PHILADELPHIA -- Behind the heart-tugging saga of Delimar Vera, the little girl who rose miraculously from the ashes, is a sordid web of contradictions, deceptions, and secrets.
It's nearly impossible to find two people who agree on any significant event in her life, beginning with the house fire that supposedly killed her six years ago, when she was 10 days old.
This much is known: Luzaida Cuevas is Delimar's biological mother, not Carolyn Correa, who raised her as her own. Everything else, from the girl's disappearance to discovery, is a murky cloud of he said/she said contradictions.
Meanwhile, there's a missing baby, a fire that may or may not have been accidental; the accusation of an affair between Correa and Delimar's father, Pedro Vera; and two parents who say they suspected the accused kidnapper for years but couldn't find her.
Yet relatives say the parents always knew where Correa lived, 15 miles away in New Jersey..
Cuevas said she saw Delimar, now 6, and Correa for the first time since the Dec. 15, 1997, fire at a party two months ago, when in fact Cuevas wasn't there, partygoers said. Instead, it appears that she saw Delimar at a birthday party a year earlier, in January 2003, and took a sample of the little girl's hair for DNA analysis, but did not tell authorities for a year.
Cuevas, 31, has offered inconsistent explanations of what happened that mid-December night, when a blaze engulfed the upstairs of her two-story rowhouse in Philadelphia's Feltonville section. Her accounts differ from those of Vera, fire officials, neighbors, friends, and relatives.
Cuevas and Representative Angel Cruz of Pennsylvania, who first took her story to authorities last month, declined several requests for interviews about the discrepancies.
Anthony Cianfrani, one of Cuevas's lawyers, said, "This is all news to me."
Vera and Cuevas say they suspected that Correa, Vera's cousin by marriage, had snatched Delimar. Yet they did not go to Correa's house in Willingboro, N.J., or seek help from police or even Vera's own sister, Evelyn, who was close to Correa.
To complicate this bizarre tale, Correa, charged with kidnapping and arson, apparently gave birth to a baby at her home three days before the 1997 fire. In prison on $1 million bail, she remains convinced that the girl she raised as Aaliyah Ann Hernandez is hers, though DNA tests prove otherwise, her best friend and her lawyer say.
Correa, 42, even paid an independent lab to conduct another DNA test before she was arrested, said her lawyer, Jeffrey Zucker. "If she didn't think she was the mother, why did she spend $638 for the test?" Zucker asked. Those results aren't in yet, he said.
Cianfrani said that Correa was "clearly lying. She's a calculating manipulator."
Police investigators stopped talking about the case last week.
"Nothing adds up," said Andre Moore, who was Correa's boyfriend at the time and who believed then that he was Aaliyah's father. "It's a mystery. Now I'm trying to figure out the method behind the madness."