El Salvador girl abducted in '84 war rejoins parents

Date: 1996-07-20

The Arizona Daily Star
Author: Associated Press
Dateline: SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador

Early this year, Jose Lainz's family showed up at an office here to plead for help finding their daughter, Imelda, kidnapped by the army in 1984 at the height of El Salvador's civil war.

On Thursday, 12 years of separation ended when the girl - now a 17-year-old American known as Gina Marie Craig - was reunited with her natural parents in their village of Los Cocos, a 90-minute drive east of the capital, San Salvador.

``I feel very good about this reunion, because it's been a long and difficult process,'' said Dr. Robert Kirschner of Physicians for Human Rights, the Boston-based group that performed the DNA testing linking Gina to her family.

``These children have a right to know about their natural families, and the families have a right to know where their children are,'' he said in a telephone interview yesterday.

Gina is the first American adoptee to be reunited with a Salvadoran family under a program that has already seen several reunions of Salvadoran families over the past year.

The Association for the Search for Disappeared Children, to which the Lainz family applied, so far has identified 29 of the roughly 300 children listed as missing because of military operations in El Salvador's civil war between 1981 and 1991.

``I feel like I'm back home,'' Gina told The Boston Globe, which published an account of the reunion yesterday. ``All the faces look so familiar. I don't even know who they are, but their faces look so familiar.''

A few fireworks exploded as Gina returned to the small town, which had strung balloons to help make her feel welcome.

``This is a gift from God,'' her father, a corn and bean farmer, told The Boston Globe. ``To be able to see her again after not knowing whether she was alive or dead - it makes me want to cry from joy.''

The Lainz family says soldiers took the girl from a rebel field hospital 12 years ago. A judge later declared her eligible for adoption, and she was taken in by an American couple who believed her natural parents were dead.

The high school senior from a suburb of Akron, Ohio, no longer even speaks Spanish and had to speak to her mother, father and siblings through an interpreter.

Kirschner said workers traced the girl through adoption records.

``In April, I was finally able to find out where they (the adoptive family) actually lived, and I called them at that time and spoke first with the adoptive mother and told her who I was and why I was calling.

``Her first comment was, `Oh my goodness, Gina always said that her parents were still alive.'

``Gina, when I spoke to her about this, said, `Oh, I always knew they were still alive.' She said it in a matter-of-fact way.''

Many of the kidnapped or missing children had parents who were suspected rebels in the civil war. The army has denied kidnapping them, but increasingly, as they are found, the victims blame the military.

``We don't know how many were taken by soldiers, but the numbers may be 200 or more'' of cases involving the military, Kirschner said.

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