Monday, September 10, 2012

Nicole Culverhouse Reunited With Her Colombian Family After Being Kidnapped As A Child

Through Airmen's Eyes: The way back home
Master Sgt. Nicole Culverhouse, left, hugs
her mother recently in Bogota, Colombia,
uring their first meeting since her kidnapping
36 years ago. (Courtesy photo)
by Staff Sgt. Patrick Harrower
60th Air Mobilty Wing Public Affairs
At a young age, Master Sgt. Nicole Culverhouse, 60th Medical Support Squadron element chief, was kidnapped off the streets of Bogota, Colombia. Her family was unable to find her because the orphanage that she wound up in changed her name. She then was adopted by an American family and brought to the states.

She has made the Air Force her home and even started a family of her own. In August, that family grew by approximately 40 members in two weeks. Culverhouse went to Bogota to attend the 70th anniversary of Casa De Madre y el Niño, the orphanage that took her in. While at the orphanage, she tried to find any information they might know about her family. She searched the streets for parks and landmarks, trying to remember anything she could.

On a long shot, she called a local travel agency to see if it could give her a listing of all the parks in a one-hour radius of the orphanage. "The travel agency thought it was a very odd request," Culverhouse said. "I told them my story and what I was trying to accomplish and they were just overwhelmed by it all. They wrote my story on their online blog in an attempt to help."

Soon, she received an email from a woman in a nearby neighborhood called Perservancia. The woman thought her brother may have gone to school with Culverhouse's brother and knew a similar story. "I traveled to Perservancia and went to the churches there to search for baptism records on myself and my brother," Culverhouse said. "I even walked through the streets with a pencil sketch of me as a child that I had a street artist draw to see if anyone knew the story."

The church soon called her and said it may have found her family. "It was so sad when I met with the family," Culverhouse said. "I wasn't their daughter. Their daughter was kidnapped in 1992 and I was kidnapped in 1975." She took all their information and promised to share it one day to try to help them in any way she could. She then continued to Cartegena, Colombia to continue the search with another orphan in search of family.

While in Cartegena, she received an email from her father in Venezuela. "When we first arrived in Columbia, I had a French filmmaker with me because she was making a documentary about my journey," she said. "She had contacted a news station and told them my story and I was briefly on air. The news clip was broadcast all over South America."

Master Sgt. Nicole Culverhouse, front, in striped shirt, is seen as a little girl with her family in Bogota, Colombia, shortly before she was kidnapped. After being adopted by an American family, she recently reunited with her birth family after 36 years. (Courtesy photo) 
Her father saw the clip and found her on a social-networking site. She was skeptical at first, but after he sent pictures their relation became obvious to her. "Within hours, I was on the next plane back to Bogota to meet my mother," she said. She met her mother, aunts, uncles and other family members that day. Her father and brother came to meet her the next day. Then a flood of cousins, nieces and nephews came pouring in via social-networking sites and phone calls.

"I even met my 90-year-old grandfather who remembered the day I was taken," she said. "He was beside himself that we found each other again." Her family had weathered the loss of her, the loss of her brother to chicken pox and a divorce because of the stress.  "They never forgot about me," Culverhouse said. "They always told my story to my nieces and nephews so nobody would forget what happened."

The family was able to take her to the house she used to live in, the park she used to play in and even the hospital where she was born. Culverhouse was reunited with her family for four days and plans on returning to Colombia in December to spend the holidays with them.

by Sarah Gates