Steve Carter was sitting at his desk in Philadelphia in January of 2011 and he could hardly believe what he was seeing. On a hunch, Steve went to MissingKids.org, wondering if his past was not what he had been told. Now, at age 34, he was staring at a photograph of a an artist's rendering for what a missing infant would look like as an adult. The infant had disappeared in 1977, and the age progression photo rendering showed an adult, age 28.
It looked hauntingly like Steve.
"I knew it was me," he told 13 WHAM News before his speech to the participants in the annual Ride for the Missing, a benefit for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. "I immediately got in touch with my friends and family so they could tell me I'm not crazy, looking at that photo."
But how? How could Steve not know he was an infant that was reported missing, and never found?
The complicated story goes back to his mother's struggle with mental health issues. Steve was born Marx Moriarty Barnes. Several times after he was born, his mother disappeared for several days. Each time, his father reported her and the baby as missing. Each time, she eventually came home.
Until she didn't. One day, Steve's mother left, and his father never saw them again. She went to Hawaii and gave her and Steve different names. Marx Barnes became Tenzin Amey. Back home, Marx was still a missing baby, never found. In Hawaii, authorities knew almost nothing about this woman and her child, named Tenzin. Then, not long after taking Steve away, his mother vanished again, this time for good. He was only a few months old. She has never been found and is still reported as missing.
Hawaiian police tried to figure out who this child was. They spent three years investigating, trying to establish family connections. After making no progress, Steve was adopted from an orphanage by a family named Carter. They named him Steve. They were told that Steve was named Tenzin and was a natural Hawaiian by birth. They had little information otherwise.
But as Steve grew older, he realized that he almost certainly was not a native Hawaiian. On top of that, he had looked up his mother's last name, Amey. He found that there were only 19 Ameys in the United States. He decided that the name must be made up.
So who was he? His adoptive parents couldn't help, much as they tried. Then Steve heard about a woman who had gone missing as a baby and had learned her true identity years later.
"I had some free time after lunch one day, and I just wanted to see what was out there," he told us. "I entered some basic information about my search, and I saw the photo almost instantly."
Marx Barnes had become Tenzin Amey, who had become Steve Carter. Finally the pieces were coming together. Through DNA, Steve verified that he was the missing Marx Barnes.
"I'm amazed at how realistic that artist's photo was of me," he said, referring to the advanced age photo. "I wouldn't have given me a mullet, but other than that, it's spot on."
"They're basically using Adobe Photoshop," said Ed Suk, director of the local chapter of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. "Most of the time they're projecting five or ten years. Steve's case is on the outer range of what they can do, and it's remarkable."
Steve has gotten in touch with his biological father and two half-sisters he did not know he had. It hasn't been perfect. "It's been a bit rough," he said. "We often see these reunions on television, and everyone is hugging and happy. But there is so much emotion to work through, so many missing spaces to fill in. We're working on it. There's progress."
Recently married, Steve and his wife are now spreading the word about the value of composite and age progression images. They're participating in events to support the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Steve is a biker who joined 331 riders in Friday's Ride for the Missing, a benefit that spans 100 miles across Monroe County.
"This organization can reconnect families," he said. "I want to do everything I can to help them. I'm a perfect example of what they can do."