A missing person case that ends well after 49 years

By Phan Duong   May 19, 2022 | 01:49 am PT
Nguyen Thi Lam, 89, did not believe her son had been found until she saw a photo of a man who looked exactly like her husband.

"That's Tuan," she exclaimed when she saw a round face, curly hair and bushy eyebrows.

She had been grieving the loss of her son for 49 years.

According to Lam she and other people of Village 5 in the northern Ha Nam Province's Phu Ly District went out to work in the fields one summer day in 1973.

When she and her husband, Nguyen Van Quoc, returned home in the evening, they did not see their son, Nguyen Van Tuan.

Nguyen Van Tuan (L) reunites with his mother, Nguyen Thi Lam, and younger sisters in Gia Lai Province on April 23, 2022. Photo courtesy of Tuan

Nguyen Van Tuan (L) reunites with his mother, Nguyen Thi Lam and younger sisters in Gia Lai Province on April 23, 2022. Photo courtesy of Tuan

The family pleaded with relatives and neighbors to help find the boy. One group searched the village and surrounding areas while the other searched nearby ponds. But they could not find him.

The couple even borrowed money and hired people to search in neighboring provinces like Lang Son.

Nguyen Thi Anh, Lam's eldest daughter, says: "At the time my family was preparing to build a new house. But we used all our money to hire search teams and even sold all our livestock and kitchenware."

The family ran out of money after six years and moved to an economic zone in Phu Thien District in the central Gia Lai Province.

But the pain of losing his son proved too much for Quoc, who grieved and fell ill. He passed away in 1992.

Decades later Lam kept praying every day, hoping her own suffering would end.

After the 2022 Lunar New Year holiday, she shaved her head and became a monastic.

"We tried to persuade our mother to stay at home with her children and grandchildren, but it did not work," Nguyen Thi Ban, Tuan's sister who was born a year after he went missing, says.

What happened 49 years ago?

Tuan, who was assumed dead for nearly 50 years, narrates what happened on that fateful day when he was six years old.

In Vietnam, most missing people go missing because they are trafficked, but Tuan endured no such tragedy.

An older boy in the neighborhood asked him to accompany him to the train station to pick up some relatives.

They had to take a boat across a river and then cross another bridge to reach the station. They slept at the train station that night but the boy left the following morning, leaving Tuan crying in the middle of nowhere.

A man came to comfort the crying boy, but Tuan had forgotten where he was from or what his parents' names were because, in his hometown, people called addressed them as his oldest sister’s parents.

He was taken to Nhan Hoa village in the central Thanh Hoa Province, some 100 kilometers from his hometown.

There he was adopted by Dong Thi Can and her husband, who gave him the name Le Van Tuan.

When he grew up, he married a local woman and had three children.

He went on a few trips to look for his biological family and placed advertisements on TV about them, but never received a response.

Tuan, now 55, says: "I only remembered my name was Tuan, my eldest sister's name was Anh and the person who took me to the train station was Phuc.

"I had a younger brother, but he died when I was young. My father was a carpenter who made bullock carts and buggies. My house was near the mountains."

Tuan's adoptive parents' relatives in Thanh Hoa understood his feelings and encouraged him to post information online. After posting on many online forums for northerners in 2019 and not receiving a response, he posted on southerners’ groups this year.

Fortunately, Ban came across one of them and reached out to him since the information was an exact match with her brother’s.

During his first phone call, Tuan and his older sister talked about their childhood memories. He mentioned the litchi tree in front of their house and the winter afternoons when he ran after her to the fields in the mountains to pick leaves and other stuff.

As Tuan kept recalling the memories, his sister kept sobbing. She was sure it was her brother.

Ban's husband, Trieu Van Thinh, went to Thanh Hoa the next day to meet Tuan and take him back to his hometown in Ha Nam's Phu Ly District.

All of Tuan's hazy memories suddenly became crystal clear: After five decades, he could still sketch the path to his house, the shape of their old west-facing house, its living room, and the pond.

"The memories came flooding back, and I could not hold back my tears," he says, eyes welling up.

A few days later Anh sent her daughter to a pagoda in the southern Ba Ria - Vung Tau Province to pick her mother up.

When Lam saw the first picture of Tuan, she exclaimed: "You tried to fool me. Tuan had light skin. His skin was not as dark as this person's."

Her granddaughter kept flipping through photos of Tuan. When Lam saw a photo of Tuan when he was chubbier and had a lighter skin tone, she recognized him instantly and quickly packed her belongings and returned home.

At 7 a.m. on April 23 the family gathered in front of the house to await the reunion. The old mother's eyes filled up as her son got out of the car. They sobbed as they hugged each other.

Tuan's wife, Dao Thi Dang, recounts: "Everyone, from family members to bystanders, was moved. We told our mother and Tuan that joy had returned after nearly 50 years of sadness. They can finally be with each other."

Tuan (white shirt) and his adoptive family in Thanh Hoa Province. Photo courtesy of Tuan

Tuan (white shirt) and his adoptive family in Thanh Hoa Province. Photo courtesy of Tuan

It has been a joyous time for the entire family since then.

Tuan and his wife spent a week in Gia Lai with his family before traveling to Thanh Hoa and again to Ha Nam.

Tuan and his wife were encouraged by their family to leave Thanh Hoa and go to Gia Lai so that they could spend more time with his mother.

But Tuan wanted to take care also of his adoptive mother, and proposed taking Lam to Thanh Hoa with him.

"Both mothers are elderly and frail and don't have much time left in their lives, so my wife and I hope to take care of both of them."

Both families agreed.

"My biggest wish in life has been granted, and now I don't want anything else," Lam says.

Her health appears to be improving, she adds.

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