LOS ANGELES -- For almost 30 years, Sherry Cowa searched for her son, not knowing what had become of the red-haired toddler she last saw when he was just a year old.
Then three weeks ago, the phone rang and the suburban Mission Hills woman learned her son was alive -- and looking for her.
"I still can't believe it, even though he's right here," said Ms. Cowan, 48, of David Dills, 30, of North Augusta, S.C., after a friend helped reunite the mother and son Friday as a surprise for Mr. Dills.
"I'm never going to let him forget that I am here for him and how much I love him," she said, crying softly. "We're doing a whole lot of talking and hugging and a whole lot of loving."
Ms. Cowan said she was 19, divorced, and trying to raise her son in Syracuse, N.Y. in 1963 when her world fell apart. Ms. Cowan said that her former husband took the child from her baby sitter one night while she was working.
She said she never saw the boy again despite a search that enlisted the help of private detectives, a Catholic Church network and friends and relatives.
"I remember distinctly being moved from home to home, relative to relative when I was very young," Mr. Dills said. "I know now it was to keep me away from her.
"I feel like I really missed out on a lot, getting to know my mother," he said.
Senior prosecutor Beth VanDoren, of the Onondaga County district attorney's office in New York said it is doubtful the taking of the boy would have been considered a crime 30 years ago.
"Unfortunately, it is only recently that inter-family kidnapping has been considered a crime," she said.
For years, Ms. Cowan said her heart skipped a beat whenever she saw a red-headed boy that looked to be David's age.
"It's only a pain that a mother could understand, my heart was just tearing," said Ms. Cowan, who manages a storage business.
Ms. Cowan continued her search even after moving to California, remarrying and giving birth to three other children -- including a boy she named David in honor of her first son.
Mr. Dills said that he was told by his father that his mother was unfit to care for him.
"My father sat me down when I was 14 and told me he took me because she wasn't a good mother, but now I know that isn't true," Mr. Dills said, reflecting on the woman he met Friday and watching her interact with her children -- ages 29, 27 and 21.
Mr. Dills' search began when he learned his mother's maiden name -- Fauvelle -- and birthplace in New York while recently applying for a new Social Security card.
Mr. Dills was lured to the airport in South Carolina under the ruse that he was to be interviewed there for a job.
"I walked into the room (at the airport) and knew that something was happening because all my friends were there and then I saw this woman standing alone in the center and I knew," Mr. Dills said. "I just hugged her."
Mr. Dills said he is thrilled to meet his new family, including the brother that shares his name.
"We're having a whole lot of fun when my mother yells 'David' and we both answer 'Yes,'" he said.