Woman taken as a baby reunites with her swamp rescuer. But questions linger over her disappearance
Updated 8:49 AM ET, Tue April 27, 2021
(CNN)When Tameka Boone walked into a Virginia dentist's office in late February for a six-month checkup, she never expected to come face to face with the woman who saved her life when she was a toddler.
Tameka, nicknamed "lost and found" as a child by her family, recognized the name "Trudy Gunn" on the appointment screen while being prepped for teeth cleaning.
Tameka, 36, told her story to the dental hygienist, asking if she could meet the woman she had been told rescued her from a swamp after she went missing from her home when she was 19 months old. Even though family members told her she had met Gunn in passing as a young child years later, Tameka said she had always wanted to talk to the woman -- not only to thank her but to hear for herself what had happened.
Gunn, 61, was not expecting to see Tameka at the dentist's office either but told CNN she never forgot about the toddler she found sitting alone on a tree stump in the swamp. Tameka's request was granted and it was a joyous reunion as the two tearfully hugged, took photos and talked about that terrifying day.
"I was excited to meet her, but the emotions she had in the moment made me emotional," Tameka said. "I was especially emotional when she said she thought about me all the time ... I wasn't just an afterthought, it's the caring for me."
Vowing to keep in touch, the women exchanged numbers. But the surprise meeting reignited Tameka's curiosity about her disappearance.
'Lord, let me find her and let her be OK'
On April 27, 1986, Shelia Lewis, Tameka's aunt, and Julia Boone, Tameka's mother, left the family house in Branchville, Virginia, early in the morning to go to the store while Tameka stayed behind with other family members, Lewis told CNN. When the sisters returned hours later, children were playing in the yard, but there was no sign of Tameka. Her mother called for her, the family looked around the house and the neighbor's house for about 30 minutes before realizing that she was missing. The family was "afraid, frantic," Lewis told CNN.
After calling the police, a communitywide search began, with a helicopter from a nearby hospital, search dogs, search and rescue organizations and local and state police officers assisting in the nearly eight-hour effort, according to a local news report.
Gunn was home nearly three miles away when a friend and then volunteer firefighter, Bob Beatty, told her a child was missing. Gunn and Beatty drove to the search area with her two horses and began looking for Boone in a wooded area. While on horseback, Gunn and Beatty waded through swamp water that she says was "up to the stomach of the horses" and searched for hours while calling Tameka's name.
"I kept praying, 'Lord, let me find her and let her be OK,'" Gunn told CNN.