Daniel Rueff's hand shook as he phoned his brother, a man he hadn't heard from or seen in more than 40 years.

"He was just a sweet, little blonde kid the last time I saw him," said the 47-year-old homeless man who's lived in Ashland for almost two decades.

The Ashland Daily Tidings received a plea from Kevin Berry, 44, of Santa Ana, Calif. in January. He wanted the newspaper's help locating his brother, who he heard was living in Ashland.

Berry said he and his siblings were put into separate foster homes in the Los Angeles area when he was about 2 years old, and he doesn't remember much about what happened.

His sister Debbie Reid, 48, of West Palm Beach, Fla., said their mother was an alcoholic and authorities had found her passed out on the couch with four kids "running wild."

"I guess she tried a couple times to get cleaned up; but ended up killing herself when I was about 12," she said, adding that at that point, all the children were put up for adoption.

The three boys eventually were adopted, but Reid said she had no intention of being placed with a new family. "I ended up living on the streets for a little while," she said. "And the adopted families did agree to keep in touch with the other siblings, but I guess they didn't try hard enough because we all lost touch with each other."

The adoption records at the time were sealed; but the girlfriend of one of the brothers, Robby Overholtzer, 45, of Covina, Calif., decided to dig into the matter. She was able to track down Reid in Florida and Berry in California. The only thing she knew about the third brother was that he might be living in Ashland.

Berry said he periodically read the Ashland Daily Tidings to see if his brother was ever mentioned and got lucky last December when Rueff wrote a letter to the editor. That's when he contacted the Tidings for help.

And even though Rueff has been quoted in the Tidings as a local homeless advocate, he was still hard to track down. The newspaper left messages around town with various homeless agencies; but it wasn't until it received a tip that Rueff often eats dinner Tuesday nights at the First United Methodist Church on 175 N. Main St. that the Tidings was able to find him.

The reunion

Rueff was visibly shaken when the Tidings asked if he knew a man named Kevin Berry.

"Kevin Berry? Oh, my god! Is that my brother?" he asked.

Rueff was told that the Tidings had phone numbers for both his brother and sister if he wanted to call them.

He did want to call, but he was nervous and his hands were shaking. Rueff tried to call his brother Berry first. Berry didn't pick up his phone.

Rueff then dialed his sister. While he waited for her to answer, he said, "She was always my hero. Debbie used to let me out of the closet where my mom used to lock me so she could go out drinking."

When Reid answered, there were lots of laughs, smiles and questions. Rueff wanted to hear all about his brothers and sister. Reid wanted to know if he was living off the land and how he was getting by.

Rueff asked Reid if she remembered anything about their father.

"No, I don't remember him at all. Do you?"

"I have one memory," Rueff said. "We're having breakfast and he's putting a lot of pepper on his eggs."

Rueff eventually did get to speak with his brother that night.

Reid said both Kevin and Robbie have been in and out of prison, and that all three of her brothers have been homeless and don't seem to mind living on the streets.

Rueff did get to speak with Berry later, saying he was saddened and angered rather than being elated.

"I was shocked to hear his story and hearing about how similar our backgrounds were to each other," said Rueff. "I hoped he had had a much different situation than I did growing up."

The situation he's referring to is the physical and sexual abuse Berry, Reid and Rueff claim to have occurred while they were foster children.

"The foster care system in the '60s was just atrocious," said Rueff. "I would never wish that system on any child."

Reid said her lifelong goal is to get all four siblings together in one place before they die. "I have no idea how were going to do it. But we need to do it soon. We're not kids anymore."

Rueff said he has mixed emotions about the newfound siblings. "It's been so long since I've had a family, I really don't know what to do."

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