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AFTER 37 YEARS, A JOYFUL REUNION PARENTS MEET THE DAUGHTER THEY WERE FORCED TO GIVE UP

The dimple in her nose. The sound of her voice. The shape of her brown eyes. The gap in her front teeth.

Mother and father looked over their daughter, and they knew: She belongs to them; she's their flesh and blood.

It was a moment usually reserved for parents and newborns. John P. Elias of Buffalo and Eleanor Platt Wozniak of Erie, Pa., were overjoyed to know their baby daughter, even though she's now 37 years old.

"I've looked forward to this; you don't know how long," said Elias, turning toward this daughter, now at his side. "You can't believe what we've been through."

Amid hugs and tears, the three released years of pain. The daughter, too, had tried to find her parents but, like them, had met dead ends. "It's like a puzzle that finally went together," she said.

"For 37 years," her mother said. "I didn't know if you were alive or dead."

Their reunion was a moment that parents and child had long dreamed about.

Emotional turmoil set in on Saturday when they discovered that Sally Lou Briggs Riley of Lawrenceville, Pa., was really Rose Marie Platt, was really Rose Marie Platt, the infant daughter they were forced to give up for adoption in Jamestown in 1954. Victims of racial discrimination, the couple were forced apart because Eleanor's father was outraged that his daughter was pregnant with a black man's child.

Despite the couple's plans to marry, Elias went to prison for statutory rape. When Eleanor tried to see him after his release, she was banished to a girls' home for three years and coerced into signing final adoption papers. They lost track of each other until 1987, when Elias tracked down Mrs. Wozniak and they jointly decided to search for their daughter.

Their search took many turns -- all unsuccessful. Finally, in 1989, they contacted Dominic Telesco of Buffalo, who operates the Center for Reuniting Families, a non-profit search service. After many unsuccessful tries to open Rose Marie's adoption records, Telesco took their story to the NBC television program "Unsolved Mysteries," which aired a 12-minute segment Wednesday on Channel 2. Their story had appeared in The Buffalo News in November.

The reunion was actually made possible by Ms. Riley's adoptive mother, Sarah Briggs, who had told her daughter as a child that she was adopted. Later, she gave her records that listed her birth name, her biological mother's name and her birth date, Sept. 13, 1954 -- and place -- Buffalo.

Meanwhile, Ms. Riley had gone to Jamestown about 10 years ago, but officials refused to give her any information. Recently, though, she shared her story with a friend who remembered the name while watching the television program. He recorded the show and showed it to Ms. Riley the next day.

When she called the show, she was referred to Telesco who, with his wife, Sarah met with Ms. Riley on Saturday in her Pennsylvania home, 13 miles south of Corning.

The reunion with her parents took place in Telesco's home.

Elias and Mrs. Wozniak watched from the kitchen window as Ms. Riley and her fiance, Albert Beach, emerged from their car.

"She's pretty," whispered Elias as his daughter walked from her car.

Telesco stood next to Mrs. Wozniak, helping her steady her wobbly knees.

When Ms. Riley reached the door, they immediately embraced and sobbed.

"I didn't think I'd be emotional, but I was," Elias said later.

"We found the needle in the haystack," Telesco said.

"Yeah, because the needle just happened to have papers," Ms. Riley added.

For five hours Monday, parents and daughter tried to bridge the gap in their lives.

"I always said she'd look more like me than you, but she looks like both of us," Mrs. Wozniak exclaimed.

"You sure have your mother's voice," Elias noted.

Seeing her daughter reminded Mrs. Wozniak of the day she handed her over to two social workers. She was a chubby baby -- 21 inches long and weighing 8 pounds, 13 ounces. "I stood you up on the windowsill and said goodbye hoping to see you again," she said.

The more they talked and studied their daughter, the more they could see traits of themselves in her. Like her mother, she was stocky, outspoken, loved sports and enjoyed mechanical tasks. She also studied nursing -- a dream her mother never fulfilled.

Like her father, she had long legs, long fingers and black curly hair and talked with her hands. Her smile was a blend of them both.

They sat close, holding hands, hugging, teasing, laughing.

Using photographs and her high school yearbook, Ms. Riley reconstructed her life -- long braided hair, lifeguard, volleyball player, Corning Community College, nursing. For the last 14 years, she has worked as a senior blueprint clerk at Dresser-Rand Industries, a compressor manufacturer in nearby Painted Post.

"Here's your grandchildren," she said pulling out 8-by-10 photographs of her children, Litonya, 15, and Thomas John, 12.

"My (adoptive) mother is happy. She wants to meet you," Ms. Riley told Mrs. Wozniak.

"I'll have to thank her for doing a good job," she answered.

With Ms. Riley filling in the gaps, Elias and Mrs. Wozniak know now that their infant was placed with three foster families until she was 2 1/2 years old. It was then that Sarah and Earl Briggs of Steuben County came to Jamestown eager to adopt a mixed-race child. Briggs, a car dealership manager who died last year, was black. His wife, Sarah, who now lives in Jamaica, was black and Native American, of the Oneida Mohawks.

They have always celebrated April 29, 1957, as the date of Ms. Riley's arrival.

"I'm happy to know that her adoptive parents raised her as their own child and provided for her and cared for her," said Elias, whose wife, Frances, son Mark and daughter Michelle Hennegan support his search. Mrs. Wozniak's husband, Stephen, did, too.

"I had never felt anything against either one of them," said Ms. Riley. "It makes me feel even more special, that they went through hell, and I know now that they both still cared about me." Knowing she was a mixed-race child allowed Ms. Riley to surmise why she had been given up for adoption.

Still, Ms. Riley knows that she can make choices her parents could not make. Her fiance, Albert Beach, a co-worker, is white.

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