Zephany Nurse was stolen from her mother's arms in April of 1997

By Alex Heigl
Updated March 01, 2015 12:45 PM

Celeste and Morné Nurse only knew their daughter Zephany for three days.

Born in April 1997 in South Africa, Zephany was kidnapped from Celeste’s arms while they slept in Cape Town’s Groote Schuur hospital, three days after she was born.

Though Celeste and Morné had three more children, they’ve celebrated Zephany’s birthday every year since she went missing – 17 in total. This year, though, she’ll be celebrating her 18th birthday with her real family, after an incredible coincidence brought her home.

In February, Zephany’s biological sister, Cassidy, started high school, and a few classmates noticed that she looked astonishingly similar to an older girl – Zephany, who grew up under a different name. Cassidy invited the girl over to her house for coffee, and when Morné saw her, they contacted police. DNA tests have since confirmed her identity, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

Police confirmed that the woman allegedly responsible for the kidnapping has been arrested and charged. She has not been publicly named but is described a being a woman in her 50s with no other children. Surprisingly, the woman lived only a few kilometers away from the Nurse family.

Zephany has been placed in the care of the Western Cape government. (The family doesn’t know when she will be returned to them yet.)

Zephany’s aunt, Shantal Berry, told The Guardian on Friday that “It feels like we’re in a dream and we must still wake up. Can this really be happening?”

After 17 years, that reaction is understandable. But as late as 2010, Morné held firm that he would find his daughter again. He told the Weekend Argus that, “I’ll never, ever give up hope. I can feel it in my gut – my daughter is out there and she is going to come home.”