On December 15, 1997, a fire started in a two-story row house in north Pennsylvania. Luz Cuevas, the resident of the home & frantic mother, rushed into her 10-day-old infant’s room, in search of her baby. She was unable to locate her & soon became overcome by smoke & burns to her face & was forced to flee the home, saving her two other children.
When firefighters managed to extinguish the fire, there was no sign of baby Delimar Vera; they concluded that the baby’s body must have been incinerated by the flames that had been caused by an overheated extension cord from a space heater. The fire had mainly been contained to the baby’s room.
Luz refused to believe what she was being told & insisted that her daughter must have been kidnapped.
Delimar Vera was born on December 5, 1997 to parents Luz Cuevas & Pedro Vera. Despite Pedro being present at Delimar’s birth & being the person to cut the umbilical cord, he did not sign the baby’s birth certificate.
In the late afternoon of December 14, 1997, the day before the fire, Carolyn Correra came to 4410 Hurley Street in hopes that Pedro Vera, her cousin, would fix her car which was having brake problems. It was the first time she had visited the home; she had never met Luz Cuevas. While at the home, she told Luz that she too, had recently had a baby.
The next day, December 15th, Carolyn returned, saying that she had left her purse upstairs. Shortly after she left, the fire started in the upstairs front bedroom; it was about 7pm. Neighbors began to hear screams & saw Luz standing in the middle of the street, screaming in Spanish, “My baby! My baby!” Smoke & flames raged from the second story windows of the home as neighbor Gloria Mojica & her son, Jose Rosario, rushed inside & tried to climb the stairs to save baby Delimar. The smoke quickly forced them from the house though they said that they could hear the baby upstairs. Jose said that he heard crying & tried his hardest to save the baby, but couldn’t because he was choked by the smoke.
Luz tried to save her baby, entering the room twice; she suffered burns to her face & was unable to locate Delimar who wasn’t in her crib.
Pedro Vera, from conflicting reports, said he was either alerted to the fire by his cousin, Carolyn Correra or his partner, Luz after he soon arrived at the scene. Within fourteen minutes, the fire was extinguished. Absolutely no remains were found belonging to Delimar, and again, the baby was said to have been consumed by the flames, her body incinerated.
Due to the lack of remains, a funeral was never held for Delimar & the Medical Examiner was not able to issue a death certificate, telling the family that they needed to go to court to obtain one.
Pedro Vera & Luz Cuevas remained a couple until December 2002, more than five years later. Prior to this, they moved into a new home & had a second child together, Samuel, in 1999. Pedro worked as a car mechanic & as a stocker at Dollar Tree while Luz stayed home with the three kids; Luz also had two older sons. She continued to pray that she would find her baby, believing that she hadn’t died in the fire. In the years after the fire, Pedro told his neighbor, Gloria Mojica, on several occasions, that he believed that Delimar had been stolen from him.
On the night of the fire, cousin Carolyn Correra visited her then-boyfriend, Andre Moore’s mother & told her that she had been pregnant with his child. She told Andre’s mom that she had delivered her baby at home & named her Aaliyah, after the singer.
On January 24, 2004, Pedro Vera’s sister, Evelyn Vera, hosted a birthday party for her three-year-old granddaughter; she invited Luz, who was now Pedro’s ex-girlfriend. She also invited Carolyn Correra, who she considered someone who was like a sister.
During the party, Evelyn walked Carolyn’s daughter over to Luz, introduced her as Aaliyah Hernandez, saying, “Isn’t Carolyn’s daughter beautiful?” As Luz looked at Delimar, her breath taken away, she noticed a dimple on the child’s cheek as something clicked. She felt like this six-year-old little girl must be her missing child, Delimar.
She called the little girl over to her & told her that she had gum in her hair & that she could fix it. She quickly removed five strands of the child’s hair, wrapping them in a napkin & placing them in a plastic bag. She said learned this trick from watching police shows, knowing she would need a DNA sample.
Luz took her story to state representative Angel Cruz; he put her in touch with police who performed DNA testing & found that the little girl was in fact her daughter, Delimar. Police suspected that 41-year-old Carolyn Correra, who was living in Willingboro, New Jersey, a Philadelphia suburb only a few miles across state lines, 15 miles away, had started the fire & kidnapped Delimar, pretending that she was her own child.
Before the results of the DNA test were available, Delimar had to be placed in New Jersey state custody. When the results were available, Carolyn Correa was brought in to provide a second DNA sample & at that time, the baby was taken from her & she was taken into custody on $1 million dollar bail, leaving her three children behind. She was charged with arson, assault & kidnapping. Correa had sent “Aaliyah” to private school & groomed her to be an actress & involved in beauty-pageants. As Carolyn was arrested, Delimar was screaming & crying, this being the only mother she knew. Carolyn told her, “Goodbye, this is the last time you’re going to see Mommy.” Delimar was temporarily placed with a foster family.
There were so many questions; how did family & friends believe Carolyn’s story for so long? If she did kidnap Delimar & set the house on fire, who was there to help her since police believe she absolutely had an accomplice? Why had she called her former boyfriend three days before the fire to tell him that she’d had a baby? A Tampa Bay Times article from 2004 indicates that Carolyn had actually given birth to a baby at home on December 12, 1997, seven days after Delimar was born.
A family member who had later moved & was unable to be reached, was apparently present & helped Carolyn deliver the baby. Angelica, Carolyn’s 17-year-old daughter saw her mom two days later, on December 14th & met the baby; family members indicate that the baby never changed in appearance, even after the fire & kidnapping of Delimar. On January 6, 1998, Carolyn obtained a birth certificate for Aaliyah, claiming she had given birth at home. It’s possible that the baby may have died, causing Carolyn to suffer a mental breakdown. In 2001, Carolyn had a baby with her husband, Bryan Busardo & the baby died several hours later from a heart defect. During her relationship with Andre Moore, she had two miscarriages.
This same article indicates that Luz actually met Aaliyah at a party in January of 2003 vs. 2004 hosted by Evelyn Vera. Luz was invited because her son Samuel is Evelyn’s nephew & that’s when she took the hair samples. The following January, in 2004, it was Pedro Vera who went to the party, not Luz. The next day, he called Luz & told her that he had a feeling that Aaliyah was theirs & that’s when Luz confessed she had taken strands of hair from her the year before. But why would she have waited?
When Luz was given the results of the DNA test, she said she was “overwhelmed with joy” as she shook & cried, & continued to say, “Thank you, thank you!” Police couldn’t understand how the baby had been declared dead in the first place though apparently officers at the time said they had found bone fragments but later tests showed they were nonhuman. When investigators had returned to the scene, firemen had already disposed of several hundred pounds of debris from the gutted bedroom, into the backyard. They came across dry wool particles which resemble human ashes. This, though, would only result if the fire had burned at 1,000 degrees for an hour or more. This fire lasted less than 15 minutes & was not even close to 1,000 degrees.
State representative Angel Cruz feels that the language barrier between Luz & authorities may have led to the confusion about whether a body had been found in the fire. As Delimar was preparing to return to her real mother, Philadelphia Fire Department officials defended their actions regarding the night of the fire; Fire Commissioner Harold B Hairston said, “I think we did what we were supposed to do.” According to the department’s official report, one firefighter spent fifteen minutes completing a “primary search” for 10-day-old Delimar & a second spent an additional twenty minutes combing through her bedroom, in search of remains.
The entire time firefighters told Luz that her daughter had perished in the fire, she continued to yell, in Spanish, that her baby was alive & had been taken from her. Only two remarks were documented by the company commander in the official report: “DOA 1 female, approximately one week old” and “Injured 1 female approximately 30-years-old with burns to face, transported to hospital by M-24.” The fire marshal’s report concluded that the cause of the fire was “Electrical wires – (Improper use of homemade extension cord).”
The question remained; how did the fire department mislabel what was actually arson as an electrical fire?
When Delimar officially met Luz, her real mother, lawyers said that she hid under the table & then popped out, saying, “Surprise!” When Luz asked her if she knew who she was, she replied, “You are my mother.” Delimar gave her a hug & a kiss & sat on her lap; it was the moment Luz had been waiting for, for over six years. The court granted custody to both Luz Cuevas & Pedro Vera after he was confirmed to be the father via DNA testing though she will live with Luz.
American social services advised that the reunion be a gradual process, but the state governor decided that Delimar should be returned to her true family sooner rather than later; they were reunited in March 2004. Experts felt this could be a mistake. When Delimar came home, she wore a blue hooded shirt & pink pants; she came through the back door to meet her three brothers ages 4, 10 & 11. When reporters asked how she felt, she said “happy” & “I’m at my real home.”
Clinical psychologist, Jillian London, who specializes in working with children, says that a six-year-old girl would likely not be able to understand what truly happened to her. She only knew herself as Aaliyah Hernandez; she was raised speaking English, whereas Luz has only a slight grasp of the English language. She has no access to the person she believed was her mom, she was taken from the siblings she thought were her siblings & from her grandparents who adored her.
Professor David Messer of London Southbank University’s department of child psychology feels that children can be exceptionally resilient & that the child can gradually come to understand that the person they believed to be their parent, did something wrong. Luz feels they will overcome the obstacles ahead; believing in her heart that she will be accepted by her daughter. At the time of the reunion, she continued to call her Aaliyah, saying, “Little by little, I will call her Delimar.”
Luz said she never believed that her daughter died in the fire on December 15th, always feeling suspicious; she said it never made sense that Delimar wasn’t in her crib when she ran into the room, trying to save her. It also didn’t add up that the baby’s window was found open, despite the frigid temperatures outside. The fact that no remains were found only deepened her suspicions. When she told firemen that she believed her baby had been stolen, they assured her, it must “be her nerves.” When Luz looked into investigating the matter, she was told she would need to hire a lawyer which she was unable to afford.
In January of 2015, Carolyn Correa was convicted of kidnapping & sentenced to 9 to 30 years in prison. While in court, she accused birth father, Pedro Vera of helping her commit the crime, saying that he gave her the baby & in turn, she loved her as her own, claiming, “I truly believed she was mine.” Pedro Vera denied this. The defense argued that Carolyn suffered from a psychotic condition, believing that Delimar was hers. Judge Pamela Dembe concluded that Carolyn suffered from depression though was more manipulative than delusional. Carolyn briefly apologized for the “confusion” she caused the family.
Soon after Carolyn was sent to prison, she couldn’t sleep & began smashing her head into the cell walls, her thoughts turning suicidal. She was moved to the infirmary & placed on suicide watch. She had auditory & visual hallucinations of a screaming baby. Elliot Atkins, a forensic psychologist who conducted countless hours of interviews with Carolyn as well as her husband, daughter & mother is convinced that Aaliyah was her biological daughter. After DNA tests proved that Aaliyah wasn’t hers, she was hysterical, wondering where her own baby was. Carolyn’s best friend said she even paid $638 from her own pocket for a separate set of DNA tests.
Despite investigators believing that Carolyn had an accomplice as Delimar disappeared from her upstairs crib while Carolyn remained downstairs; Pedro Vera was not home at the time. There was not enough evidence to make a case against anyone else. Strangely, this was not Carolyn’s first conviction for arson; in 1996 she set fire to a medical office where she worked as a file clerk; she set fire to the building after she was fired & was convicted in June of 1998.
In 2008, LMN aired “Little Girl Lost: The Delimar Vera Story.”
Questions still remain though; if Carolyn had a baby that passed away, what happened to the baby’s body?
- Tampa Bay Times: Daughter lost in fire returns but questions swirl in family
- CNN: Mom finds kidnapped daughter six years later
- The Guardian: ‘I believe in my heart she’ll accept me’
- The Buffalo News: Girl, 6, Parents Reunited Mother Thought Baby Died In A Fire
- Fox News: Woman Took Baby from Burning House, Gets 30 Years
- The New York Times: Girl Found and Woman Held After a Ruse Lasting Years
- Wikipedia: Little Girl Lost: The Delimar Vera Story
- Chron.com: Woman in baby–theft case turns suicidal
- Tampa Bay Times: Murky details cloud girl’s return
Leave a Reply