The story began 49 years ago in a St. Louis hospital, when Zella Jackson Price was told by a nurse that her prematurely born baby daughter had died shortly after birth.
The truth, however bizarre, was that her daughter was alive.
For reasons that remain unclear, the infant ended up being raised in foster care and adopted by another family when she was 16.
For the next half-century, Jackson Price, now an accomplished 76-year-old gospel singer living in suburban St. Louis, and her daughter, Melanie Diane Gilmore, living in Oregon, would lead separate lives, each unaware of the other, but with a gaping hole in their lives.
In August, Gilmore’s own children began looking for their grandmother using Facebook. One of the children found Jackson Price and, after trading messages, began to strongly suspect they might be related. A DNA test was administered to both mother and daughter, and then the family waited for the results.
“The results had stated that Zella Jackson Price was the mother of Melanie Diane Gilmore (Jackson) and it was a 99.9997% match,” Gilmore’s daughter, Melika Jackson, wrote on a GoFundMe page that was set up to finance a family reunion.
Last month, Gilmore’s children surprised their mother with the DNA test results before introducing her to her mother online. Gilmore, who lost her hearing at the age of 3 because of measles, communicates with her loved ones using sign language and by reading lips, according to Fox affiliate KTVI St. Louis.
“It is very, very overwhelming,” Melika Jackson told BlackPressRadio.com. “But for my mother to have her mom back is just wonderful.”
On Thursday, a face-to-face reunion finally took place as local news cameras rolled. As Jackson Price touched her daughter for the first time in nearly 50 years, the two women broke into tears and held each other tightly.
Jackson Price told KTVI she was pained by the decades of separation but thankful for a second chance. Her husband, Gilmore’s father, died several years ago. But, as Gilmore learned during their first meeting online, she does have five other siblings.
“[God] has given me everything the devil has taken from me,” she said. “I’m getting it back. I’m getting my baby back.”
After the tears had dried, Gilmore had a message for her new family as well.
“I am just so happy…very excited,” she said.
Now the family’s attention has turned back to the hospital where their ordeal began. Once St. Louis’s only hospital for African Americans, Homer G. Phillips Hospital closed in 1979, according to NBC-affiliate KDSK.
The building reopened in 2003 as a senior living facility, KDSK reported, noting that that the station has received other reports since Gilmore’s story broke alleging similar incidents of missing infants.
The Price told the station they plan to hire an attorney to investigate the 1965 incident that tore apart their family.
“I’m still kinda in shock,” Jackson Price said. “I don’t know what we’ll find out, what error, what was done, I don’t know what we’ll find out. As soon as we get over the excitement of being together, and everything, I will seek a lawyer.”