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Published: Thursday, 6/18/2009

Michigan man says he's the toddler kidnapped from stroller in N.Y.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

KALKASKA, Mich. - The same chubby cheeks. The same round face and bright, blue eyes. And, most importantly, the faint scar on his chin.

John Barnes does bear a striking resemblance to photos of a 2-year-old boy who was snatched from outside a bakery on New York's Long Island in 1955.

He hopes DNA tests will confirm the suspicions he's harbored for most of his life - that the couple who raised him were not his biological parents.

The idea that Mr. Barnes was kidnapped five decades ago has "flabbergasted" the family he has known his entire life.

Asked about a possible abduction, the man who raised Mr. Barnes called the idea "a bunch of foolishness."

John Barnes, 54, talks about his year-long search for his past, Wednesday, June 17, 2009, in Kalkaska, Mich. Barnes said said Wednesday that pictures he found online led him to believe he could be the 2-year-old boy who vanished more than a half-century ago from a bakery on New York's Long Island. Barnes told The Associated Press he was doing online research within the past year to try to figure out who he really was, saying that from childhood he never felt as though he fit in with the family that raised him. (AP Photo/John L. Russell) John Barnes, 54, talks about his year-long search for his past, Wednesday, June 17, 2009, in Kalkaska, Mich. Barnes said said Wednesday that pictures he found online led him to believe he could be the 2-year-old boy who vanished more than a half-century ago from a bakery on New York's Long Island. Barnes told The Associated Press he was doing online research within the past year to try to figure out who he really was, saying that from childhood he never felt as though he fit in with the family that raised him. (AP Photo/John L. Russell)
JOHN L. RUSSELL / AP Enlarge

"I'm his dad," said Richard Barnes, who shook his head and replied, "no, no," when asked by a reporter if he had kidnapped John Barnes.

The woman who grew up as his sister said she's willing to undergo DNA testing to prove they are biological siblings.

"I can't begin to know why he would think this," said Cheryl Barnes, 50, who lives with her father. "Everybody in my family thinks John looks just like my dad."

But John Barnes said he never really bonded with the mother and father who raised him. He said they didn't look like him and they just didn't seem like family.

John Barnes said the woman who raised him hinted before her death about a decade ago that she was not his biological mother.

"She requested that I come over there by myself, and she wanted to talk to me. I think that's what she was trying to tell me," he said.

Years earlier, Mr. Barnes had started his own investigation and found some potential answers on the Internet - a few pictures that led him to conclude he could be the missing toddler, Stephen Damman.

Mr. Barnes said pictures of the missing boy's mother when she was a young adult resembled what he looked like at the same age.

"I thought I looked like her, so I had something to sink my teeth into," said Mr. Barnes, who has done farm and factory work but currently is unemployed.

The mother, Marilyn Damman, left the boy and his 7-month-old sister waiting outside a bakery while she went inside to shop on Oct. 31, 1955, according to police and news accounts at the time.

Police in New York's Nassau County have said a Michigan man contacted their office in the past few months, saying he believes he is the missing toddler. Mr. Barnes said the FBI took a sample of his DNA from a cheek swab in March, and he's now "waiting for the FBI to tell me who I'm related to."

"I don't know if I'm related to the Dammans or the Barneses. I'm just waiting for the DNA results," Mr. Barnes said at his trailer home in Kalkaska, almost 200 miles northwest of Detroit, where he lives with his wife and a dog.

Back in 1955, Marilyn Damman came out of the bakery after 10 minutes but could not find her children.

The stroller, with only her daughter inside, was found around the corner from the market a short time later.

Mr. Barnes said he was born in 1955 - the same year a 2-year-old Stephen Damman disappeared - but only saw his birth certificate once and no longer has a copy.

Richard Barnes is retired and lives in a rural subdivision just eight miles from his son.

He said his son was born in a Navy hospital in Pensacola, Fla., on Aug. 18, 1955.

During his research on the kidnapping, the younger Barnes said he drove to Newton, Iowa, where Jerry Damman, the father of the missing boy, lives.

But they did not meet.

Reached yesterday in Iowa, Mr. Damman said "it's almost too good to believe" that Mr. Barnes could be his son.



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