When Renee Alanko and Justin Kragt were each separately abandoned as children, they had no idea that their stories were linked. But 34 years later, living 600 miles apart, they discovered that they were actually siblings.
This incredible story begins in March 1984 in Seoul, South Korea. At that time, you see, someone discovered an abandoned young boy believed to be just two years old beside a theater. The boy was subsequently handed over to the local authorities.
Then, less than a day after the discovery of the boy, a woman found a four-year-old girl abandoned roughly a mile away. Unlike the boy, however, the girl was able to give police some information about where she had come from.
The woman who’d found the girl had noticed her wandering around a marketplace alone. The woman had then tried to help the girl and discovered a note in the girl’s pocket. It read, “Please send this child to an orphanage through [a] police station. At present, she has no parents.”
The boy, who had been named Hong Ki Hong, was later put up for adoption and raised by a family in the United States. His parents renamed him Justin Kragt, and he grew up in Salem, Oregon, with four adoptive siblings.
Speaking to ABC News, Kragt’s adoptive mother, Sue Maguire, said, “We actually found Justin in a magazine, with this cute little cherub of a face.” Yet despite knowing little about his past at the time of his adoption, Kragt would later make a shocking discovery about his former life.
Meanwhile, Jee Young Lee, the four-year-old girl who’d been able to give police in South Korea her name, was also put up for adoption. She, too, was later raised by a family in the United States. She also became Renee Alanko and grew up in Pleasanton, California.
Both children knew little of their lives prior to adoption, and as they grew into adults their pasts remained mysteries. This meant that they each ended up drawing their own conclusions and taking steps to find out any information that they could.
It turned out that when Kragt was only four years old, he had undergone open-heart surgery. This had been a consequence of being born with congenital heart failure. Kragt therefore believes that part of the reason why he’d been left on the theater steps was because of his health issues.
Discussing his personal history, Kragt told The Oregonian in September 2018, “I was content with what I thought was my story. And what I thought was that my mother may have been a prostitute. A young prostitute who had a baby out of wedlock.”
Alanko’s adoption report was far more detailed, however, and it included the answers she had given to the police when she had first been found. She had in fact told them that her father had drank too much and beat her mother, who’d then ran away. And she’d also revealed that she’d lived with an older sister.
But Alanko’s adoptive mother told The Oregonian that her daughter would also often speak of a baby brother. Over the years, then, Alanko made several failed attempts to piece together her family history, including taking a trip to South Korea.
Then in 2014 Kragt made the decision to use 23andMe to carry out a DNA test in an attempt to find blood relatives. And four years later, Alanko decided to do the same thing – but for different reasons. She was actually considering becoming a mother herself.
And amazingly, they each found a match. To be more precise, Alanko and Kragt discovered that they are, in fact, brother and sister. And after exchanging phone calls and photos, they decided to meet in September 2018 on the very day that Kragt turned 36.
The emotional reunion held at Portland International Airport was caught on camera and is heartwarming to watch. In the footage, and after years of both Kragt and Alanko being unsure about their family histories, they finally meet as brother and sister.
While at the airport, Kragt says, “I always thought I was alone in the world, and I was content with that.” He then breaks down in tears, and Alanko sweetly adds, “Now you’re stuck with me.”
Kragt’s adoptive family are also there to witness the touching reunion, and the footage shows his mom embracing his newly discovered sister. Maguire says, “As a mom of an adoptive child, I could not have planned a better gift to give Justin than this.”
“I knew about him all this time, I just never thought I’d meet him, so this is really amazing,” Alanko says in the footage. “We came from the same parents, which is blowing my mind because I’ve never known anybody related to me, and I never thought I would.”
Despite the reunion, though, there are many questions that still remain. One in particular is: why did their father choose to abandon his children in different places? It seems that this will remain a mystery, however, and above all the pair are just happy to be reunited.
Speaking to ABC News after the reunion, Alanko said, “Knowing that Justin is just a phone call, text or email away, or a short flight away, it has really changed the way that I see myself in the world.” And Kragt echoed this, saying, “The first time that I saw my sister, my heart absolutely melted.”