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An American woman left home at the age of 14 and disappeared without a trace, and after 20 she unexpectedly returned



After 20 years, the missing daughter unexpectedly returned to an American woman. She speaks fluent Spanish, gave birth to four children, invented a new personality for herself and still harbors a grudge against her mother, who is sure that she gave the girl a cloudless childhood. The story of the prodigal daughter and a difficult reunion - in the material

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For 20 years, 10 months and 2 weeks, Cynthia Haag lived alone in her old house, from which she could not move, with the hope that her child would someday come back. The phone rang - Cynthia held the receiver to her ear, her heart skipping a beat.

The eldest daughter called. She said she unexpectedly received a Facebook message from Crystal, her long-lost sister.

Alarmed, Cynthia subconsciously prepared for another disappointment, suspecting that someone had decided to play a cruel joke on their family. But when she saw the photos on the Facebook page, she had no doubts. Still the same beaming smile, the same look. The daughter, whom she remembered as a 14-year-old teenager, has turned into an adult woman.

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Cynthia agonized, asking herself more and more questions. Why did her daughter leave? Where have you been all this time? Why did you decide to return? And most importantly, was everything going well with her during these years?

Half an hour later, her eldest daughter, Bianca, was already halfway to New York, where Crystal lived in the northern region of Harlem. Late in the evening she finally managed to find the house where her missing sister lived.

Her hair was now short, and she spoke mostly Spanish. And most importantly, it was no longer Crystal Haag, which should have been 35 years. In her new life, she changed everything, including her last name and year of birth, and turned into 44-year-old Crystal Sanders. But now all these changes had no meaning.

“It's still my beautiful girl,” Cynthia sobbed, hugging her daughter, sobbing. Crystal has finally returned home. But the hardest was still to come.

Small fugitives

In 2018 alone, more than 424 missing child claims were filed in the United States. Most of the disappeared can be found, many soon return home themselves. For some, the journey home takes hours, days or months, for others it takes years. But it is extremely rare for children who were lost as long ago as Krystal to return to their parents. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, from 2011 to 2016, only 56 children who had not been heard from for more than 20 years were reunited with their families.

Such reunions always end in the same way — tears, hugs, and dreams of a new and happy life. Megan Goode, curator of the Charlie project — a database of missing people — describes these meetings in simple words: “The End of a Bad Tale.” But experts know that in many cases everything goes on much more complicated and painful.

“It’s not so easy to find and start living anew,” says Robert Loveri, an official representative of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, in his report on long-term missing children. “Both sides have difficult feelings that need to be experienced; it takes a lot of time, patience and understanding.” The longer a person is out of the family, the harder this process goes.

Lori Peterson of Colorado Springs, whose 16-year-old son Derek has been missing for more than four years, recalls with tears all the trials her family went through. Derek was a troubled teenager and was under observation in one of the special institutions for children with problematic behavior, from which he escaped at the first opportunity. All four years he was homeless and just wandered around the state, while his parents experienced terrible emotions. Convinced that their son was dead, they were forced to go to the identification of corpses.

“I cried every day on the way to work in the morning and in the evening, returning home,” recalls Laurie.

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One day Derek just suddenly returned home. Parents who buried him in their thoughts and even ordered service in the church for the repose of his soul, it was incredibly difficult to forgive his son for this pain. Probably, their relationship will never be confidential and painless.

“It’s not really a mother-son relationship,” Laurie admits. “I missed some important years of his life when he went from being a teenager to being a man. There are many nuances that I will never know about him.”

Most of the missing children are fugitives like Derek Peterson. But not all of them before the disappearance of the parents noticed any behavior problems. Some leave the house, at first glance, without any reason. Crystal Haag was also such a child, missing on Saturday, April 26, 1997.

Cynthia's Horror

Cynthia Haag worked as a cashier at a small grocery store and earned very little, just a few dollars per hour. However, she was proud that she could provide her children with clean clothes and tasty food. She raised four children alone, because the chores and concerns about financial well-being lay only on her shoulders.

On the morning when she saw her daughter for the last time, everything was as usual. After preparing breakfast for her daughter, Cynthia asked her to spend the evening at home, and she agreed. The mother went to work not suspecting that she would not see her daughter for more than 20 years. Krystal was a good obedient girl who was always praised at school. She got along well with her classmates and with her brothers and sister.

When Cynthia returned home and did not find a daughter there, she began to call friends, relatives and everyone who could know where Crystal could be. She refused to think about the worst and went through all sorts of options in her head - maybe she sat up with friends? Or decided to escape? But all this was not like her daughter, so very soon Cynthia went to the police.

Since then, she tried to recognize Krystal in every dark-haired girl. One day she was walking along Baltimore Street and, as she thought, she saw her daughter across the street. By the time Cynthia crossed the road, the girl was gone. On another day, Crystal dreamed about her in the back seat of the bus. But every time Cynthia was cruelly mistaken.

“She always wore a baseball cap,” repeated the grieving mother to the cops.

But this detail was not enough to find it. The family stopped celebrating Christmas - it seemed wrong. Years passed, and police reports did not bring anything good:

  • 29 April 1997: "Crystal Haag is still not back."
  • 19 August 1999: "The investigation is ongoing."
  • May 3, 2006: "Crystal's case is still open."
  • September 20, 2010: "All search efforts have been exhausted."

Spoiled childhood

Crystal recalls her childhood in very different words. She says that she did not get along with almost any of her relatives, she was quiet and constantly afraid. Crystal was not the happy child that her mother considered. All that she remembers are the years of despair and fear, when the only thing she dreamed about was escape.

When she was 9 years old, she was first raped by a man who lived in a nearby house. Over the next few years, this happened so often that it seemed to be the norm. She had not told anyone about this for a long time, but when she had matured a little, she began to realize that there was nothing normal in that. Harassment lasted so long that Crystal began to think that her mother simply could not be unaware of this, could not but notice the suffering of her daughter for so long. Over time, suspicions turned into faith.

"What mother could do that?" Crystal thought.

That Saturday morning in April, 1997, 14-year-old Crystal decided to change her life forever. She spent the whole evening with friends. Understanding perfectly well that if she comes home, she will find an angry mother there, she decided not to return a little more. The next day, she realized that she would never return to her parent’s house.

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She took a bus to New York and soon she was walking around the big city looking at the license plates of cars. The girl took nothing at all with her and felt that her knees were trembling with fear. The first few nights she slept on the street, until she reached Upper Manhattan, where she forever said goodbye to her past - she became 23-year-old Crystal Sanders. Now she no longer remembers why she chose that particular surname.

She found a job — started cleaning up houses and apartments, was able to find housing in a cheap, mostly Dominican quarter, became pregnant, and even managed to get a fake driver's license. Later she received a medical card, which in New York can be issued by any pregnant woman without any additional documents.

Crystal never raised suspicions with her new entourage. It was easy to get used to her new name, because she changed only her last name. In her 14 years she looked older, so no one doubted that she was already 23. If someone asked her about her relatives, she simply said that she had no one left.

“Many have no family at all, this is not uncommon,” Crystal shrugs.

After some time, she became fluent in Spanish, had four children, got a job in the food industry, became a full-fledged member of the Dominican community, and even found new relatives - people whom she noted on Facebook as “grandfather”, “grandmother” And cousin. She had enough of it. New personality organically replaced the old one.

Therefore, it seems quite natural and her post on Instagram, published on January 29 2014 of the year. Then Krystal actually turned 31. In the picture she holds a birthday cake, and in the signature congratulates herself on her fortieth birthday.

“We have already seen this,” said Robert Loveri of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. “Some of these children do not want to be found, so they invent a new personality for themselves.”

“I just hope we get a little closer”

In the national database "Nexis" 45-year-old Kristal Marie Sanders is listed as a fully realized person, with a list of home addresses in New York, a financial history and criminal conviction. In the name of Crystal Marie Haag, there is no information in the same database.

When her eldest son Brian, who recently turned 20 years old, grew older, he began to ask questions. He wondered what happened to the family of his mother. He insisted that every person should have at least someone. At first, Crystal had ignored her son’s curiosity, while she peeked through Facebook profiles of her brothers and sisters still living in Baltimore.

She longed to contact them and often thought of her mother. But Crystal became terrified at the thought of contact with someone from her past life, she felt guilty for leaving them without saying a word. Only after her son began to pester her with questions did she write to her sister Bianca. After that, events unfolded rapidly. Bianca immediately came to her in New York. A few hours - and Krystal will cross the threshold of the house, which she once decided to leave forever, and see her mother, who was beside herself with happiness. Cynthia tearfully begged her daughter to spend the night in her own home - and the woman decided to stay.

But the joy of reunion soon gave way to confusion and resentment. “She tries to teach me like a child ... but I already have children myself. It's so difficult that it seems like it would be better to stay away, ”complains Krystal. In turn, Cynthia sadly says that her daughter has become a completely different person: "I just want to be able to love her."

In addition to everything, Cynthia had to find out why her daughter left home. A few months after her return, Crystal finally told her mother that she had been sexually abused since 9 for years and was sure that her mother knew about it.

Cynthia was shocked. She claims she had no idea what was going on, but no matter how many times she repeats it, Krystal still doesn't believe her. She loves her mother - that's why she came home, that's why she missed her all these years. But there are a lot of contradictions that pull these relations to the bottom. Sometimes it begins to seem that they will never be able to overcome them.

Month after month women try to find mutual understanding. A year later, Crystal moved to Baltimore with her aunt to live next door to her mother. They try to be close to each other, and each of them wants more.

“I just hope we get a little closer,” Cynthia admits.

This is the beginning and at the same time the end of another story - when Crystal returned home, Cynthia finally decided to move out of the old house, which she had refused to leave all these years.

“I will eat this year,” she rejoices. “Finally my time has come.”

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