Lost and Found

updated 04/06/1998 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/06/1998 AT 01:00 AM EDT

HIRED AS NURSE ASSISTANTS AT A CONVALESCENT home in Howell, Mich., on the same day in January, Ron Barren, 23, and Roger Mansfield, 21, shared square-jawed looks and an offbeat sense of humor. In job training, "we were class clowns," says Barren. "People would say, 'Are you guys related or what?' "

Little did they know. In a class discussion, Mansfield said he had been abandoned as a toddler, then adopted. Barren chimed in, "I was too!" Recalls Mansfield: "He said, 'My last name used to be Fletcher.' I said, 'I don't know how to say this, but my last name used to be Fletcher too.' "

When the two compared adoption records, "there was no doubt" they were brothers, Mansfield says. Their alcoholic parents had abandoned Ron before Roger was born and Roger himself two years later; each boy was taken in by a different family. Meeting, says Mansfield, "was like a miracle."

The discovery is helping to heal two troubled lives. Roger's adoptive mother, Ronnie Skyrcki (now divorced from Dan Mansfield, a South Lyon, Mich., cabinetmaker), says the traumatized tot grew into a disciplinary handful. Ron, adopted at age 4 by Robert Barren, a Pinckney Mich., airline pilot, and his wife, MaryAnn, fared worse. He ran up a rap sheet for breaking and entering and assault, then sought the nursing job after seeing two friends shot in drive-by shootings. "That wasn't how I wanted to live my life," he says.

Mansfield and Barren, whose girlfriend is expecting a baby in May, hope to track down three other brothers. For now, they are cementing their friendship over pizza and karaoke. "They get along so good," marvels Mansfield's girlfriend, Paula Gearin, 24, "it's like one person."

From Our Partners