(CNN) — “There she is … I think I see her,” an anxious Anthony Wiggs told Raymond Abreu. “With the sunglasses on.”
Raymond was speechless. He glanced at his younger brother, then his eyes darted back to the entrance to the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport baggage claim.
The woman continued to walk slowly toward them — then she froze.
“Elsie?” Anthony called out, his voice a tone higher. “Raymond?” she asked.
It was an emotional reunion between a mother and her sons that had been 46 years in the making. “I love you,” she whispered, kissing both men on the cheek again and again.
As they hugged their mother, Abreu and Wiggs were surrounded by their children and girlfriends, members of the media, airport employees and curious travelers — each perhaps trying to understand what they had just witnessed.
Separated in Puerto Rico
Many months of late-night calls — and a DNA test — had led to that life-changing moment. Now 64-year-old Elsie Ramirez was finally face-to-face with her sons, Raymond, 47, and Anthony, 46. She hadn’t seen them since they were infants. Before the meeting, she had been anxious. “I feel the butterflies … and felt like a new butterfly,” she said as she hugged her sons.
Ramirez said she left Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, in the 1970’s shortly after her relationship with her husband broke down. He was in the military and stationed at Ramey Air Force Base.
Soon after the couple’s relationship soured, social services in Puerto Rico became involved and the brothers and their mother were split up. Raymond Abreu — 10 months older than his brother — moved in with his grandparents. Soon after that, his father took him to San Antonio, Texas.
‘I think my dad panicked’
Meanwhile, baby Anthony had been adopted by the Wiggs family. Marta Wiggs and her family called the boy “Mikey,” a nod to his birth name.
She fondly recalls the morning in 1971 that her late husband called and told her about a little boy who had been dropped off at the base’s social services office — and who needed a home.
“I think my dad panicked,” Anthony Wiggs told CNN. “He didn’t know what to do with me and he took me to someone he knew, who happened to be his sergeant in his platoon, who (also worked) for social services.”
Marta Wiggs already had an 8-month-old boy and said that at the time she felt that she had everything she needed to raise another baby. She immediately agreed to take on the child. “A couple of hours later, we had Mikey in the house too,” she remembered, chuckling. “We were overjoyed.” By 1973, the adoption was official and the Wiggs family moved to California.
Ramirez said she looked for her boys after she moved from Puerto Rico to Massachusetts and was devastated that she couldn’t find them. She said the separation caused her years of pain.
DNA test leads to breakthrough
Anthony, meanwhile, had become curious about his family history. His adoptive mother showed him his birth certificate. He searched the white pages each day and would make a few calls to Puerto Rico, New York and Florida. Eventually he connected with Raymond’s ex-wife living in Texas who put the brothers in touch. Both believed their mother was dead. Everybody they knew to ask told them so. But still they weren’t convinced.
“My brother found me first when I was 28 and he continued the mission to find mom,” Raymond Abreu said. “He was just die hard, ‘I’m going to find her.'”
In May this year they made a massive breakthrough. Anthony’s girlfriend bought him a DNA test for his birthday. He was able to connect with a large database of historical records to find living relatives who shared the same DNA.
The test threw up a match for Wiggs’ cousin, Elsie Ramirez’ nephew, who he then tracked down. The man broke some stunning news — Elsie was alive and living in Massachusetts. “I got on Facebook and just started typing her name,” Anthony Wiggs said. “I ended up on a Facebook page with her best friend.”
Wiggs got Elsie’s cell phone number from her friend and left a voice message. His mother heard his voice on her phone just an hour later. “She was actually at the mall in the restroom,” Wiggs said. “There was a lady in there next to her who heard her screaming and crying out of joy.”
Still in shock, Elsie explained why she was so thrilled to the stranger and then stepped outside to call her son. Anthony had Raymond join the call. Abreu said his mother told them in Spanish “I always prayed, I always tried to look for you.” Then all three cried together.
Making up for lost time
Four of her five Texas grandchildren were at the airport to greet Ramirez when she made her long-awaited arrival recently. They described the experience of being introduced to a new grandma as “surreal, exciting — and nerve-racking.”
Raymond and Anthony also have seven other half-brothers and sisters — Elsie’s other children. “My brother was like, you know what, let’s just take it one step at a time,” Abreu said. “Let’s get mom here to Dallas. Let’s concentrate on her. And next we will concentrate on our siblings. I think we made the right choice. It was too much to handle.”
After being separated by almost 2,000 miles, they are excited about starting a relationship together, as a family. They spent their weekend hanging out at the pool, cooking, going out to dinner, and relaxing. Nobody could sleep, so they stayed up late chatting.
Elsie said she is eager to make up for missed moments and stay as close to her boys as possible. “It doesn’t matter if we’re older now, we’re still her babies,” Wiggs said as he smiled, receiving another kiss on the cheek from his mom.