When police Sgt. Dave Stull took a DNA test to learn more about his biological parents, he wasn’t expecting much. He was tired of leaving the family history sections blank on medical forms, but he had no aching void to fill. He’d had a good childhood, with adoptive parents who doted on him.
“Of course, there were questions in my whole life about, ‘Who am I?’ and ‘Where did I come from?’ and all that, but they weren’t burning questions,” said Stull, 51, who was adopted as a baby by a Navy pilot and his wife.
But after losing his mother to Alzheimer’s 20 years ago and watching his adoptive father die of heart disease just last year, he felt less guilty about tracing his biological roots.
The possibility of brothers or sisters didn’t cross his mind. Maybe he’d find some cousins. But when he opened the link on the 23andMe website, the name topping the list of 1,200-plus potential relatives was that of a half brother, along with his photo.
Eric Reynolds had the same chin, different color eyes.
“He’s wearing a police jacket, and it says Florida,” Stull said.
DNA kits such as Ancestry and 23andMe have exploded in popularity in recent years, with more than 26 million people taking an at-home test, according to MIT Technology Review. While the trend has populated the news with heartwarming stories of reunited family members, it also has posed ethical questions about situations that were supposed to remain private, such as anonymous sperm donors, adoptions, and children born out of wedlock or as the result of affairs.
Stull said his adoption records from decades ago were sealed, and he never spent much time thinking about it. He’s had a full life: Married for 20 years, he helped raise two children, and he currently runs a tactical unit at an Orlando area courthouse. With no kids left in the house, he is now father to two German Shepherds.
Eric Reynolds was a bachelor who many thought would never settle down. He found the right woman at 41. He had a busy life as an evidence expert with Boynton Beach Police and is now occupied at home with his 3- and 7-year-old boys, who are home-schooled. He retired this month and wants to take his family across the country in an RV.
Reynolds’ mother had been an officer with Miami-Dade Police in the 1980s and he followed in her footsteps. In 2012, he was shot in the foot during a gunbattle that left a bank robbery suspect dead. It wasn’t long before depression crept in and he started drinking excessively. His marriage suffered, but he got help.
“Being shot and wondering if you’re going to be in another gunfight every time you get called out wears you down,” he said.
Reynolds had always known his dad, an Air Force man, was a bit of a womanizer and had been married five times. He has three half-siblings, but he is at least 14 years older and grew up in a different state than they did, so he often felt like an only child.
Reynolds was having breakfast with his police partner when he first found out about the sibling from Florida.
“Good morning, my name is David Stull. We are half-brothers,” the email read. “I don’t know the validity of this but apparently we both live in Florida and we’re both cops.”
Reynolds’ first thought was, “I’m being scammed,” but he ended up texting back.
“I’m 49 I’ve got two boys and I live in Boynton,” he wrote.
“I’m 50. That makes me the big brother. LOL,” Stull texted back.
The two texted all day, talking about everything from their shared obsession with Tito’s vodka and dental floss picks to the daily struggles and quiet fears they both experience as police officers.
Both started in retail security but later joined the police force because they were drawn to the idea of “catching bad guys,” Reynolds said. They share the feeling that they are “warrior spirits” and protectors of the flock.
They have their differences, too. They don’t see eye to eye on religion. Stull said he’s more compulsive about having things a certain way.
When the half brothers finally video chatted, it was awkward and hard to focus.
“We’re trying to talk but we’re just staring at each other,” said Reynolds. “I’m looking at his ears, his nose. He’s looking at me the same way.”
They met for the first time at Stull’s house near Orlando, talking late into the night. But it wasn’t enough. They had a brother-bonding RV weekend, just the two of them, to talk about “the good stuff,” Reynolds said.
“‘Who was the first girl you hooked up with?'” and “‘Who was your first crush?'”
“He got caught forging a report card just like I did,” Reynolds said of Stull.
Reynolds said it feels a bit like elementary school, like having a new best friend. The brothers text all day long. Reynolds’ wife jokes that it’s like they’re having an affair.
Stull retires next summer, and the brothers are already planning their RV trips together.
“We’ve got 50 years to make up for,” Stull said.