My missing mum


Teenager's Facebook search uncovers missing mother's death

Image caption Marco Hauenstein as a baby with his birth mother

A man who launched an online search for his missing birth mother discovered she died years ago in Germany – but bureaucratic errors led to the family never being informed.

Gina Hauenstein, who came from a small village in northern Switzerland, had been listed as officially missing since 2000.

In January this year her son Marco, who spent his childhood with foster parents in another part of the country, posted a Facebook appeal for information about the mother he last saw as an infant.

His story captured attention across Europe, prompting new enquiries – until Swiss police confirmed that the remains of Gina Hauenstein had actually been found just across the border in Germany in 2013.

Marco did not have an easy start in life.

He knew very little about his birth family, but he did know that his mother had been a drug addict, and is believed to have spent time during the 1990s in Zurich's then-notorious Platzspitz drugs scene, where addicts bought heroin in a city centre park and injected it openly.

Image caption Marco Hauenstein's search drew mass media attention

When Marco was born in 1997, he was already addicted, and had to spend the first months of his life in hospital withdrawing and recovering.

Although his mother visited him from time to time, he never lived with her, and when Marco was just three, she disappeared.

Although Marco describes his childhood with foster parents as happy, he says questions about his birth family were "always on my mind".

His search first started when he was around 16, and he began by asking local town councils in the region of Switzerland his mother had come from. He also made enquiries with the police.

No information was forthcoming. Police told him that despite a search both within Switzerland and across Europe, no trace of her had ever been found.

Image caption Gina Hauenstein had been missing since 2000

Only when an appeal Marco made on Facebook began to attract attention – it was shared thousands of times in just a few days – did Swiss police look again at their records.

They discovered that in 2013 they had been contacted by German police, with news that human bones had been found in a village just across the border from Gina Hauenstein's home town in Switzerland.

The results of a forensic examination by Swiss investigators confirmed the bones were Gina's.

Local police in her home town were informed in 2015, but inexplicably that information never reached either Gina's family or the German authorities investigating the remains.

This week, Swiss police visited Marco and broke the news, apologising for a mistake they admit should never have happened.

Image caption Marco's social media feeds were saturated with messages during the search

Marco, who patiently gave many interviews when he first launched his Facebook appeal just four weeks ago, is now taking time for himself to digest the news.

He has not posted on Facebook since January. While not quite the happy end he had hoped for, there was at least one positive development.

"Danke! Thank you! Merci!" he wrote. "Thanks to your help, on 20 January, I was able to meet my uncle and my grandmother for the first time. It was a very emotional moment.

"At last, I have part of my family back."