Wright reunites with his lost niece after 40 years

Pastor Joseph Wright met his niece, Mika, for the first time in more than 40 years.
Photo special to the Outlook

By St. Clair Murraine

Outlook staff writer


ev. Joseph Wright wasn’t thinking about who was going to win the family softball game on his way to a reunion earlier this summer.

But then, nothing was normal about this get-together with a niece he hadn’t seen in more than four decades. She went missing in 1975 and wasn’t heard from until she was found through DNA.

Wright purchased the ticket for Mika Watson Cheesman to meet him and his wife, Helen, at a home in Treasure Island.

Countless questions came to Wright’s mind during the trip to meet his long-lost niece.

 “I was trying to rationalize,” said Wright, pastor at Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church. “What she looked like? Did she look like her mother; did she look like the family (and) how she was going to receive us?”

Up until 2001 when Mika set out to find her family, she’d endured living in  an orphanage, being adopted by a family in whose care she was abused and had a couple name changes. She was even homeless. 

“I always knew that she was not dead,” Wright said. “I’ve always felt that she was going to come back.”

Mika didn’t find out who her biological family was until about 10 years after she posted on a genealogy website that she wanted to find her family. According to research done by retired detective turned genealogist Lynn Marie Carty, Mika was last seen by her mother, Barbara, just before she got lost in New York’s Grand Central Station in 1975.

Carty said she’d been hopeful about finding Mika after discovering her post. Almost a year later, she is still ecstatic about connecting the family.

With help from Wright, Carty said she arranged the reunion. It took place in the home of her neighbor.

“I’ve seen miracles happen and you wouldn’t believe the things I’ve seen,” she said. “It’s unbelievable.

“It’s like a pot of gold when you get to the end. Talk about playing the game Bingo; there is nothing like solving a case and getting that bingo at the very end.”

According to Tampa Bay Times writer Leonora LaPeter Anton, who covered the reunion, Mika was emotional more than a few times. 

“It was just beautiful,” Carty said. “It literally warned my heart.

“I’m so proud of this woman for the way she has raised herself up. To have this (reunion) happen to her is one of the stories of my life.”

Wright was relieved. 

“The first thing I said to her was on behalf of our family, I apologize to you for not protecting you like we should have,” Wright said.

 They hugged and Wright recalled getting teary-eyed, as she responded.

“Uncle, I forgave you all a long time ago,” Wright recalled his niece saying. “I just wanted to find my family.”

Carty and Mika, who didn’t respond to a request to be interviewed, have formed a mother-daughter relationship. Mika refers to her as “Mama Lynn,” Carty said, adding that they communicate frequently.

It’s still not clear exactly how Mika got lost when she was 4 years old. One prevailing speculation is that she strayed from her mentally ill mother and wandered to a candy store in the train station. Mika’s mother reportedly told authorities that her only child had fallen off a building to her death.

However, it’s been reported that she was found by police while wandering in the train station. She was eventually given to some Catholic nuns who took her to an orphanage in Elizabeth, New Jersey, but when the orphanage closed, they took her to New York.

During her stay at the New Jersey orphanage, Mika didn’t speak for about a month. When she did speak, it wasn’t much for counselors to go on in an attempt to find her family.

Mika was later adopted by a family in upstate New York. During that time she suffered physical abuse at the hands of an adoptive relative. She eventually was on her own and she wandered through a handful of states before ending up in Washington state, where she is married.

She was married two previous times and has five children. 

Even her exact date of birth wasn’t known until Wright confirmed it to be June 30, 1971. He said he took his sister and her newborn infant from the hospital in Wilmington, Del., just days before reporting to his first assignment with the Air Force.

He didn’t see the child, born Lynette Wright Smith, until a year later and then when she was 2 ½ years old. Both times were when he returned home on military leave.

Since her disappearance, Wright, carried a photo of the baby in his wallet.

Another family member who was working with Carty in her search told Wright about Carty’s work on the case. When the reunion took place at Treasure Island, Mika spoke with her mother by phone.

Barbara Wright wasn’t coherent, her brother said. He suspects that his sister, one of seven siblings, hadn’t been right since she and Mika’s father, Richard Smith, broke up just before her disappearance.

His sister was an honor-roll student in high school and one who could read a 300-page book in 90 minutes. 

“I used to ask her to teach me how to do that,” said Wright, the second oldest of his parents’ eight children born in Delaware. “She had a brilliant mind. For that mind to go from 50 to zero it just blew my mind.”

Wright said he last saw his sister three years ago. He was getting off a train in Wilmington and she was at a bus station.

She recognized him but didn’t have a conversation.

“She just looked at me and said ‘hi Joe’ and got on the bus,” he said. “There was no excitement to see her brother. She recognized who I was but that was it.”

Wright still isn’t quite sure what mental state his sister will be in when they meet at a planned family reunion in their home state during Labor Day weekend – the first time she will meet Mika since she disappeared. However, he is expecting it to be a happy event, saying, “We are going to have a good time.”