British Columbia

Bittersweet ending in mystery of 3 abandoned Prince Rupert babies

Janet Keall spent 21 years searching for the mother who left her on the steps of a Prince Rupert, B.C., hospital, only to find out the woman she believes gave her life had died before they could connect.

'We found her, 99.6 per cent, she is our biological mother'

Kevin (left), Janet Keall (centre) and Kathie Rennie are half-siblings who were all abandoned as infants in Prince Rupert, B.C. (Janet Keall)

Janet Keall's 21-year search for the mother who left her on the steps of a Prince Rupert, B.C.,  hospital in 1977 is over.

Keall, 39, is one of three babies abandoned in Prince Rupert who found each other, then kept searching for their biological mother using social media and DNA testing.

If you really go through life and you really don't know who your biological family is, you treat everybody a little bit differently. And I would almost say a little bit nicer- Janet Keall, abandoned as an infant in Prince Rupert, B.C.

Last night at a town hall meeting in their birth town, Keall revealed that she found her birth mother five months too late.

The woman she called 'Sarah' to protect her identity died in August 2016 of heart-related ailments. Keall said the family decided to keep her name secret as "she's not here to tell her story."

Janet Keall hosted a free town hall to tell her story in Prince Rupert, B.C. (Janet Keall)

During her search, Keall discovered she had two half-siblings, also abandoned at birth in Prince Rupert. On a Facebook page she launched to help in her search, she named them "Rupert's babies."

Keall said she made the discovery of her birth mother's identity while sitting in her childhood room, where she started her quest decades years ago. Her adoptive parents were with her, and her two half-siblings on the phone, as they clicked open the PDF that revealed the truth.

"I still can't quite believe I did it. I've had 21 years of nothing. Nothing and silence," she said today.

"The numbers are just right there. You can't deny it," she said.

"We found her, 99.6 per cent, she is our biological mother."

After Keall cried, out of shock and relief, the reality set in.

She had lived a short car ride away from her biological mother when she was growing up, but she'd had no idea.

They may have met in a store or on the street and remained invisible to one another.

It is a bittersweet end to the mystery Keall investigated via social media and a DNA search.

When she found her first half-sibling, Keall was overjoyed. 

"I just lost it. I was sobbing," said Keall, who now lives in Charlottetown.

Keall, left, has been searching for her family for nearly 20 years. (Gian-Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

Keall, who was discovered on the steps of the Prince Rupert Regional Hospital, turned up a half-sister, Katie Rennie, and her half-brother, Kevin, who were both abandoned around the same period in the same small town.

The trio of "Rupert's Babies"  confirmed the identity of their birth mother when Keall received a genetic test confirmation on Dec. 2. She revealed the result to the public at the town hall after many people in B.C. became interested in her search because of her Facebook posts.

Keall hugs niece Lexie Haidon, half-sister Kathie Rennie's daughter. (Gian-Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

She had struggled with the uncertainty of what she would discover when she launched her campaign, and was not sure if she would share the truth if she was to discover her mother. The feelings around the situation were complex, and she had no desire to hurt anybody.

After she found her brother, Keall kept digging and used newspaper pleas to turn up her sister.

"'Jackpot!' I thought," she said.

DNA tests confirmed that they were related, and that their biological mother had abandoned three infants.

"It shifted things a bit. Our biological mother was really struggling. It was more of a sombre sort of moment," said Keall.

DNA search

Keall then widened her search using a direct-to-consumer genetic testing service, which led to a first cousin.

From there, she said it was easy to find her mother.

Janet Keall and Kathie Rennie exchange a long embrace at Vancouver International Airport. (Gian-Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

She learned through reaching out to her mother's friends that the woman had left Prince Rupert and started a new life. She had a family and remained very quiet about her struggling younger years, after a difficult childhood.

Keall respects that and doesn't regret searching, despite her mother's death.

"Do you go through life with your head buried in the sand and saying 'Oh that might hurt too much'?" said Keall.

"It is better knowing," she said.

A lifetime wondering whether every stranger was a relative gave Keall a special perspective on humanity, she said.

"If you really go through life and you really don't know who your biological family is, you treat everybody a little bit differently. And I would almost say a little bit nicer," she said.

Keall says she knew as she searched that her mother might reject her, or be gone.

Now she says the healing can begin, but she will always wish she could have said goodbye.

About the Author

Yvette Brend is a CBC Vancouver journalist. @ybrend