photo: Courtesy of ABC News

Her adoptive mother Sue Maguire, when interviewed by ABC News, stated that “We actually found Justin in a magazine, with this cute little cherub of a face“. But even though she knew absolutely nothing about little Justin’s past, she would later make a striking discovery.

#16. Little Renee

Meanwhile, the little girl who had been handed over to the police authorities was also put up for adoption. Unlike her baby brother, she was able to tell the authorities her birth name, Jee Young Lee. Just like her brother, she was adopted by an American family and grew up in Pleasanton, California. She was renamed Renee Alanko.

Photo: Courtesy of ABC News

Considering how young they were when abandoned, both kids knew little about their lives before their adoption, and as the years passed and they grew older, their pasts remained unknown. Each one of them resorted to the means they could in order to find out information about their true identity.

#15. Health Issues

When Justin Kragt was four years old, just two years after his adoption, he underwent open-heart surgery. As a result, he and his family learned that he had been born with congenital heart failure. It came as a surprise to them, as the boy’s adoption report said nothing about his heart failure. As the years went by, Kragt began to suspect that his health issue had been the reason for his abandonment.

Photo: Courtesy of ABC News

While been asked about his personal history during an interview, Kragt told The Oregonian:

“I was content with what I thought was my story. And what I thought was that my mother may have been a prostitute. A young prostitute who had a baby out of wedlock”.

#14. The Adoption Report

Unlike Justin’s case, Alanko’s adoption report was way more detailed. In fact, it included all the answers that she had given to the police the day she was found in the market. And some of these answers were quite revealing.

Photo: Courtesy of ABC News

According to the report, Alanko had told the police that her father was an alcoholic and often beat her mother. As a result of such a situation, her mother had decided to run away. As you can see, it’s lucky that the girl was old enough to talk back then, because these pieces of information ended up being key in order to solve the mystery of her past. But this doesn’t end here!

#13. Many Gaps In The Story

However, the difficult relationship between her parents wasn’t the only thing that Alanko confessed to the authorities. Apparently, the day she was interviewed by the police at the age of 4, she also revealed that she lived with an older sister.

Photo: Courtesy of Business Insider UK

However, in the adoption report, there was no mention to Alanko’s baby brother. This means that when little Alanko was interviewed by the police authorities, she didn’t say a word about the fact that she had a brother.

#12. Putting The Pieces Together

But even though the adoption report said nothing about little Kragt, Alanko’s adoptive mother confessed to The Oregonian that her daughter would often talk about a baby brother. But she never knew whether or not to believe her daughter. After all, she was absolutely sure that the adoption report said nothing about Alanko having a younger brother.

Photo: Courtesy of ABC News

As the years went by, little Alanko made several failed attempts to put all the pieces together and discover her family history, but she simply needed more information in order to succeed. After all, she wasn’t even 100% sure of his brother’s full name!

11. Trip To Seoul

Alanko first tried to reach his long-lost brother through Facebook. Obviously, she didn’t manage to track him down. But she was utterly determined to find him, so she impulsively decided to book a flight to her hometown, Seoul.

Photo: Courtesy of Asia Exchange

She knew that her decision was a risky one, for the odds were grim: his brother could literally be living in any part of the world. She went to the police station from the neighborhood where she had been found and went to a couple of state institutions for abandoned kids. As she expected, she didn’t find any useful information. So she was back to square one.

#10. DNA Test

In 2014, the mystery began to unfold. It turns out that Alanko was not the only one who could not stop thinking about her unknown family: his brother Kragt was also willing to resort to every means possible in order to discover his identity. But the truth is, he didn’t even remember he had a sister. “I was hoping to find a fifth cousin, as weird as that sounds,” Kragt said about his search.

Photo: Courtesy of ABC News

Towards the end of 2014, one of Kragt’s friends suggested him to take a DNA test. Apparently, there was a company named 23andMe which offered that service. According to his friend, it was the only chance he had of knowing who his blood relatives were.

#9. Biotech Company

23andMe is a privately owned genomics and biotechnology company. In 2007, it became the first company to offer autosomal DNA testing for ancestry, which is what all of the major companies now use.

Photo: Courtesy of Macrogen

The company is based in California, which happens to be the state where Kragt was raised. The procedure is quite simple, so when Kragt’s friend told him about it, he decided to save up some money and go for it. Unfortunately, the results did not reveal any new information. But it was just a matter of time: it was thanks to this DNA test that he would end up discovering crucial information several years later.

#8. Alanko’s Test

Four years after Kragt performed the DNA test through 23andMe, Alanko decided to do the same, though for completely different reasons. What truly motivated her decision was the fact that she wanted to become a mother. Therefore, she wanted to find out about any hereditary health links. The truth is that by that time, Alanko had already lost her hopes for discovering who her blood relatives were. She didn’t even have this in mind.

Photo: Courtesy of ABC News

 Alanko got the results about a week later, on May 26, 2018. Luckily the health results were fine. As she later said in an interview: “Then I started exploring the other tabs just to see what else was on there, and I saw under ‘Tools’ it said, ‘DNA relatives’ and I said, oh and I just clicked on it thinking, yeah, I’ll probably have a trillion 5th cousins and stuff.” But when she clicked on the ‘DNA relatives’ option, she was awestruck by the results.

#7. Unexpected Results

To her surprise, there appeared to be a match between her DNA and another man’s, whose name was Justin, was 35 years old, and lived in Salem, Oregon. “23andMe predicts this is your brother“, was the message that she read on the screen.

Photo: Courtesy of ABC News

Renee looked up Justin online and discovered that he was also adopted. She found him on Facebook, and although she felt nervous at the idea of sending him a message, she finally gained the courage to do so. As she later said in an interview: “I wrote, ‘Hi, Justin. I think I may be your biological sister.

#6. Getting In Touch

When Justin received the message and said he’ll never forget it. The first thing they did was to exchange their phone numbers, and after they got in touch, they sent each other a couple of photos and got to know a little bit about each other.

Photo: Courtesy of Diversity in Steam

After a couple of weeks, they finally decided to meet. In September 2018, on the exact day that Kragt turned 36, they saw each other for the first time after their abandonment. 34 years had passed since the last time they had seen each other. Sounds like a fairy tale, doesn’t it?

#5. Reunion

Their reunion, which took place at Portland International Airport in Portland, Oregon, was actually filmed live. In fact, you can look it up on the Internet: it’s truly heartwarming to watch! In the footage, you can see how they both hug each other, after nearly three decades of not knowing nothing about their family background.

Photo: Courtesy of ABC News

If you take a look at the footage, you can see Kragt bursting into tears and saying: “I always thought I was alone in the world, and I was content with that. Now you’re stuck with me“. It truly sounds like a Hollywood movie, doesn’t it? Believe it or not, any resemblance to The Parent Trap is mere coincidence!

#4. Rush Of Emotions

But Kragt didn’t show up at the airport all by himself. On the very contrary, his adoptive parents were also there to witness the reunion, and the footage shows his adoptive mother Maguire embracing Kragt’s new sister. Later in an interview, Maguire claimed: “As a mom of an adoptive child, I could not have planned a better gift to give Justin than this”.

Photo: Courtesy of ABC News

Also in the footage, you can hear Alanko saying:

I knew about him all this time, I just never thought I’d meet him, so this is really amazing (…) We came from the same parents, which is blowing my mind because I’ve never known anybody related to me, and I never thought I would.

#3. Questions Unanswered

Despite the reunion, many things remained unanswered. For instance, why on earth had their father chosen to abandon his children in different parts of the city? The answer to these questions will probably remain unknown forever, as they have no means of contacting their birth parents.

Photo: Courtesy of ABC News

But in spite of the fact that these mysteries still remain unsolved, nothing will be able to overshadow the joy that they still feel for having been able to meet each other. After all, what else can they ask for?

#2. Interviews

As one may have expected, after the footage of their reunion was seen all around the globe, hundreds of journalists wanted to interview them. Shortly after the reunion, ABC News was one one of the first newspapers to interview Alanko and Kragt.

Photo: Courtesy of ABC News

In this occasion, Alanko claimed: “Knowing that Justin is just a phone call, text or email away, or a short flight away, it has really changed the way that I see myself in the world.” In turn, Kragt stated that “The first time that I saw my sister, my heart absolutely melted.

#1. Their Lives Today

It’s needles to say that both Alanko and Kragt have remained in contact ever since. Even though each of them has returned to the cities where they grew up, they remain in touch and chat through Skype on a regular basis. A couple of months after their reunion, Kragt traveled to California to visit her sister and her daughter. Because – let’s not forget – Kragt had not only gained a sister, but also a niece!

Photo: Courtesy of ABC News

As you can all see, this heartwarming story teaches us that hopes shall never be lost. These two siblings didn’t even remember each other’s names, but still managed to find each other. And their lives changed forever. As Kragt stated, “But it’s changing my life for the better and I’m very, very much overjoyed with her presence and the relationship we’re going to continue to build”.

  • About Author

    Hernán Tamargo

    Teacher. Political Scientist. Writer. Feminist... and much more!

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