SHELTON, Wash. -- It was cold that January day in Mason County. Really cold, remembers Stephen Henry, then just a teenager and walking back to Shelton Middle School for class. A noise, he remembers, felt – well, odd. It was coming from the Catholic church nearby.
“I could hear it – a baby crying in the distance,” remembers Henry. “I went and found a baby covered up in a basket. I knew I needed to do something about it.”
The baby had a note pinned to her. It was handwritten, terse.
"My name is Elizabeth Ann,’ it read. ‘Please find me a good home and take good care of me." That was all.
Henry, 14 years old at the time, went to the Mason County Courthouse across the street, told an adult, and eventually went back to school.
More than three decades passed. Henry moved to nearby Olympia, and sometimes thought about that day, never really thinking much of what happened.
Then a Facebook request – and an accompanying email – popped up on his computer earlier this month.
“I was extremely blunt. It just said, ‘I think you found me on the doorstep,’” said Taya Lee, now 33, and also living in Olympia. “He wrote back and said, ‘yep, I think that was me.’”
“I cried,” Lee said. “I cried a lot that day. It was a good cry.”
'They knew I was terrified to do it'
Lee didn’t connect with Henry on accident. A few days earlier, she’d finally gotten up the courage to post something on Facebook about her past – something she’d considered doing for years, she said, but needed that extra push. It came first from her boss, also adopted as a child, and then from dear friends.
On Easter Sunday, she decided to finally do it. The friends took a photo of Lee holding a sign.
"Looking for my birth mother. She abandoned me in Shelton, WA on Jan. 25th 1981. I was found on a church doorstep at St. Edwards Catholic Church. Please help me find her by sharing my picture."
“They knew I was terrified to do it, but once it was out there, it was fine,” Lee said. “It just spread like wildfire.”
Friends shared the photo on Facebook more than a thousand times. Lee, now a mother of two, heard from people everywhere from Alaska to Sweden. One woman offered to send her a DNA kit so Lee could map out her biological history on her own.
Then, a stranger made an astonishing discovery.
“I found a little baby on the doorstep one morning on my way to school!” wrote a commenter underneath a photo of an old church, which was torn down in 2009. “That is the beginning of a very interesting story!” wrote the next one on the page for the Mason County Historical Society.
The first commenter was Henry. A stranger sent the post to Lee.
Thirty three years later, one piece of the puzzle was put into place.
A reunion, three decades in the making
“I’m nervous about the whole thing, but I’m happy,” Henry said, as he stood on a sunny patio outside his Shelton office Tuesday. “I’m meeting her for something that happened years ago. (It's) a lot of nervousness for me.”
A few minutes later, Lee appeared with her brother. She walked toward Henry.
“I have to hug you!” she said. “It’s so nice to finally meet you.”
A few minutes passed. Henry’s parents watched from a few feet away.
“A lot of people tell me a young boy like that wouldn’t do what they did,” Lee continued. “Thank you so much for walking by at that time.”
Lee brought photos to share and copies of the 1981 newspaper articles about what happened. One photo shows her as a young child on the steps of the church.
"He's a hero, for sure," she later said. "I can't imaging being (a teenager) and finding a baby. That's something that would stick with anybody."
"I've periodically thought throughout my life, remembering back at that time," Henry added. "It was fate -- fate, waiting to happen."
The meeting was an important step toward a final goal, Lee said. She hopes to find her mother so she can discover everything from her medical history to her ethnicity to even information about her biological father.
Lee knows her mother was 16 years old when this all happened. A letter sent to the Shelton Police Department from her mom confirmed this. It has no return address.
What Lee doesn't know is why.
"I feel bad if she had a rough life when she was a teenager and had to do what she had to do, but she did the best thing she could," Lee said. "I want her to know it's okay."