HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — "Oh my god. Finally," Valerie Waller said through tears Saturday evening as she hugged her niece Tiffany Jenkins Giles for the first time in decades. "Thank you for finding me because I couldn't find you."
Aunt and niece cried and rocked back and forth as they hugged tightly. They now felt whole as Giles had finally reconnected with the family of her slain biological father, Thomas Waller.
When they pulled apart, tears turned to laughter as Waller, with maternal warmth while holding onto her niece's hand, complimented her niece's features.
"You're so pretty! Look at you," the 65-year-old Harrisburg woman said. "My beautiful niece. Thank you for coming."
The reunion happened a little before 7 p.m. Saturday on the sidewalk outside of Valerie Waller's home in Allison Hill.
Were it not for the newly revived case against Joseph Lewis Miller — the 78-year-old Texan who has been arrested in the January 1981 shooting death of Thomas Waller — Waller's daughter and sister might not have met.
That arrest prompted a cousin to finally tell Giles the identity of her biological father. From there, one of Giles' four daughters followed up on a reference on Facebook and ultimately put Giles in touch with her aunt.
Giles, 42 of Baltimore, said the last week has been "surreal."
After years of unanswered questions, she's been learning why she never had a relationship with her biological father. Giles — who was raised by her mother and stepfather— said her mother decided that she didn't want them to have a relationship. In turn, Giles' stepfather's family decided no one would ever talk about it.
"That's the family that I have known," Giles said. "And they are a very supportive family. They're a good family, too."
"I guess it was just a tough secret for everyone to keep," Giles said. "And once this happened somebody just felt that I deserved to know because I've been carrying this with me for a long time."
Until this week, Giles never knew anything more about her biological father's identity other than friends knew him as "Pickle" and that he had been slain near 14th and Regina streets in Harrisburg.
She also believes, for some time when she was a little girl, she saw her biological father during play dates at Harrisburg's Reservoir Park.
Even though Giles had a good life, she said she felt something was missing because she didn't know the identity of her father or his family.
She wondered: Did they want to know her?
She's sought information on her father's identity since she was 16. Even a month or so ago, in another attempt, Giles said she left a voice mail for Harrisburg police concerning her father.
Coincidentally, Valerie Waller also was searching for her niece.
Prior to their meeting Saturday, Waller told PennLive in a telephone interview that Giles was just a little girl, maybe 2 or 3 years old, the last time she saw her.
Waller sobbed as she said she wanted Giles to know that she was sorry she couldn't find her sooner — "I don't want her to think that I hadn't searched for her."
A few years ago, Waller's search for Giles ran into a dead end because no one knew Giles' or her mother's last name.
In a similar train of thought as Giles, Waller wondered what had happened to her brother's child and what kind of person she was. She wanted to know that she was "all right."
"I love her. I searched for her, but I didn't know how to find her," Waller said. "All I knew was Tiffany, and I knew her mother's name ... That's all I knew."
Since their first telephone conversation Monday, the two have been talking "just about every day," Waller said. This, Waller believes, is the beginning of a strong bond.
And she sees shades of her brother in her niece — including Giles' energy, the way she's a "happy go lucky" people person and her smile.
"He had a great smile," Waller said. "I was watching her she was talking, and when I see her smile like — that's Tommy."
Waller held her niece's hand Saturday as they stood across the street from the spot near 14th and Regina streets where her brother was killed in January 1981.
Waller could be heard telling Giles, "We know that he's resting in peace."
She later added that's because the man she believes killed her brother has been found.
Both women said they don't wish death on Miller, who, until this week, was living on the lam in Texas with a murder charge in connection with Thomas Waller's shooting death.
But they want him to do his time in prison.
"I do not wish him death," Waller said. "I do say he should serve the rest of his life in prison."