(CNN)— More than a year ago, Steve Carter was browsing online and came across a missing children’s website.
To his astonishment, after clicking through the pages, he found himself.
What followed was a yearlong story of self-discovery.
Carter, a 35-year-old software salesman, was adopted at age 4 from an orphanage in Honolulu. When he grew up, got married and thought about having his own children, the Philadelphia resident grew more curious about his own roots.
“CNN covered Carlina White’s story. It popped up on my iPad, and right from there I went to the center’s website,” Carter said, referring to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
White, an Atlanta woman who made headlines last year after she found her own baby picture on the website, discovered that she had been kidnapped as a 3-week-old infant from a Harlem hospital in 1987 by a woman posing as a nurse. She reunited with her biological family in an emotional meeting last January.
Reading White’s tale, Carter said, made him wonder about his own.
On a hunch, he clicked on Missingkids.com in hopes of answering the unanswered questions about his origins.
It was there he found an age-progression image made from a photograph of him as an infant.
Carter recognized himself immediately, he said, and contacted the Honolulu Police Department.
“I let them know my info and they ran with it,” he said. “They were the ones who did all the legwork” of investigating the case.
Carter then volunteered for a DNA test in February 2011. Eight months later its findings revealed fragments of his story and the name he’d been given at birth: Marx Panama Moriarty Barnes.
His biological father, Mark Barnes, reported him missing more than three decades ago after his mother, Charlotte Moriarty, took him for a walk and didn’t return.
Carter says he believes Moriarty put him in the Hawaiian orphanage and told authorities his name was Tenzin Amea. CNN could not independently confirm that account.
Barnes, who now lives in California with his two daughters, was not immediately available for comment, and Moriarty’s whereabouts are unknown.
This January, Carter decided to contact his newfound relatives over the phone.
“They knew I had been located, but they were very surprised,” Carter said, describing the experience as “a lot to digest.”
“You see a lot of these reunion stories and a day later they’re meeting their parents,” he said. “I’m still going forward, testing the waters.”
Carter says that while he intends to meet his kin at some point, he also wants to uncover what happened in the three-week period between his reported disappearance and his arrival at the orphanage in Hawaii.
And yet authorities say stories like Carter’s and White’s are rare.
Thousands of children under the age of 18 go missing each year, the center for missing children reported. Many of those youths are considered runaways and return home, though hundreds of the long-term missing often prove far more difficult to track down.
“We encourage folks who have doubts to look on the website,” said Robert Lowery, the center’s executive director.
Carter described his experience as “a happy ending to a story that usually isn’t a happy ending.”
“Good things do happen,” he said.