She looks like any first-grader in her navy-blue-and-white school uniform. But kids often ask her, Are you the girl who was kidnapped?
Delimar Vera, 7, tells them, without a trace of trauma, that yes, she is.
Vera was just 10 days old when a fire struck her family’s North Philadelphia home in December 1997. That day Carolyn Correa, a distant cousin of her father, Pedro, was visiting. The adults escaped the burning row house, but Delimar wasn’t found. Authorities suggested that the girl’s body had been incinerated. But “I knew my baby was alive,” says her mother, Luzaida Cuevas. “And I suspected Carolyn from the way she disappeared from our lives after the fire.” A native of Puerto Rico who spoke little English and had no money for a lawyer, Cuevas despaired of going to the police with what amounted to mother’s intuition.
Then at a January ’03 birthday party, she spotted Delimar, age 5. “She had the same dimples she had when she was a baby,” Cuevas, 32, told PEOPLE last year. The child, who bore a striking resemblance to Cuevas, was living as Correa’s daughter in Willingboro, N.J. A year later DNA tests proved Delimar’s parentage. In February, Correa, 43, pleaded no contest to charges of kidnapping, criminal conspiracy and interfering with child custody and faces up to 50 years in prison when she is sentenced this summer.
So how is little Delimar doing? A bright, chatty girl, she appears to have adapted well. She does miss a friend from her old school, but, says Cuevas, who split from Pedro Vera in 2001, she doesn’t ask to see Correa: “If she did I would understand, but she never has. She called me Mommy from the start.” She’s learning Spanish. She loves Barbies, anything purple and her three brothers, who dote on her.
“From everything we’ve heard, she’s adjusting very well,” says Ted Qualli of the Philadelphia Department of Human Services, which monitored her case. Occasionally Delimar, who still sees her therapist regularly, does bring up her six lost years. “The question she asked me a lot,” says Cuevas, “was ‘Why did that woman take me?’ I tell her, ‘I would like to know the same thing.'”