Skyler James’ high school graduation party had a very surprising special guest – the man who found her abandoned as a newborn on a frigid winter day in a cemetery.
“I was very speechless. I didn’t know what to say,” James, 17, told ABC News about her meeting with Charlie Heflin on Sunday. “I could not say ‘thank you’ enough. I just hugged him and cried.”
James said her parents had shared her history with her. “I’ve always wondered if I’d ever meet Charlie or find out who he was. I always wondered if I’d ever know the first hand side of the story,” she said.
As she approached her teenage years, her adoptive mother Bonnie James made several attempts to reach the hero who rescued her daughter. On a whim while addressing her high school graduation invitations, she looked through the white pages and tried several listings for Charles Heflin. When she finally reached the right Heflin, she invited him to her daughter’s graduation and her party on Sunday.
And Skyler James finally got to hear his version of how he found her – and nearly missed her.
Heflin, now 45, was at his job with a cable company on Nov. 4, 1995. The temperature, he said, was 20 below with wind chill factored in. He said it was so cold that morning that he had layered on several coats.
Heflin, who was also a volunteer firefighter, took to his car to warm up. “While I was sitting in the truck getting warm, I was listening to my scanner,” he said.
Heflin heard dispatch say an anonymous female had called in saying she had left a newborn baby at a cemetery near a pine tree.
“Ten minutes passed, and they could not locate the infant,” he remembered.
Heflin stold ABC News how his gut told him to search a nearby cemetery.
“I pulled up in front of the cemetery. There was a large pine tree,” Heflin said. “There was about a foot of snow on the ground. There were footprints all over the area so it looked like somebody had been there. I couldn’t find anything. I walked around the pine tree a couple of times and I didn’t see anything.” Heflin walked back to his truck but said something told him to go back and check one more time.
“As I approached the tree, I heard a baby whimper. I thought, ‘Oh, she’s here.’” Heflin said Skyler was wrapped in a plaid Raggedy Anne blanket. The day-old infant still had mucus on her and her umbilical cord that was tied off with a shoe string.
He immediately wiped pine leaves off her and wrapped her in his winter overcoat and pressed her up against his volunteer fire fighter fleece to warm her up.
“I called it in and handed her to the ambulance and that was the last time I saw her,” Heflin said.
Five days later, Bonnie and Greg James took in the foster child and eventually adopted the girl, naming her Skyler.
“Skyler always knew she was adopted, and always knew there was a story,” Bonnie James told ABC News. “I had always hoped of them being able to meet, but I wanted to make sure it was the right time,” the mother said.
“She always wanted to meet him and I thought her graduation would be a good time since she’s getting ready to go off to college,” Bonnie James said. When she reached Heflin, emotions were raw. “He cried and I cried and he said, ‘I have wondered what happened to her for 18 years,’” Bonnie James said.
Heflin attended the commencement ceremony. “When they called her name to get her diploma I actually got to see her for the first time,” he said. “It was just a mix of emotions. All great stuff. I was so happy it turned out so great. She graduated with honors and was a beautiful young lady.”
When Heflin attended Skyler’s graduation party, he brought with him a frame with newspaper clippings from the days after he rescued the young her and the firefighter fleece he used to swaddle her.
“My mom came up and said she had someone she wanted to introduce me to,” Skyler told ABC News.
Heflin recalled the moment. “When her mother introduced her to me, I said, ‘Hello, my name is Charlie. You and I have met once before,” he said. “I said we met back on Nov. 4 1995. I said, ‘Do you remember that day? She said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘I know, I don’t expect you to remember your birthday,” Heflin said. ” I said, ‘On your birthday, I found you underneath the pine tree in a cemetery.’ That’s when she realized who I was and she started crying and gave me a big hug.”
Skyler James is set to attend Concordia University in Chicago where she plans to major in communications. She aspires to one day share her story and become a pastor.
“It’s very important to me to remind myself that even though I had a rough start in life, I have an amazing life and I wouldn’t change anything for the world. I’m just so blessed that God has given me this great life,” she said.