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Facial Recognition Helps Reunite Parents With Kidnapped Son After 32 Years

mao yin reunion

Facial recognition technology helped reunite a family 32 years after their 2-year-old son, Mao Yin, was abducted.

The 34-year-old was reunited with his parents on Monday at a press conference held by the Xi’an police. The family of three shared a long tearful embrace, together again at last.

The missing boy’s mother, Li Jingzhi, and his father, Mao Zhenping, learned the authorities had located their son on May 10— Mother’s Day in China.

“This is the best gift I have ever got,” Mrs. Li said.

Mao Yin was taken from his family in 1988 while he waited outside of the hotel in the Chinese city Xi’an where his father had stopped to get him some water. According to police, as reported by the BBC, the toddler was sold to a childless couple for 6,000 yuan ($840). Mao’s adoptive parents raised him as Gu Ningning.

Meanwhile, Mao’s biological parents spent over three decades searching for their son. Mrs. Li quit her job to look for him full time. She handed out approximately 100,000 flyers in more than 10 provinces, appeared on national television programs hoping to connect with him, and became a volunteer for the cause of missing children.

As a volunteer for the group Baby Come Home, Mrs. Li has helped 29 children reunite with their parents.

Ironically, Mao claims to have seen his biological mother talking about her mission son on television. He was moved by her determination but had no idea he was the child she’d dedicated her life to finding.

In late April, after receiving a tip that a man in Sichuan province had bought a child from Shaanxi in the late 1980s, police in Xi’an used facial recognition technology to analyze a photo of baby Mao in order to create a simulation of him as an adult.

They compared the simulated photo with photos in the national database and tracked down a man in the city of Mianyang who’s photo matched the simulation. Authorities used a DNA test to confirm Mao Yin’s identity as the family’s missing son.

“I would like to thank the tens of thousands of people who helped us,” said Mrs. Li at the news conference.

The investigation into his 1988 abduction is ongoing, but Mao, who now owns a home decoration business in Sichuan, plans to make up for lost time with his biological parents in Xi’an. Mrs. Li continues to volunteer with Baby Come Home, helping families locate their missing children.

Susan LaMarca

Written by Susan LaMarca