Former Miss Nevada meets her birth mother 44 years after being abandoned in an airport

Former Miss Nevada Elizabeth Hunterton shares what it was like to meet her birth mother for the first time.

Elizabeth Hunterton, First Black Miss Nevada, Miss Nevada 2004, 1980 Airport Baby Jane Doe, adoption, Black adoption, birth mothers,
Screenshot: Inside Edition (YouTube)

On Saturday, Elizabeth Hunterton, a former Miss Nevada winner, had a tearful and cathartic reunion with her birth mother after more than 40 years apart.

The former beauty queen shared details of their May 18 meeting on her TikTok page, where she has been chronicling her search for her biological parents.

“The first question I get asked is, ‘How did it feel?’” Hunterton said in a video that has amassed over 90,000 views. “It felt then as it feels now, the whole thing is freaking strange. I know. This is my story, so it shouldn’t feel as weird as it does, but it’s weird.”

When Hunterton, who is of Black and Japanese descent, was roughly 10 days old in January 1980, she was found at a Delta Airlines gate at the Reno Tahoe International Airport in Nevada by two pilots and eventually adopted by a white family. However, Hunterton’s biological mother has since explained she wasn’t the one to abandon her.

According to her, a friend had offered to take Hunterton to an adoption agency but, for reasons unknown, instead left the infant at the airport. It wasn’t until months later that Hunterton’s birth mother learned her baby had become a Jane Doe.

“She owes my birth mother an apology. She doesn’t owe me anything. She didn’t betray my trust. But she owes my birth mother an apology,” Hunterton said.

During the reunion, Hunterton noted that she found more resemblances in her mother’s mannerisms and character than in her appearance. She was also surprised by her own reactions, as she admitted feeling protective and defensive of her adoptive mother at times.

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“It was this innate need to defend my [adoptive] mom’s honor from a completely unprovoked attack — and they were tiny little moments,” she said, recalling one incident where her biological mother offered her fries in a way she felt her adoptive mother wouldn’t have.

She added, “I’m not particularly proud of [the moments]. It says more about me than it says about her but I want to tell the truth.”

Having been raised to have compassion for her birth mother, Hunterton said there is no resentment toward her. She was able to reassure her biological mother that she did, in fact, end up having a tremendous life — one that included Hunterton being crowned the first Black Miss Nevada in 2004

“I think she needed to hear that,” she said.  

Now a beauty pageant consultant, Hunterton found her mother through online DNA and ancestry databases during the lockdowns of 2020, when she had free time to search. She learned her mother was Japanese, and her father, who died in 2004, was Black. Unfortunately, her mother claims to have no recollection of her father. 

“I told her I don’t remember people I met yesterday. So I’m not faulting you for not remembering somebody from 44 years ago,” Hunterton said. 

While she is overjoyed that the reunion happened and left it with no regrets, Hunterton admitted she almost bailed on the meeting.

“As my husband and I approached the location where my birth mother was waiting, I stopped walking and wasn’t sure if I could go through with it,” she told People magazine. “Ultimately, I chose courage over fear, and I’m glad I did.”