Delimar Vera, who police believe was kidnapped when she was only a few days old, was reunited with her mother, Luz Cuevas, on Monday. That was just two weeks after a DNA test confirmed her hunch that the little girl introduced to her at a birthday party as Aaliyah Hernandez was the daughter she thought had died in a fire when she was only ten days old.
Pedro Vera had wanted to be present at the Monday reunion, but he and Cuevas are no longer a couple. Cuevas has custody, and Vera's chance for a visit did not come up until Tuesday.
It was the first time he saw Delimar since the case hit the headlines, but according to a relative interviewed last week by the Courier-Post of Cherry Hill, N.J., Pedro Vera on several occasions was at family events at which both Delimar and his cousin by marriage, Carolyn Correa, were present.
Correa, 42, is accused of stealing Delimar as a baby, setting a fire to cover up the abduction, and raising her as her own child. Charged with arson, kidnapping and 13 other counts, she has been held on $1 million bail since her arrest on March 2.
Police have said that they are looking into the possibility that Correa may have had an accomplice, but they would not elaborate.
A relative - who is cousin to both Pedro Vera and Carolyn Correa - told the Courier-Post that Pedro thought the child was his daughter, but nothing was ever done to follow up on that suspicion.
Monday, Delimar was the picture of happiness: smiling broadly, waving to photographers and nuzzling her mother, whom she hadn't seen since she was 10 days old.
Unfamiliarity isn't the only hurdle to clear: Delimar doesn't speak Spanish, and her mother speaks very little English.
Experts say the energetic little girl probably faces a long and difficult adjustment as she comes to terms with her new life and new identity.
"An unusual and tragic situation like this shakes the very core of a child's sense of stability and predictability of the world around them," said Dr. David Fassler, a University of Vermont professor of psychiatry and a child psychiatrist.
"They've grown up in a family they think is their own, they have a home and school and friends, and suddenly everything they believe about their life is suddenly turned upside down."
Child welfare experts and psychologists said extreme care needs to be taken to help Delimar with the fear, insecurity, confusion and guilt that she has probably already begun to experience.
"I'm at my real home," Delimar told reporters and photographers at her mother's home in Philadelphia Monday. Asked how she felt, she replied with a giggle: "Happy."
She faces a new family environment with complicated new relationships.
"I would be very, very surprised if things go as happily and smoothly" as they did during the reunion, University of Pennsylvania assistant psychology professor Sara Jaffee said. "There are just so many changes this little girl has to face. I would be really surprised if this doesn't take some toll on her."
Since the reunion, Cuevas has severed contact between Delimar and people the youngster knew as her grandmother and brothers.
"What we do know is that in these situations, ongoing conflict between adults in the child's family is detrimental to their adjustment," Fassler said.
Vera's attorney, Michael Luber, said his client desperately wants to be involved in his long-lost child's life but has been "blatantly refused and ignored." Vera was not invited to join Monday night's celebration.
Amid the turmoil, family friend and state Rep. Angel Cruz said Delimar and her mother were doing well. "This is a happily-ever-after story," Cruz said. "She's home."