The two women looked at each other for a moment before drawing together in an embrace of joy and sorrow.
Around them, relatives let out a collective gasp, astounded at the resemblance between mother and child, reunited after 29 years.
In 1984, Josefina Flores Osorio had been forced to hand over her two-year-old daughter, Xiomara, for adoption at the height of El Salvador’s brutal civil war.
Now, she seemed oblivious to the commotion around her as she wept in her daughter’s arms.
“I feel I’ve been born again,” Osorio, 52, said. “I always believed she was alive and I am so grateful to have found her. I’ve dreamed about this moment for so long.”
The reunion marked the 389th case of a “disappeared” child to be successfully resolved by the Pro Busqueda Association for Missing Children since the dirty war ended 21 years ago.
Pro Busqueda was founded by a Spanish Jesuit priest in 1993 to investigate the enforced disappearances of children, stepping in where the state refused.
It has located missing children in the US, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, France, Guatemala and Honduras using dogged investigators and, more recently, a DNA database developed with the help of volunteer forensic scientists based at the California Department of Justice.
The database holds the genetic profiles of 550 families searching for more than 900 disappeared children.
Another 103 people abducted when they were children are looking for their families. Between 10 and 20 cases come forward each year.
Margarita Zamora, a Pro Busqueda investigator, said many investigations were still hampered by the military.
“The army holds important details — dates, names and places — which would help us solve many more cases as families are often too traumatized to remember,” Zamora said.
“We have been asking them for years to release their files, they always say yes, but these are just words,” Zamora added.
After meeting her mother, Xiomara said: “I have never felt anything like this in my life, it’s a mountain of mixed emotions, but finally I can know my family.”
Xiomara was one of hundreds, probably thousands, of rural children snatched from families during military operations against alleged leftwing guerrilla sympathizers.
Many were given to wealthy or military families in El Salvador, some grew up in orphanages, while others were adopted abroad.
However, thanks to an amnesty law passed in 1993, no one has been prosecuted over the abductions — or for the deaths of 80,000 people, the disappearance of 8,000 others and the forced displacement of 1 million more.