Maine Woman Thought Dead Reunites With Family After 32 Years

Betty Lukich, left, with daughter Donna Keniston. Photo courtesy Donna KenistonA woman believed to be dead for more than 30 years reunited with her daughter and three sisters in Maine on Sunday, bringing with her joy, tears, and answers to many long-unanswered questions.

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“I fell over backwards,” Donna Keniston, a daughter of the formerly missing Betty Lukich, told Yahoo! Shine about first hearing the happy news. “My aunt called me and said, ‘Your mom is alive.’ I was blown away.”

Lukich, 69, first went missing in 1981, shortly after she had moved from Bangor, Maine, to South Bend, Indiana, leaving behind three sisters, an ex-husband, and their four children. She did not contact anyone in her family and no one could get in touch with her—and then a fifth sibling, a brother, called his sisters in Maine one day to report some bizarre and gruesome news.

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“He got drunk one day and called and said he’d buried her in the pot field behind his house,” Lukich’s sister Laura Riegelman told the Bangor Daily News, which first reported on the reunion Sunday. And though no one at first believed the brother—a “wild and woolly character, to say the least,” Keniston told Yahoo! Shine—the story began to seem plausible as the years began to pass without a word from Lukich.

Keniston was 17 at the time of Lukich’s disappearance, but she hadn’t seen her mom since she was 12, and, like her siblings, had no relationship with their mother. “My father wouldn’t let us see her,” she explained of her dad, from whom she is now estranged. “He had threatened to kill her with a baseball bat, and he told us stories when we were growing up about how she wanted nothing to do with us, and we, as children, believed it all. But it wasn’t true.”

Though it would take her years of pain and anger before getting to hear the truth from her mom, she and her siblings still never stopped looking for her.

“Every possible scenario goes through your head,” Keniston explained through tears. “Was she incarcerated? In a mental institution? In a witness protection program? We did everything in our power to find her short of hiring a private eye. We’ve been searching for her our whole lives.”

Then, back in February, Keniston’s older cousins began looking around for Lukich on the website Ancestry.com. Incredibly, Lukich—who had, over the years, found work driving a tractor trailer around the country, attended business school, and settled in Phoenix—had been trying to find her family on that very same website, and a connection was made.

The cousins then contacted Lukich’s sister Mary Inman to tell her that she was alive. Inman called her sisters and then Keniston, who had become close with her aunts over the years, and then Keniston called her siblings.

“My sister was in a restaurant and almost choked on her food,” Keniston recalled. “It’s so incredibly lucky. It’s been overwhelming for all four of us.”

From there, everyone set up a private Facebook page and spent months getting virtually reacquainted before meeting in person. Keniston told her mother that she had two children and two grandchildren, and her siblings shared news of kids, too.

Lukich spoke with Yahoo! Shine, but she declined to elaborate on the reasons behind her leaving and on her staying away for so long. “It was personal problems,” she said. “But everything’s going great now.” While she eventually wanted to get in touch with her family, everyone had moved, she said, and “I didn’t know how to find them.”

Though she’ll stay in Maine for a while—and will be the star attraction at a huge family reunion and 70th birthday party set for August 10—she plans to eventually move in with a daughter in South Carolina. “I’m just glad to get back together with everyone, and for us to live out the rest of our lives together,” Lukich added.

Her sisters, including Virginia Allen, say there are no hard feelings about her staying away for so long. “We thought she was dead,” Allen told Yahoo! Shine, adding that she did not feel angry. Another sister, Inman, said that having Lukich back has been “amazing.” Lukich also said she is not upset with her brother, who told her he “didn’t know” where his damaging lie had come from.

While Keniston admits to struggling with plenty of anger toward her mother over the years, she said she and her siblings are trying to move on. “We still have a lot to work out, but she’s 70 years old,” she explained. “How many years do we have left to spend living in hurt and anger?”

Finally, she hopes her story can be an inspiration to others out there who are searching for their own missing relatives. “Even after 32 years,” she said, “there is a possibility of finding a loved one.”

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