Tears as they see niece at last

SINGAPORE - Madam Lee Say Moi, 66, was still in bed last Monday morning when the phone rang.

It was a family member telling her to look in The Straits Times because there was a story about her long-lost niece, Ms Colleen Turzynski.

"I screamed and jumped out of bed. I told my son to buy the newspaper. When I saw Colleen's picture, I could not control my tears," she told The Sunday Times.

This was her younger sister's child, orphaned in a terrible triplemurder in New Jersey, in the United States, in 1990. Madam Lee Kui Yin, her Polish husband and his father were killed in their home, and only their toddler, Colleen, survived.

The family in Singapore never met the child. Madam Lee Kui Yin had planned to bring her baby to Singapore on April 7, 1990, but she was killed two weeks before that.

For the next 24 years, the family knew nothing about Colleen, who was taken to Poland by her father's family.

Finally, last Thursday, The Sunday Times helped set up the video meeting between Ms Turzynski in the US and her relatives gathered in the Whampoa home of her uncle, Mr Lee Tak Nyen, 70. When the call connected and they saw a grown-up Colleen for the first time, there was hardly a dry eye among the 10 family members peering into the computer screen.

Until then, all they had was an aged blue folder with newspaper clippings and documents of the murder, along with photographs of baby Colleen her mother had sent.

Madam Lee Say Moi, who kept the folder all these years, said: "I've never once given up hope."

She said her parents had yearned to meet Colleen, but it was not to be. Both died in the 1990s.

Madam Lee and her brothers, Tak Nyen, Pheng Nyen, 72, and Thor Yen, 60, told The Sunday Times about their late sister's life.

Madam Lee Kui Yin, the seventh in the family of eight children, lost her hearing after falling sick with a high fever when she was five.

She learnt sign language and was still in her teens when she started work at a clothes factory.

She was 29 when, in 1980, she travelled with friends to then- Communist Poland for a holiday.

There she met and fell in love with Mr Kazimierz Turzynski, a mime artist who was also deaf.

They kept up a long-distance relationship before he visited Singapore three years later to meet her family, and they liked him. Madam Lee Say Moi said: "He struck me as very charming, very upright. We could tell they were very much in love. We were happy for her."

Unable to remain in Singapore, he moved to New Jersey. Madam Lee Kui Yin joined him there in 1985. Happy news of the baby's arrival followed, then the shock of the triple killings on March 18, 1990. The suspect was a close family friend, a Pakistani who was also deaf, but he was cleared because there was insufficient evidence.

The Singapore family tried to bring the toddler here. Madam Lee Say Moi said: "We pooled our savings to engage a lawyer through the embassy. My mother really wanted to give her a good home here."

But custody went to the Polish relatives instead.

Mr Lee Tak Nyen said that every Chinese New Year, they would think about their niece. Now they are looking forward to a reunion with the young woman, who reminds them of their late sister.

"She really takes after her mother," said Madam Lee Say Moi.

"She's very independent and she's very smart."

This article was published on April 13 in The Straits Times.

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