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Sister of woman snatched as baby told her 'you're not worth finding'
We found my stolen sister after 17 years – but I told her she ‘wasn’t worth it’ because she sided with the kidnapper who snatched her at birth
- Girl Taken, on Paramount+, tells story of Miche Salomon, 25, in South African
- Miche snatched as baby in 1997 and raised by abductor before was found in 2015
- Read more: Woman reveals how selfie revealed she’d been ‘stolen’ as a baby
A new documentary has revealed intimate details of a kidnapping victim’s struggle to reconnect with her birth family after discovering she’d been snatched as a baby.
Girl, Taken, which aired on Channel 5 last night, delves into the story of Miche Salomon, dubbed South Africa’s Madeleine McCann, who was stolen by Lavona Salomon from the Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town in 1997, when she was three days old.
Miche’s birth parents Celeste and Morne Nurse only tracked her down 17 years later, when she took a selfie with her school friend Cassidy – their daughter – and they noted the incredible resemblance between the girls and suspected she was their missing child.
Kidnapper Lavona Salomon was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2016, but it took years for Miche to accept her biological family, leading her to cut contact with them and side with the ‘mother’ who had raised her.
Speaking in the documentary, her sister Cassidy admitted she was heartbroken and at one point told her sibling she was ‘not worth finding.’
Miche was born on April 30 1997, pictured, at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, to Celeste and Morne Nurse, who named her Zephany. However, she was stolen from her parents three days later by Lavona Salomon
Speaking in the documentary, which originally aired on Paramount+, Cassidy, who is four years younger than Miche, said: ‘I told her “you were not worth finding, because the way you were raised, it’s completely different to the way I was raised”.’
Celeste was 17 when she got pregnant with Morne, a few months into their relationship, and the couple decided to get married and raise the baby together.
Celeste, now nearing 40, recalled the painful moment her child was taken away from her three days after being born.
‘I remember I was in bed, I had a bit of pain. Nurse came in and gave me morphine medication.
‘And I heard the baby cry, and I saw the sister come in, and she asked me “Can I pick up the baby?” I said “Yes, it’s fine, you can pick up the baby”,’ she recounted.
Celeste said she fell asleep shortly after, but was later woken up by someone asking her where her baby was.
‘I said, “Oh, the nurse was here with the baby”,’ but soon realised something was amiss.
‘We looked everywhere, I ran with my drip to each and every floor. They found Morne and he went mad,’ she said.
It took years for Miche to build a connection with her birth parents after initially rejecting them upon hearing her parents were not who they thought
In 2015, Miche struck a friendship with Cassidy Nurse after they met at school, not knowing they were related
Morne rushed to the hospital with the police, admitting he ‘lost total control.’
‘The main image that remained, that broke me, was when I saw Celeste sitting there, crying, pushing people away from her,’ he said.
Sakkie Van Der Westhuizen, an investigating officer who initially handled the case said: ‘You only hear of something like this, it doesn’t happen really, not to you. Not in a hospital as well-known as Groote Schuur Hospital.’
‘I can remember that young girl’s face. It’s absolutely terrible, when she realised that her child is missing,’ he added.
News that a baby had ben snatched spread around the hospital, causing a wave of panic over the other women in the maternity ward.
‘People were crying, people were traumatized. Nurses running to and from,’ Sakkie said.
‘The other mothers in the maternity ward, they were scared. They were frightened, they received the news. It could have happened to any of them,’ he added.
‘It grasped the imagination of everybody.’
Morne and Celeste nurse embracing each other after the trial of Lavona Solomon came to a close in 2016
A portrait of the suspect was shared, put together from Celeste and other eye-witness accounts.
After a national alert was broadcast, the investigators enlisted the help of profilers, who suggested Zephany’s abductor could be a woman who had miscarried and wanted to pass the baby as her own.
Zakkie recalled that he had to go through a list of women who had miscarried at Groote Schuur Hospital in the 12 months that led up to Zephany’s birth and see if any of them had a baby.
‘It’s inhumane to think of it, you had a miscarriage and then the police knock on your door, suspect you of maybe stealing a child,’ he said.
Celeste and Morne never stop believing they would find their daughter, but were disheartened after too many false alarms raised their hopes.
Celeste broke down in tears in the documentary as she recalled visiting a woman and having her hopes dashed when the baby she had been told could have been her child turned out to be a boy.
Morne leaving the Cape Town high court during Lavona’s trial. At that point, he had no contact with his daughter Miche
Celeste, pictured in 2016, recounted in the documentary how she eventually decided to forgive Lavona
She said that as a mother, she had no choice but to pick up the pieces and move on with her life.
The couple welcomed their daughter Cassidy four years after Zephany’s disappearance.
Celeste said: ‘It was very scary to be pregnant after that with Cassidy. Just the fear of going back to Groote Schuur Hospital. That was my fear, going back there.’
But the couple said they had been ‘very happy’ to welcome their second child.
Morne said: ‘She was like a drug to me. It’s like whenever I miss Zephany, I will just shower this child [with love], keep her close to me. I call her “my little pain away”.
Meanwhile, Cassidy was raised knowing she had a sister who was missing.
‘At that time, it never bothered me because I never met her,’ Cassidy said in the documentary.
‘I would always try and made them feel there is still hope and they should stay positive.
‘I would see older sister and younger siblings together, I ‘d look at them and think “that should have been me with my sister”.’
The Nurses had two more children, their son Joshua, in 2006, and Micah, a girl in 2007.
The family would celebrate Zephany’s birthday every year in the hope that she would return.
Mike Barkhuizen, a former senior investigator, said the couple made an impression him.
From left to right: Celeste, Morne and Cassidy Nurse with Miche Salomon, born Zephany Nurse, on This Morning in 2021
‘These weren’t your normal run of the mill people looking for somebody, a missing relative. They were convinced that their child would be found,’ he recalled.
As Cassidy grew older, she got frustrated with the way her parents were raising her.
‘As I grew up, they told me every day about her. Every day it was just “Zephany, Zephany, Zephany” and I’d go, “But I’m not Zephany”.’
Her grandmother Marilyn remembered how Cassidy’s life had been impacted by the disappearance of her elder daughter.
‘We had to keep everything locked, locked doors, locked gates,’ she said. ‘We didn’t allow her to play outside at all.’
Cassidy added: ‘I couldn’t play with my friends, I couldn’t go out to the movies. I can’t even go to the shop for five minutes without my father screaming, yelling like a mad person.
‘It made me so upset, it made me a rebel. I felt like I was the other Zephany that was just being there and kept there to take the pain away, that’s how I felt.
Meanwhile, Celeste and Morne’s marriage began to crumble under the weight of their daughter’s disappearance.
‘The only person I could blame was Celeste. I blamed her,’ Morne’s said.
Meanwhile, Celeste said: ‘I blamed Morne. I told him, “You were not there for us. You were supposed to be there with me while I gave birth. You were supposed to watch the baby while I sleep”.’
Eventually, the couple’s relationship broke down after Morne cheated on his wife.
Soon after that, Celeste was diagnosed with stage three cervical cancer, and Cassidy had to hold her family together, taking care of her mother and her younger siblings.
In 2015, she transferred to Zwaanswyk High School when she was 14.
There, a friend and a teacher both told her she looked like another girl in her school, named Miche Solomon.
The two met by chance one day, felt a connection and became instant friends.
‘When I saw her face, I had this sensation, this connection in my chest,’ Miche said, ‘I thought maybe it’s because she looked so similar to me when I was 14 years-old.
‘We immediately clicked, we immediately became friends after that, which isn’t normal for a 18-year-old and a 14-year-old,’ she added.
‘I felt a sense of protection over her. like a big sister, cause I could pick up that’s what she needed,’ she went on.
‘I told him about this girl and I said “Daddy, I think this is my sister”. He said: “Cassidy, you know I don’t like this false hope”,’ she revealed.
Her father recalled seeing Miche for the first time, saying: ‘This girl approached my vehicle. Something drew me to this girl. I don’t know if it was love, I told her “Wow, you do look like Cassidy.” In fact, you look a bit like me.’
Cassidy continued: ‘He was telling me, “Keep an eye on her. Don’t tell her you have a missing sister yet because if it’s her, those people will flee”.’
As her relationship with Miche grew stronger, Cassidy eventually told her she had a missing sister.
‘At first I didn’t believe it, because it didn’t sound real. This was as if it was in a Hollywood movie or something,’ Miche said.
‘I felt really sorry for her, for what she had gone through,’ she added.
Eventually, Morne met Miche and admitted she looked a lot like Cassidy and her husband.
A conversation where Miche showed Morne pictures of her parents raised the dad-of-four’s suspicion.
He alerted the police after Miche told him her date of birth, which was the same day as the day his daughter was taken from him.
‘I got this lump inside my throat and I couldn’t talk, knowing that my daughter was stolen on that date,’ he said.
Police saw that there was no record of a Miche Solomon at Retreat hospital, where her mother, Lavona, had claimed she was born.
In fact, there was no record of Miche’s birth until she was six. Which led police to convince her to give them a DNA sample.
Marshionette Jonkerman, a social worker who worked on the case, said of Lavona: ‘She was very calm, nice lady’, but added: ‘She was not remorseful, there was no way she was going to admit to anything.
The social worker said that Lavona was so adamant that she almost believed her.
And Miche was also convinced that the DNA test would should she was not the Nurses’ daughter.
‘I had no doubt that this was a lie or something like that, because that’s how much I believe in my mum,’ she said.
However, the test proved she was indeed baby they had named Zephany, with a 99.96 score.
Celeste said she heard the results of the test on the phone.
‘The phone fell out of my hands, I cried, I just burst into tears, I couldn’t stop crying,’ she said.
‘My whole world, everything just changed. I was happy, and I was sad at the same time.
Meanwhile, Morne said: ‘It was unbelievable, it was beautiful, it’s a moment that you can’t really explain because it was too much to show.’
Miche’s reaction was a stark contrast, as she recalled: ‘Marshionnette told me: “You are the Zephany baby”. And I just sat there. I went into complete shock and I sat there and Marshionette started crying,’ she said.
Miche met her biological parents, however, she struggled to connected with them.
Morne said he had hoped all his life for his family to be ‘complete’ with the return of his first child, however, it wasn’t quite a happy ending for the Nurses.
‘They were over the moon, and they were kind, but I really, at that time, I really wanted to just go home,’ Miche said.
‘I asked “I’d like to see my mum” And they said, “Unfortunately, she was obviously arrested”.’
Miche’s non-biological father, Michael Solomon, didn’t know that she wasn’t his child.
‘I was just stunned,’ he said. ‘I didn’t know what to say. How could it be? This is my daughter, it couldn’t be the missing child that they’re looking for,’ he said.
When he came home to find that his daughter wasn’t there after his wife’s arrest, Michael admitted he cried, ‘because I didn’t believe that this is happening to me’.
‘That’s the only time that I’m thinking, “Where is my family?”,’ he said.
Eventually, Miche decided to stay with Michael rather than going to stay with her biological parents, even though it made her feel ‘guilty.’
‘If it was my child, my son, my baby telling me he’s gonna live with the kidnappers, of course I would burst out in tears and be angry and question, “Why don’t you want to come live with me?’ she said.
‘I felt kinda that guilt feeling, but I made that decision because it was what I needed,’ she said.
Morne shared his disappointment, saying: ‘We didn’t expect things to turn the way they did. We wanted to genuinely have our family complete.’
‘We didn’t look at the consequences, this thing comes with a price,’ he added.
Celeste said: ‘I had to explain to my kids. “We can see her, but it’s going to be different. She might not want to see us, so we have to take it step by step.’
Eight months after the truth came to life, Lavona was tried in Cape Town’s high court.
The trial was a matter of national interest because the country had felt so invested in Zephany’s disappearance.
Miche cut off ties with her biological parents during the trial, and said it brought her closer with Lavona.
‘When I saw my mum on TV for the first time, she had her face covered by a hoodie and she didn’t look herself.
‘And it broke me, seeing her like that because this is not the mother that I know, the mother that I was raised by. It was very challenging for me to read all the negativity. It definitely impacted my relationship with my biological parents.
‘It made me even love her more,’ she admitted, about Lavona.
Meanwhile, Morne said he couldn’t forgive the woman who had stolen his daughter.
‘Steal my bicycle, you’re forgiven, stealing someone’s daughter, that’s stealing someone heart. I cannot show mercy for someone who committed such a crime,’ he said, of his state of mind at the time of the trial.
The audience at the trial heard that Lavona had miscarried in 1996, but hid it from Michael for four months.
She said she met a woman named Sylvia who told her she would help her buy a baby, but that she was handed a child for £50 at a train station months later.
This is against eye-witnessed accounts placing her at Groote Shuur hospital the day Miche was taken away from the nurses.
The court also heard that Lavona has tried to steal another woman’s baby the day before she snatched Miche away.
As the trial unfolded, Miche grew closer with her non-biological father, who she said was there for her.
She said of her biological parents: ‘they were just about the money, the limelight, the media, that was what I thought.’
She was distraught when her mother was found guilty of kidnapping, fraud, and of not respecting the Children’s Act, which makes it illegal to pretend to be a child’s parent.
‘One day she’s your mum and the next day, she’s a criminal, how do you love a criminal, how dare you say you love a criminal. How dare you say that’s my mother,’ she said of Lavona.
‘That’s the only mother I knew for 17 years and that’s not my fault, that’s the only thing I can recall from my childhood,’ she explained.
Following the trial, Lavona was imprisoned, and Miche got pregnant.
She called her mother while she was in labour, and had her non-biological father, Michael, with her, but she didn’t call Celeste or Morne until after three days had passed.
After the trial, she also got a publishing deal for a biography, where she told her side of the story, and which was very critical of her birth parents, especially Morne.
She said in an interview to promote the book that she wished her biological father would have been more like Michael, and said of her birth parents: ‘I’ve accepted they are broken people.’
Morne said that at this point in time, he was struggling with had had happened in his life, and ‘regretted’ having found Miche.
Cassidy said of this period: ‘There is no happy ending because it hurt everyone. Miche’s can’t win because she’s in the middle, she’s stuck in between, she’s still trying to find herself.
‘I’m still stuck in the middle as well, working on working out our differences,’ she added.
Eventually, after the birth of her daughter Sophia, Celeste and Miche resumed contact.
The case of Zephany Nurse
The case of missing Zephany Nurse was one of South Africa’s biggest and longest running news stories.
It was found that Lavona Solomon took Zephany Nurse from Groote Schuur hospital in Cape Town in April 1997 while her mother was in bed recovering from a C-section.
Lavona told the court she hid a miscarriage from her husband and had bought the baby for £50 at a train station from a woman who promised to help her with an adoption.
Her lies meant her betrayed husband brought the baby up as his own, unaware of his wife’s dark secret.
Zephany only learned of her true identity after an extraordinary twist in the lifelong hunt for her – when she made friends with a girl at school who turned out to be her sister.
‘When I saw Sophia, I fell in love with her,’ Celeste said, adding she felt Miche had been ‘thrown into the deep end’ when she became a mum and needed her support.
‘God brought Sophia in order for me and Miche to build a relationship,’ she said.
Miche agreed that the birth of her daughter helped her ‘restore my relationship with my biological mother.’
‘All the love she wasn’t able to five me, she’s actually giving it to my kid,’ she added.
‘Finally, after all these years, we’re starting to find each other.’
Celeste got to know Michael and his sisters and brothers, saying ‘they are good people.’
‘I can’t be upset with him, they haven’t done anything,’ she said.
Miche admitted she has wondered over the years whether her father was involved in her disappearance, or had known she had been taken,’ which he has always denied.
‘If it comes out one day that he did know, it would be very hard,’ she said.
She and Sophia temporarily moved with Morne, Celeste, Cassidy and her other siblings during the Covid-19 lockdown of 2020.
At that time, Morne also wanted to work of his relationship with his daughter.
‘It brought us very close, they would literally speak to me about things I never knew, things they never spoke about. how they were looking for me,’ Miche said of her parents.
‘If I had not been stolen, my life wouldn’t have been okay, they were waiting for me, they were ready to have me, they changed their lives to have me,’ she said.
‘The more I got to know them, the more it kind of felt like home. Like home was starting, that home feeling I was feeling.’
In November 2020, Celeste and Morne remarried each other, with Miche present.
Lavona also reached out to Miche, asking her whether the couple would accept her apology.
‘If I look at what we have now, me and Miche, I’m scared that the day she’s gonna be released, we’re gonna lose that,’ Celeste said of the woman who took her child.
‘The Bible says, “one should not turn one’s heart into a murderous pit” and I don’t want that, I don’t want to dig a grave for myself and for Lavona, I don’t want Lavona to have the better part of me,’ she said.
Morne also reflected on Lavona’s apology, saying: ‘They’ve hurt us heavily, but then again, if she must show through remorse like that, genuinely, and we can feel it, then I think from my side, I think, the forgiveness will have to come because then she makes me feel guilty before god,’ she said.
Miche reflected at the end of the documentary: ‘We are still very fragile, all of us, and we still have to work on many things individually.’
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