A woman's search for her biological mother came to an end last month, more than 50 years after she was kidnapped by her babysitter.
At just 16 years old, Sarah Peterson gave birth to her daughter, Roberta Lavonne Peterson, in July 1966 in Alexandria, Virginia. The birth sparked tension between Sarah and her father, who ultimately kicked the unwed teenager out of their home. According to ABC affiliate WJLA, Sarah eventually moved in with her grandmother about a mile away from her parents; however, the young girl was under extreme pressure to find a job, prompting her to hire a babysitter for her infant. Sarah was referred to a woman named Alberta Lathern, who resided in the northwest region of D.C.
"She came off as very pleasant, very nice, very sweet, very loving person," Sarah told WJLA about Lathern. "I couldn’t say anything, at that time, negative about her because she treated her so well."
One day, Sarah went to Lathern's home to pick up her 4-month-old daughter. But when she arrived at the residence, Sarah noticed that the front door was open, and everything inside was gone. The young mother immediately concluded her child had been stolen.
"[Lathern] never said she was going to move. She never told us anything. Where in the world is she and she’s got our baby!" Sarah said. "She was a crook. That’s what I thought about her. She was a crook. She stole my child."
Sarah said she alerted authorities about her missing child, but received no assistance.
"When we went to the police station and told our story they said I’m sorry you don’t have enough evidence," she recalled. "You don’t have enough evidence."
Sarah would spend the next several years searching for Roberta, even approaching strangers with children who resembled her daughter.
"I would just run to the street and say is that her, is that her," Sarah explained. "I always looked at somebody’s child. Maybe that’s her. It’s like a death and that’s how it was. That my baby had died."
Roberta said she was raised by Lathern and got along fairly well with Lathern's family. At 7 years old, she was informed that she had been adopted from a young mother who could not support 12 children. Roberta told WJLA that she always had a feeling that her adoption story was a lie. Lathern died in 2007 without ever telling Roberta the truth.
Roberta would spend her adult years searching for her biological mother, but "always hit a brick wall."
As the years went by, it seemed increasingly unlikely that Roberta and Sarah would ever get to meet. But that all changed back in December, when Sarah's sister Deborah, and Roberta's daughter Ursula met each other at an Alexandria soup kitchen. The women reportedly struck up a conversation after realizing they shared the Peterson last name, and eventually realized they were long-lost relatives.
Weeks later, the mother and daughter came face to face for the first time in 53 years.
"I didn’t want to let her go. I think I was crushing her bones. We’re not talking about 10 years, 20, 30 years. We are talking about 53 years. Oh my God, 53 years!" Sarah said.
"53 years. But I always prayed one day. Always, always, always. I always prayed for my momma. You just never, never know," Roberta said. "There are so many people out here looking for their family. They just got to have faith. Have faith and never give up. Never give up. Because there’s hope. There’s always hope."