Eighteen women suspect a long-shuttered St. Louis hospital sold their babies decades ago after telling them their newborns had died, and on Monday sought the help of a St. Louis attorney who represents a woman who was reunited with her 49-year-old child last month.
“God has given me everything the devil has taken from me.”
The women, all of whom are African-American, say they were told their babies had died at Homer G. Phillips Hospital, a city-owned facility that closed in 1979. They have reached out to attorney Albert Watkins, who represents Zella Jackson Price, 76, and filed a petition Monday in St Louis Circuit Court, seeking adoption records at the hospital. Watkins said the women all tell a similar, sad story.
“We’re talking about older black women in St. Louis in their 70s and 80s, in their waning years, just trying to get answers to questions that have been burning in their heart,” Watkins told Fox affiliate KTVI.
Price met her 49-year-old daughter Melanie Diane Gilmore last month after Gilmore's granddaughter tracked Price down using a birth certificate. DNA tests have proven Gilmore is Price’s daughter. Price told FoxNews.com her baby was born six months premature and weighed just one pound.
"That's why it was believable when they told me my baby had passed," said Price, a renowned gospel singer who has performed in films. "When I left that hospital, that chapter was closed."
But Price was contacted on Facebook by Gilmore's daughter, who told her she thought Price was her maternal grandmother. When the girl told her specific details, she became intrigued enough to take a DNA test. Price, who has five other children, now has a total of 12 grandchildren. She wants to see justice done, but more impritantly, wants to make up for lost time.
"If we look back instead of forward, we don't give the glory to God," she said. "I've got to get to work spoiling those children."
The women who have since come forward, all of whom gave birth between the 1950s and mid-1970s, are hoping to find their own long-lost children. One, Brenda Stewart, said she was 16 and unmarried when she gave birth to a seemingly healthy girl on June 24, 1964. She cried as she recalled to The Associated Press how a nurse told her the baby had died.
"They told me I didn't need a baby," Stewart said. "I was too young to have a baby. They told me my parents didn't need another mouth to feed.
"I know my baby's not dead," she added.
Watkins believes there could be many more parents and children to reunite, and that the babies were sold to adoptive parents. He has asked Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay to launch investigations.
"There was, in the city of St. Louis in the 1950s and 1960s, a very dark and unlawful trafficking of human infants of color," Watkins told FoxNews.com.
Watkins hope to make his case by comparing birth records now maintained by the Washington University Medical Center with adoption records filed in subsequent years. But, he noted, Gilmore's own adoption was never formalized until she was 20 years old, leading Watkins to believe that her adoptive parents, who are now deceased, may have known the law was broken.
FBI spokeswoman Rebecca Wu told the AP the bureau is aware of allegations but declined to say whether the FBI has opened a human trafficking investigation.
Price told the St. Louis station there was “nothing greater” than meeting her adult daughter, who lives in Oregon, for the first time after decades of believing the worst.
“God has given me everything the devil has taken from me,” Price said. “I’m getting it back. I’m getting my baby back.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report