A South African woman was found guilty Thursday of kidnapping a newborn baby, raising her for 17 years until her real identity was revealed.
A series of coincidences successfully reunited the girl with her biological family.
Three days after her birth, Zephany Nurse was abducted from a hospital in Cape Town on March 30, 1997, leaving her parents, Morné and Celeste Nurse, emotionally distraught.
“My baby was crying and I saw a person dressed in maroon clothes standing by the door. She asked if she could pick up the child,” Celeste Nurse said in her tearful testimony in court, according to BBC. “I was in pain and under medication. I fell asleep. Next thing I remember is the nurse asking where my child was.”
The Nurses had no clue where their daughter was, but they knew Zephany would one day return back to them; They celebrated her birthday every year.
Zephany grew up with a different name only a couple miles away from her biological family. Not once did she suspect that she wasn’t the kidnapper’s biological daughter.
But in January of 2015, the Nurses’ younger daughter, Cassidy, attended the same high school as Zephany, and gradually, their classmates started noticing the resemblance between them.
According to the Guardian, one day Morné Nurse saw Cassidy and Zephany eating burgers together in McDonald’s, and, was flabbergasted by the dual physical similarities. Shortly after, Zephany’s parents contacted the police, and DNA tests confirmed that she was the Nurses’ long-lost daughter, whom they had named Zephany Joy Nurse.
Zephany was then placed in the care of social services, while the 50-year-old woman—who cannot be identified, in order to protect the new identity of Zephany Nurse—was arrested.
The accused woman claims she had no idea the baby girl was stolen, saying that after a miscarriage in 1996, she paid a woman who promised to find her a child to adopt—and in April 1997, that same woman handed her a baby wrapped in a blanket at a train station.
“I never knew she was stolen,” the convicted woman said in a video interview with BBC news, with her back to the camera.
“No one believes me at this moment. I’m a victim myself. I was a victim of a thing I was not aware of.”
No one knew that the woman had a miscarriage for she presented the baby to her husband as their own.
She has not been able to see Zephany since she was arrested in February 2015, according to the New York Daily News.
Judge John Hlophe, who passed on the verdict, said the woman’s account was a “fairy tale.”
“You must have been the person who removed the child from hospital,” he said. “Your story, if anything, is a fairytale and the court rejects it with the contempt it deserves.”
According to Yahoo News, the girl’s biological mother, Celeste Nurse, 36, sobbed loudly as the guilty verdict was handed down while chants of “Yes! Yes!” were heard from the public gallery.
The accused was also convicted of fraud and offences under the country’s Children’s Act for registering the girl as her biological child, reported the Guardian.
The judge denied the accused bail and ordered her to return to court for sentencing on May 30; He said she could face a sentence of up to 10 years in jail.
The now-18-year-old released a statement through her lawyer, who works for the Centre for Child, to give the accused protection from international media interest and not to diabolize her.
“Don’t you think for once that that is my mother? Whether it is true or not is not for you to toy with,” she wrote.