Philadelphia, PA

Mother Discovers Daughter Alive Six Years After Thinking Her Baby Died in a Fire

Nik

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Delimar VeraPhoto byNikki Young/Canva

In December of 1997, the Cuevas family was getting ready to celebrate Christmas in snowy Philadelphia. The excitement in the home was palpable, not only for the holidays, but the mother of the home, Luz, had just brought home from the hospital a baby girl named Delimar. This was Luz’s third child, but it was her first baby girl with her husband Pedro and the family was over the moon excited to finally have her home. She was just 10 days old, eating and sleeping a ton, cooing and snuggling with her parents and siblings.

That evening, the family was getting ready to settle into their small row house for the evening when there was a knock on the door. It was a distant family member, named Carolyn Correa. She was related to Luz’s husband, Pedro Vera, and was a 2nd or 3rd cousin. Carolyn had been at their home the day prior and now she was at the door because she said she had forgotten her purse there. Pedro allowed Carolyn to come in to have a look for her purse, which she thought was upstairs. It was later in the evening, so at this point, both of the boys were in bed and the newborn little girl, Delimar, was asleep upstairs in the front bedroom.

Luz would say that suddenly and seemingly out of nowhere, she heard a loud explosion come from upstairs. She ran from downstairs up the stairs to see what was happening and that's when she saw the fire, which was located in the front bedroom where the baby was sleeping. Even though the flames were out of control, Luz would say that she fought through them to get to her baby but was shocked to find the crib empty. It would get too hot for Luz to stay in the home any longer, so ran outside where the rest of her family was safely waiting. Luz was convinced that someone had taken her baby - but when the flames were finally put out, firefighters would say that the flames had likely burned so hot that there wouldn’t be any remnants of a body left behind, especially a tiny newborn baby.

All of this would be according to Delimar’s mother, Luz. But - it’s important to note that there are several different versions of events that have been told. Jeremy Farson, a neighbor who lived just a few doors down, would say that he ran outside after hearing people screaming, in particular, someone was yelling that the baby’s room was on fire. When he got outside, he saw the Vera's home up in flames. Another neighbor standing outside the fire told him that the two adults of the household, Pedro and Luz, were away at the time and the kids of the home were being babysat by their grandmother.

Farson tried, along with other neighbors, to make sure the house was all clear and everyone got out safe, and to try to put the fire out with a nearby garden hose. Sadly the flames were far too high for anyone to do anything substantial while they waited for the fire department to arrive on the scene. While Farson stood there with the hose to the fire, he would say that Luz pulled up to the house screaming and crying. She got out of the vehicle and ran into the flames looking for her children. This was around the same time that the fire department arrived.

Luz would exit the home coughing from smoke inhalation without her baby in her arms. He would confirm that she was convinced her baby was not in the home, even as firefighters tried to tell her otherwise. It would take the fire department around 15 minutes to get the fire under control. Everyone in the family was accounted for - except for baby Delimar. Still, Luz cried that her baby was missing - and not in the fire. She would be treated for burns to both her face and ears, as well as for smoke inhalation.

Investigators would determine the cause of the fire to be a faulty jimmy-rigged extension cord that was used to connect a space heater in the baby’s room. The fire department would recover what they believed to be baby Delimer’s remains in a yellow blanket - but when it was tested, it would turn out to be mattress debris, not of a body. Either way, the fire department was convinced that the baby perished in the fire and the flames were so hot that they completely destroyed her body. It was all an accident as a result of the extension cord. A tragic fire of a family home resulted in a baby's death. No funeral would be held for the baby and it’s alleged that the medical examiner’s office never issued a death certificate for Delimar.

Case closed.

But it wasn’t case closed for Luz. She was sure that she did not see Delimar lying in her crib when she battled through the flames. She was certain that someone must have set the fire deliberately and taken her. Unfortunately, no one was listening, not even Luz’s husband and baby Delimar’s father, Pedro. The fire and resulting devastation were too much for their marriage to survive and sadly they would divorce. Pedro trusted what the fire department was telling him, that his baby daughter had died in the fire. He had no reason not to believe them. But Luz always held on to hope. It would become a point of contention in the marriage. They would constantly argue about whether or not Delimar died in the fire. The fighting got so bad, that ultimately they would make the decision to separate.

Luz would try her best to carry on and continue to raise her two other children while still feeling like a big piece of her heart was missing. But everything would change in January 2003 when she attended a family member’s birthday party. In attendance at the party was Carolyn Correa, Pedro’s cousin, the same cousin who was at the Vera house the night prior to the fire and possibly the night of the fire. Carolyn brought a little girl with her, who she said was her daughter, named Aaliyah.

Right off the bat, Aaliyah caught Luz’s eye. The longer she stared at the little girl, the faster she came to the realization that this child looked identical to her daughter Delimar. She looked to be the same size and age that Delimar would be - and she had the same unique dimples that her other children had. Luz was sure that Aaliyah was actually her daughter Delimar, and that Carolyn must have kidnapped her the night of the fire. She knew the police weren’t going to just take her word for it, so she needed some sort of solid evidence. Some confirmation of who she was. Luz told the little girl that she had gum in her hair and she would help her to get it out. While pretending to remove the gum, she pulled some strands of her hair out of her head and put them in a baggy.

As you can imagine, when she showed up at the police station with this bag of hair, the police didn’t really take what she was saying seriously. They certainly weren’t going to run any DNA tests. The case of their house fire was long since closed and it was assumed that Delimar was deceased. There was no reason to run a DNA test against this girl’s hair. Especially because Carolyn Correa was able to produce a birth certificate for her daughter Aaliyah, which said that she was born on January 6, 1998, in a home birth. Carolyn listed herself as the attendant, basically saying she gave birth at home by herself. She was able to register this baby’s birth by providing an affidavit from the local registrar's office. That was all she needed to get a birth certificate for baby Aaliyah - but it was enough for the police to be satisfied that Aaliyah was not really baby Delimar.

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Aaliyah over the yearsPhoto byImage: Reuters

No matter how hard Luz pushed the police to do the testing, because she knew that was her baby, they wouldn’t pursue it any further. It wasn’t until she went to Pennsylvania Rep. Angel Cruz, who put pressure on the authorities to look further, would Luz get the answers she was looking for. When a DNA test was completed, it would be determined that Aaliyah Ann Hernandez was really Delimar Vera. Carolyn Correa had deliberately set fire to their home in order to take the baby.

As if this story couldn’t get any stranger, it’s reported that Carolyn did actually give birth to a baby in her home just three days before the fire took place, but it's unclear what happened to that baby. Carolyn’s boyfriend at the time believed that she was pregnant with a little girl and that he was the father. We don’t know what happened to that baby and if that’s the reason she decided to steal Delimar, but a close family friend would confirm assisting Carolyn with her home birth. Did Carolyn's baby die shortly after birth? Was the baby stillborn? We don't know.

Either way, Carolyn appeared to be shocked to learn that she was not Aaliyah’s biological mother. She refused to believe that Aaliyah was actually Delimar, Luz and Pedro’s daughter. It was to the point that she paid an independent lab to run a DNA test - which would confirm that the child was not Carolyn’s biological doctor. Carolyn was devastated to learn the results, which truly did seem to surprise her.

One of her friends, Mary Lou Puchales, would say that a hysterical Carolyn cried to her,

“Where's my baby, Mary Lou? I thought for six years Aaliyah was my baby. If Aaliyah's not my baby, who has mine?' | Source: Tampabay.com

While there are a lot of different versions of what happened the night of the fire and what happened over the years with Carolyn raising Aaliyah/Delimar, it sounds like Carolyn was really pregnant and gave birth to a live baby. Something may have happened to that baby in the days leading up to the fire. Maybe Carolyn has blocked it all out and really doesn’t remember what happened with baby Aaliyah or with the house fire and taking baby Delimar. She may have snapped, blocked it all out, and convinced herself that Delimar was really Aaliyah.

Carolyn had a history of difficult pregnancies and losing children. In 2001, she became pregnant with her husband however tragically the baby was born with a heart defect and died just a few hours after being born. She would also suffer from several miscarriages over the years. It is likely that she was suffering from a postpartum mental health issue when she stole Delimar Vera. Those who knew her described her as a happy and energetic woman, and a doting mother who loved her daughter very much. By all accounts - Carolyn took very good care of Aaliyah/Delimar over the years.

While kidnapping a child was totally out of character for Carolyn, fires weren’t. She had a history of starting them and may have been a pyromaniac. In 1998, she set fire to a medical office she worked at and received five years probation. The fire wasn’t a mistake - investigators believed that Carolyn was trying to destroy evidence. She had been stealing checks from her company and was very close to getting caught and being turned in to the police. For setting fire to the Vera home and taking their baby, she would be charged with kidnapping, arson, assault, concealing the whereabouts of a child and interfering with the custody of a child. She would turn herself into authorities. She would be sentenced to nine years to 30 years behind bars, which is a huge gap of time and I’m guessing will ultimately depend on her behavior.

When this case went to trial, things got really messy. Carolyn would accuse Delimar’s father, Pedro, of being in on the whole kidnapping plan. There would be rumours and allegations that Pedro was actually having a romantic relationship with his dear cousin Carolyn, and the plan was for the three of them to be a family. All of this was just speculation and none of it would be proven, however, the judge would even confirm that they believed a second person was likely involved - they just weren’t sure who. No one else would be charged for the fire or the kidnapping.

With Carolyn now in jail, Delimar would be reunited with her biological parents Pedro and Luz - as well as her two siblings. Delimar was now seven years old and went by the name Aaliyah, as that is what she had been called her entire life. Carolyn had raised Delimar to be English-speaking only, which made communicating a bit complicated as Pedro and Luz only spoke Spanish and very broken English. So much time had passed over the years, that it was a difficult path to navigate - but worth it to build those relationships again.

Aaliyah/Delimar would move into her biological mother’s home and spend the rest of her childhood growing up with her two biological brothers. Carolyn will likely never get to see the little girl she raised as her daughter - but time will tell if when that little girl grows up she wants to pursue a relationship with the broken woman who took her.

If you find this story interesting, there is a Lifetime movie based upon this story called, “Little Girl Lost”. It’s a decent watch, based on the events of the Delimar Vera disappearance - but it definitely has more of a Hollywood spin on it.

Sources

https://www.ranker.com/list/bizarre-true-crime-twists/chrissy-rose?fbclid=IwAR0qev8Z5bqknM-RQqWZAjL1dLcOmnS0wvjOh2FNA9gmouQP7RPKhpjm0XE

https://www.tampabay.com/archive/2004/03/21/murky-details-cloud-girl-s-return/

https://www.reddit.com/r/mrballen/comments/vslejy/delimar_vera_1998_stolen_years_a_baby_who_was/

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