JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Nearly 30 years after a newborn was abandoned by her mother along the side of I-75 in Gainesville just hours, maybe even moments after she was born, the girl – now a grown woman – reunited with the birth mother who placed her on the ground and drove off.
Katie Chorbak, "the I-75 baby," grew to accept her abandonment after she was adopted by a loving couple in Jacksonville. But nagging questions remained: Who was that woman who left her and why?
Newspaper clippings from the Gainesville Sun from 1987 described how an abandoned baby, wrapped in a torn sheet, was found on the ground next to a newspaper stand outside a gas station on Northwest 39th with her face covered with biting ants.
Chorbak returned to that spot for the first time 29 years later with a News4Jax crew.
"It is hard to put into words,” Chorbak said. “I've never been here, so this is my first time … being able to look at it and realize 'This is where I was left and found.'”
It turned out her birth mother delivered her alone in a field before dawn without telling anyone, then drove to the gas station. Two men working at the station found her. Chorbak did meet them years later, but they have since passed away.
"They were two wonderful men who kept in contact with me and wondered about my life,” Chorbak said.
She, too, wondered for years why she was left alone. The questions continued even after a Jacksonville couple adopted her and gave her a faith-filled, loving home.
"I was full of hate and rage and anger,” Chorbak said. “It was the, 'Why me?'”
Trish Logan, a Jacksonville private investigator and good friend of Chorbak, said Chorbak was curious about her past but it was Logan who pushed her to piece together the puzzle.
Helping people track down their heritage and lost relatives is Logan's passion. But she said this case was different because she had nothing to go on: no names or background information. All she had was a DNA test and her laptop.
"Ancestry.com" helped her connect the dots. That led to a reunion with a woman News4Jax is identifying only as Charlotte to protect her privacy.
The Bushnell mother of 10 -- who left Chorbak in the dirt -- was reluctant, but agreed to the meeting.
Their resemblance was startling. Chorbak said when she met Charlotte, she was startled how quickly her anger melted away.
"I don't want to send her to jail,” she said. “I just wanted to meet her and look her in the face."
And, she wanted to find out why she abandoned her own flesh and blood.
Chorbak said she was moved when Charlotte told her she left her to protect her and keep her from living in a home tormented by domestic violence.
"Charlotte told me she left me next to the newspaper bin so that somebody would find me, because she said they would come and fill it soon,” Chorbak said.
She said she took that as another sign that Charlotte did care for the baby she left behind.
"The one thing she asked me was if I thought God forgave her, and I said yes, because look at my life today,”
Chorbak said. "I was able to look her in the face and forgive her and realize that I was better off where I was."
Chorbak grew up in Jacksonville, graduated from Bishop Kenny High School, went on to college and had a seven-year career in the Army.
She now works tirelessly to help veterans, particularly those living on the streets. Her goals include becoming a general contractor, a city councilwoman and changing the world through philanthropy.
Chorbak said her new siblings are still a little stunned after the reunion with their mother, but she said they are truly accepting of her.
Ironically, one of those 10 is another adopted sister who reconnected with the birth family just four weeks before they met Chorbak.
The Jacksonville couple who adopted Chorbak was supportive of her reunion with her birth mother but chose not to be interviewed, saying this was "Katie's story."
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