Three Tri-City siblings weren't expecting to meet their long-lost older sister when they were invited to appear on a popular TV talk show.
The siblings were asked to be on the Steve Harvey show to share their incredible story about finding each other after a 35-year separation and their quest to find their missing older sister, Aida Leon.
But Leon surprised them on stage during the recent taping of the show, which airs at 11 a.m. today on NBC's KNDU/KNDO.
"It was so incredible. We jumped up and grabbed her, then we all started to cry," brother Alfredo Luis Leon of Kennewick said about the reunion.
The Herald ran a story in November about how Al Leon reunited with his twin sisters Jackie Lopez of Kennewick and Judy Whitsett of Pasco. Al Leon recently moved from the Bronx to the Tri-Cities.
"Mr. Harvey evidently heard about our story from the news and hired an investigator to find Aida," Al Leon said. "Then we were invited to be on the show where he surprised us with Aida. We are just so overcome with joy that he would do such a wonderful thing for us."
Aida Leon, 45, was discovered living in Kissimmee, Fla., where she is with the Army Reserve, her brother said.
Al Leon was only a few months old when he and his older sister were placed in foster homes in the Bronx. Their mother suffered from schizophrenia and was too ill to care for them, and the whereabouts of their father were unknown. A year later, his mother gave birth to the twins and they, too, were placed in foster care.
For a few years the children were brought together to visit with each other at the foster agency but were not told they were related. The twins discovered the truth of their relationship when a parish priest slipped up and told them they were being adopted and would no longer be brought to the agency to visit their siblings.
The twins eventually were adopted together, while their big sister stayed in foster care and their brother ended up at the St. John's Home for Boys until he was 18.
"There was always something special, a bond we all felt, during those visits to the foster agency," Lopez said. "We thought we were there just for play time with friends, but it was more than that."
When the twins were teenagers, they moved to the Tri-Cities to live with their adopted brother and graduated from Kamiakin High School in Kennewick in 1987. Al Leon stayed in the Bronx and spent several years is a chef by trade and managed an Italian restaurant in Glens Falls, N.Y., when his twin sisters finally found him last year.
"What an amazing show," Lopez said of the TV show experience. "Steve found our missing link and now our family is complete. I always dreamed of this, but for it to actually become a reality was quite a shock. I can't even express the shock and disbelief it was for the four of us to be in the same room. God is truly amazing."
Her brother couldn't agree more.
"It was such an amazing experience," Al Leon said. "The fact that we all found each after all this time is just too wonderful, and we're not going to waste a moment getting caught up with each other."
Don Halcombe, a spokesman for the Steve Harvey show, told the Herald on Tuesday that reunions are frequently featured on the show.
"But this was the first time family members were meeting each other for the very first time on our stage," he said about last month's taping.
Al Leon and his twin sisters are planning a trip to Florida later this year as their brother plans to marry his longtime girlfriend and have all three of his sisters in attendance.
"We plan to shorten any distance that separates us by staying in touch and visiting as often as we can," he said.
The siblings also are looking for sponsors to help them organize a nonprofit agency where they can help other siblings find family members who have been lost through the years.
"We want so much to bring some joy to others by helping them find their family," Al Leon said. The siblings already have put together a Facebook page where more information can be found. Just search for "siblings miracle reunion" on Facebook.
Anyone interested in helping the siblings with their nonprofit organization can contact Al Leon at email@example.com or call 518-538-9443.
-- Dori O'Neal: 582-1514; firstname.lastname@example.org