RICHMOND, Ind. (WISH) — Fifty-eight years ago a Richmond boy had no idea a quick hunting trip with his grandfather would change his life forever. That day he found an infant left in the woods to die. For the past 40 years, Dave Hickman has searched for that little girl.
“September 22, 1955 I’d been hunting with my grandfather,” Hickman said.
The pair was about to call it a day when Hickman, just 14 at the time, heard an unfamiliar sound. He wasn’t curious but concerned.
“I knew something was wrong,” he said. “I had no idea it would be a baby. Or had no idea it would be a human being.”
He started walking, climbed a fence and looked down.
“I’ve seen that image of her laying in the weeds and me standing on top of the fence every day of my life. And I’ll probably always see that,” Hickman said.
He found an infant wrapped in a towel and left in the cold. Hickman and his grandfather went to get help. When responders arrived, they whisked the baby away to the hospital. For months Hickman didn’t hear a word. Then one day during school at Richmond Junior High, he got called to the principal’s office.
“I thought I was probably in some kind of trouble,” Hickman said.
But when he got to the office, two nurses and a social worker were there holding a baby they’d named Roseanne Wayne.
“They handed her to me and they said, ‘Dave, we brought her to you to say goodbye to. She’s being adopted next week,’” Hickman said.
Hickman grew up, joined the army, moved to Florida, met his wife and started a family. Meanwhile, baby Roseanne — now Mary Ellen Suey — was making a life of her own.
Ellen Suey was adopted in December 1955. She was just a few months old.
“I call him my hero here on earth because if it hadn’t been for Dave, I wouldn’t be here,” Suey said.
Her parents, originally from Richmond, took her to their home in Maryland. She stayed curious about how she came to be.
“I had finally resigned to the fact that I’m not, as long as I am here on earth, I am never going to find out the true story or what happened. I’m going to have to wait until I see the good Lord and he’s going to tell me the whole nine yards,” Suey said.
Last December, Hickman contacted retired Wayne County Sheriff John Catey as a last resort.
“Probably called 50 to 75 people here in Richmond and they had to be 80 years old or older or they weren’t going to remember the incident,” Catey said.
A year went by and Catey had turned up nothing. Finally, someone mentioned the names Merwin and Marga Test. They’d moved away years ago and there was no knowledge of adopted children. But, the information peaked Catey’s interest.
An online search turned up their name next to a picture of a pond in Kevin Shendler’s backyard. He lives just down the street from Catey.
“He listened to my story because I was telling the story of what I was trying to do. He started laughing and said, ‘Well, you found her! She lives in California!’” Catey said.
Shendler is Suey’s cousin. Catey told Hickman the news. Minutes later, Hickman called Suey.
“And then I heard her voice and I said, ‘My name is Dave Hickman,’ and then I lost it,” said Hickman.
Suey said it almost felt like she’d known Hickman for years.
That was in December. On Sunday, the pair was set to meet for the first time.
Both Hickman and Suey knew what they were going to do as soon as they saw each other.
“Give her a big hug!” said Hickman.
“Give him a big hug,” said Suey.
Around 1:30 p.m. Sunday in a downtown Richmond banquet hall filled with friends and family, that’s exactly what they did.
Hickman paid a quick tribute to Suey. He gave her a rose for each meeting he’d had with her.
“The first rose is for a little baby girl left in the woods that God led my grandfather and me to find. The second rose is for a little baby girl that was named Roseanne that two angels of mercy brought to me to say goodbye to. The third rose is for a very special lady saved by the hand of God, Mary Ellen Suey,” Hickman said.
On Monday, he took her back to the very first place he saw her 58 years ago. It’s a difficult place to go back to, but they shared a moment there that provides closure.
“My family now. Her family is my family,” Hickman said.
Suey said they have a connection that will last the rest of her life.
Hickman’s only wish is that his grandfather could have met Suey. She said her mother would have loved to have met Hickman. But, the two say there’s little to complain about.
Hickman said he wanted to make it clear that he does not consider himself a hero. He believes he was used by God to be there when Suey needed him. He says he feels honored to be the one chosen to do just that.