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Born out of love: How the baby they gave up 50 years ago reunited high school sweethearts

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INDIANAPOLIS — How their teenage love story would end was beyond their control. Donna Horn, a cheerleader, was pregnant. Joe Cougill, a star high school athlete, was the father.

On a spring day in 1968, the Cougill and Horn families sat down to talk, but mostly it was the fathers who talked.

“Joe will do whatever you want him to,” Joe’s dad said to Donna’s dad, according to Cougill. “If you want Joe to marry Donna, he will marry Donna. If you want Joe to keep this secret, Joe will keep it secret. If you want Donna to have the baby, Joe will support her. If you don’t want him to be part of her life, Joe won’t.”

Donna’s father wanted Joe to never speak to his daughter again.

Joe and Donna Cougill were high school sweethearts in the late 1960s.

Amid the tears and heartbreak brought on by an abrupt end to a two-year love story, the mandate was issued by the parents, and the promise was made by the teens. Joe would never call Donna again and Donna would never call Joe again. 

For five decades, they made good on that promise. Until one day, 51 years later, their baby girl who’d been put up for adoption found them. She brought them together.

And they fell in love all over again.

‘I think you’re my biological father’

Joe was in the office of an auto dealership in Greenfield, waiting to have lunch with his son, who sells cars for a living. It was June 29, 2019, and across his phone came a text from a woman named Laura Mabry.



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