The family who adopted an abandoned baby nearly 20 years ago gave their daughter an unforgettable graduation gift: a meeting with the man who saved her.
Charlie Heflin found Skyler James under a pine tree in a cemetery on November 4, 1995 in Illinois, ABC News reports.
Heflin said the temperature that day was below 20 degrees and went outside to warm up his car for work when he heard the unthinkable on his scanner, which he used as a volunteer firefighter.
Dispatch said an anonymous woman had called saying she left a newborn baby in a cemetery near a pine tree.
“Ten minutes passed and they couldn’t locate the infant,” Heflin recalled.
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.”
Something told him to try again, so he went back and suddenly heard a baby whimper.
Heflin then found Skyler wrapped in a small blanket, only a day old and still covered in mucus with her umbilical cord tied off with a shoestring.
He wiped pine leaves off the abandoned baby and wrapped her in his overcoat, pressing her to his firefighter-issued fleece jacket for warmth.
“I called it in and handed her to the ambulance, and that was the last time I saw her,” Heflin said.
A few days later, Skyler was adopted by Bonnie and Greg James.
“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.”
After spending Skyler’s high school years attempting to find Heflin, she finally hit the jackpot while addressing her high school graduation invitations.
Bonnie tried several listings for Charles Heflin in the white pages and finally found the right one, the hero that saved her now-daughter.
“He cried and I cried and he said, ‘I have wondered what happened to her for 18 years,'” Bonnie said.
Heflin attended Skyler’s graduation ceremony, seeing her for the first time as they called her name on stage.
“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,” he said.
At the graduation party afterward, he brought Skyler a framed newspaper clipping from the day he rescued her in the cemetery along with the fleece jacket he used to keep her warm.
“My mom came up and said she had someone she wanted to introduce me to,” Skyler told ABC News.
“When her mother introduced her to me, I said, ‘Hello, my name is Charlie. You and I have met once before,” Heflin recalled. “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.”
The 17-year-old said she was speechless.
“I could not say ‘thank you’ enough. I just hugged him and cried,” she explained. “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.”
ABC News reports Skyler 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.
*ABC News contributed to this report.