Finding Robert: Woman searches for brother she hasn’t seen in almost 50 years

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MARSHALL COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) - This story is one we've been working on for months, but that's nothing. It's about a woman who has spent years to try to find someone very special to her. Someone she hasn't seen since an awful night in 1967.

Teresa Banarick spent many of her early years afraid to see or have much contact with her younger brother, Robert. But she has spent much of her adult life trying to find him. Their story is tragic, at best. WHNT News 19 is Taking Action to try to reunite Teresa with her younger brother, Robert.

Teresa's memory of that night has always been somewhat vague. She was only five when her mother carried them all to a phone booth outside of a nightclub in Attalla, and left them there. That was the last time they saw her.

The original phone booth was on a sidewalk in downtown Attalla. The kids stood there and waited for hours before someone found them. DHR got involved and the two youngest children were picked up within days by their biological father. But Teresa and Robert stayed in the Etowah County area, bouncing around from one foster home to another. That is, until one day Teresa met a family who was interested in adopting a little boy.

“They had come there to pick up the little boy and he was all dressed and ready to go and I had been outside playing and I had come in and had seem them, I seen them sitting there,” Teresa explained. “Well, this little boy was pitching a fit and he did not want to go with them. And I told them I would go. Well, they all just laughed."

More than anything, Teresa wanted a forever family, and she decided she could be the little boy the couple wanted. So next weekend when they came back for the boy, and again he didn't want to go, so they took Teresa home.

“I did everything he did. I went out to the barn, I seen all the animals. They had cows and pigs and chickens and had a mule and had a horse, and I just followed him around. I was going to be that little boy they wanted. And then I helped her in the kitchen when she was in there cooking, I went in there and helped her. And then on Sunday night when they had to take me back, I went to crying. I didn't want to go back, but I did. And I thought well that was my one good chance. Well the next weekend, they come again and they asked me did I want to go this time,” Teresa explained.

And she did. Teresa had finally found the home and family she had dreamed of. But it came with a terrible price.

“I had got to see Robert before I went down here to live with them for good and I got really upset because I was going to have to leave him, because he was living in another home. But then I got to thinking that I can't let that bother me because, you know, he'll get a home one day, too,” Teresa said.

But he didn't. Teresa says she saw Robert only once after that, the day his foster parents took him to the Harris Home for Children in Huntsville. Officials at the Harris Home say they remember Robert vaguely but say they do not keep records going that far back.

Robert Earl Hale would have left the Harris Home in the early 1980's. He would be about 52 years old now. We tracked down several possibilities and ruled out all but one, a man who had been living in this mobile home in Columbiana. But when we went to check, the mobile home was empty and neighbors said he had been gone for several months.

“What would you say to Robert when we find him,” we asked?

“I think I’d apologize for not staying in touch, for not writing him back. When you're a kid, you're just scared. You're scared and you don't know. But I just hope he's okay and I hope he's done well for himself,” Teresa says.

Teresa explains Robert wrote her a couple of letters while he was at the Harris Home, but she was afraid to write back. She was afraid because she knew her new family had really wanted a boy. She was afraid they would like him better than her. She was afraid she might lose the only real home she had ever known. And she has carried that guilt for a long, long time.

We should tell you Teresa explains she had a wonderful life after adoption. She says the family who took her in was kind and gracious and provided her with a warm and loving home. She says she never heard anything more from her biological mother and doesn’t know if she was ever called to task for abandoning the children. She says she had no desire to ever see her again.