A year ago, a Philadelphia man clicked on a website for missing children, and found a picture of himself. That discovery sent Steve Carter on a search to unlock the secrets of his past.
Carter always knew he was adopted, but when got older, he started to wonder who his biological parents were. That curiosity and a simple web search took him on a journey that would change his life and even now, there are parts of his story that remain a mystery.
Man Solves Missing Child Case, His Own
While he's always been happy with his adoptive parents, something never felt quite right. Carter knew he was adopted from a Hawaiian orphanage when he was 4. But his birth certificate was created almost a year after his birth and he was labeled half-native Hawaiian.
Carter, who has blond hair and blue eyes, said, "I don't really have many of the features of a native Hawaiian. ... I mean, there are a couple (features), but very few and far between."
On a hunch, he went to the website MissingKids.com and searched a database. He looked through pictures of children who were reported missing in Hawaii in the past 34 years, and then, saw himself.
"My first thought was, 'Oh my God, that's me.'" The picture is an adult composite of what Marx Panama Barnes, a 5-month-old missing baby, would look like at 26-years old. Carter and Barnes had birthdays one day apart. Their birthplaces are identical.
Carter emailed the picture to his adoptive mother. Carter recalled, "She's like, 'Oh my God, that's you.' And I was like, 'That's what I thought.' And she's like, 'But it can't be you. You know, we adopted you at 4. There's no way you could have been missing at 6 months and we'd be able to legally adopt you at 4.' I was like, 'I was thinking the same thing.'"
Carter called Honolulu Police and the department set up a DNA test. Nearly a year later, it was proven. Marx Panama Barnes is Steve Carter.
"That's when it really started to sink in that I've got a family," Carter said. "I've got another family."
But Carter's other family had a mystery.
Carter learned his biological mother disappeared with him in 1977. She changed his name, his birthday and even the race of his father. When Carter's biological father reported mother and son missing three weeks later, police couldn't connect the dots. Carter would end up in an orphanage and his biological mother in a psychiatric hospital. She later vanished without a trace.
When asked if he knows where his biological mother is, Carter said, "No one knows." But Carter did find his biological father. In a small town in Northern California, Mark Barnes remembers the feeling of hearing his son's voice for the first time since he disappeared more than three decades ago.
Barnes said, "He introduced himself over the phone. And I was absolutely, positively, thunderstruck and amazed. And we just sort of, in an hour of conversation tried to catch up on 32 years."
Barnes says Carter's biological mother would often leave with him, but would always return. Although he never stopped searching for his son, he wishes he would've reported them missing sooner. Barnes said of his son, "Not one day went by when I wasn't - he wasn't in my thoughts."
Carter hasn't seen his father or any of his newly-found blood relatives in person - it's still too soon. In the meantime, he's piecing together his childhood. It's a cold case closed and one of the longest missing child cases in U.S. history solved.
Carter has to try to consolidate all of the people he was over the past 34 years. His two birthdays, three birth certificates and 10 names in all.