Something about their family history seemed a bit off to Rachael and Lisa Martin, particularly the part about their mother dying in a car crash.
That didn't make it any less shocking when they learned the real story: Their mom was actually alive; their surname was Fagan, not Martin; and their father had taken them from their mother in 1979.
But while they were surprised to learn their mother wasn't dead, Lisa Martin said, "I think we both had a feeling that we knew something wasn't right about that."
Stephen Fagan says he took his daughters because he feared they were in danger living with their mother, a woman he describes as a neglectful alcoholic. Lisa _ then called Wendy _ was 2; Rachael was 5. Their parents had divorced the previous year.
Fagan, 56, who took the name Dr. William Martin, was arrested April 16 on kidnapping charges. He allegedly took the girls from Massachusetts and began a new life in Florida.
Growing up, the girls never asked their father many questions about their mother, Barbara Kurth.
"It was always a clearly sensitive subject for the whole family," Rachael said.
As children, Fagan told his daughters their mother was dead. He portrayed her in favorable terms: a great woman, a beautiful and brilliant scientist.
Kurth, now 48, became a cellular biologist at the University of Virginia long after Fagan took the kids.
Two Christmases ago, Fagan told the girls he had something important to reveal. But, he said, they would have to wait until the younger daughter had turned 21.
Fagan never got the chance.
On Lisa's 21st birthday earlier this month, state police delivered the family secret to Rachael.
"I was shocked, I was stunned," Rachael Martin, 23, said Tuesday on NBC's Today show as Lisa sat beside her.
The two young women said they are ruling out any immediate reunion with the mother they haven't seen in 19 years.