Family is one of the most important aspects of life, especially as a child. Without your parents, you would have had no guidance to mold you into the adult you are today. But what if you grew up only to find out that your whole childhood was a lie?

That’s what happened to Steve Carter Jr., who was adopted at the age of three. Though eventually he became well aware of the fact that those who raised him were not his birth parents, he still wanted to learn more about his biological family. Unfortunately, his curiosity led him to uncover a very disturbing truth…

 United States Army officer Steve Carter was stationed in Oahu, Hawaii in 1980 while living with his wife, Pat, when they decided to adopt a child. They were immediately drawn to a three-and-a-half-year-old boy named Tenzin Amea (below, third from the left), who was in foster care on the island.

Born January 16, 1977, Tenzin had already been in the care of the State for three years. Steve and Pat said the moment they saw him it was love at first sight, and adopted him on September 23, 1980, as soon as they could file the paperwork.

Steve and Pat knew little about their new son’s birth parents. His father was said to be native Hawaiian, and his mother was arrested in 1977 when Tenzin was just five months old. When Steve and Pat adopted the little boy they renamed him William Steven Tenzin Carter.

The young boy once known as Tenzin started going by Steve Jr., and settled into a new life with his parents in the wealthy town of Medford Lakes in southern New Jersey. He had the kind of “normal” childhood that many kids would be envious of, participating in local sports and enjoying plenty of friends.

Andre Engels / Wikimedia Commons

As Steve Jr. (below, middle) grew into adulthood, he was never was able to shake off his curiosity about who his birth parents could have been. Even his family took his heritage as a joke. “With his blonde hair, blue eyes, and light complexion,” Steve Sr. said in an interview, “[he] does not strike one as being of Polynesian extraction.”

With that in mind, Steve received a unique Christmas gift in the form of a DNA test, and was shocked to find out that he had Scandinavian ancestry. Even so, that seemed like it might have opened him up to even more questions than answers.

CNN / YouTube

That wasn’t the first time Steve Jr. was struck by the idea of DNA testing: In 2011, he read a story about a woman named Carlina White (below), who was kidnapped as a baby from a Harlem hospital and raised in Connecticut, believing her kidnapper to be her birth mother until she was 23. She learned the truth after researching missing persons.

Carlina White / Facebook

Recalling Carlina’s story, Steve Jr. didn’t stop at questioning his Scandinavian heritage. He began a quest to learn more about his past, starting with a search on missingkids.com, which is run by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. After combing through records, he made a startling discovery.

CNN / YouTube

Under a listing for a person named “Marx Panama Moriarty,” who’d been missing since July 1977, there was an age progression sketch of how the missing boy may have looked in his teens. Steve Jr. couldn’t believe his eyes. “I got chills,” he said in an interview. “I was like, holy crap, that’s me.”

Steve got in touch with the appropriate authorities as soon as he could for a DNA test. Eight months later, they had proof that he and “Marx” were indeed the same person! Steve Jr.’s wife, Tracey, encouraged him to pursue the truth even further.

CNN / YouTube

After more research, this is what he found: On June 21, 1977, Mark Barnes, a Vietnam War veteran who was working as a journalist at the time, was gardening outside his home in Hau’ula, on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, when his girlfriend, an artist named Charlotte Moriarty, said she was taking their six-year-old son, Marx, on a walk around the neighborhood.

Charlotte, who had a reputation for being a free spirit, never returned. After three weeks, Mark finally called authorities to report his son and girlfriend missing. Unsurprisingly, the police struggled to find any traces of their whereabouts.

Devastated, Mark spent over a year searching for his missing partner and son all over Hawaii. He didn’t want to give up hope, but he had no way of knowing for sure that his son was alive, living a new life in a completely different part of the globe, but that couldn’t have been further from the truth.

Because the truth was when Charlotte and Marx went on that fateful walk, they weren’t just strolling around the neighborhood. They made their way to the opposite end of Oahu, where a resident saw them loitering and called the police.

Carissagalardo / Wikimedia Commons

Once the police officers showed up, Charlotte made up fake names for herself and her son: Jane Amea for herself, and Tenzin Amea for her son. She even provided a fabricated birthday for the boy. By the time Mark reported his girlfriend and child missing three weeks later, police couldn’t make any connection.

As Charlotte was taken to a psychiatric hospital, and the boy once known as “Marx” was put into the care of the state, Mark had no idea that his son was in an orphanage just 30 miles away from his house. Worse yet, when Charlotte disappeared after checking herself out of the hospital, Mark lost his way of retrieving the boy.

Mark wasn’t the only one upset about this turn of events though. “Steve Jr.” also had a biological half-sister named Jennifer, who was eight years his senior. She convinced Hawaiian officials to reopen the case in 2001, which is how they commissioned the sketch of an “adult” Marx.

Once Steve Jr. learned about all of this over three decades later, he was reluctant to reunite with his long-lost family. A few months later, though, he called Jennifer, and spoke to his biological father, who’d moved to California.

As for Steve Jr.’s adoptive parents, the news wasn’t easy to hear. “On an emotional level, I felt like we’d taken someone else’s child,” Pat admitted in an interview. In time, however, they accepted the strange circumstances of the boy they raised.

This may not have been the kind of familial situation that anybody would find ideal, but after everything they went through, it’s nice that they found some closure… even if it did take several decades for them to finally reunite!

Steve Jr. was lucky to find out the truth behind the circumstances of his birth eventually. Hopefully, they’re all coming to terms with it.

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