VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. —Shannon Holley Nicoll saw Rachelle Arthur Dyer for the first time at a Kenny Chesney concert nine years ago. Mutual friends had prodded the two to meet because they said there was an uncanny likeness.
“Almost like looking in a mirror,” Dyer said. “The looks, the mannerisms.”
Nicoll had been a student teacher at Tallwood Elementary, where Dyer later ended up teaching. Staff at the school couldn’t believe how much alike the two looked.
“Everybody was always telling me I had a sister,” Dyer said.
Dyer did have a sister, a twin, Kristelle Arthur Harrington who lives near Seattle. Nicoll had a sister, too —Lisa Holley Vann.
With so many similarities between the four, was there a chance they could actually be related?
DNA tests taken in 2017 by a couple of family members would answer that question. After calls from cousins, the four women discovered they were all born to the same mother.
“I was blown away,” said Vann.
After the realization sunk in, the three in Virginia Beach started keeping in contact with Harrington on social media.
The sisters met face-to-face for the first time over dinner. Other family members attended, mostly to observe in amazement.
“We had no clue that our mom had had twins,” said Vann, 51. “When we got together, it was like we had been together forever.”
The strange turn of events started decades ago in a town near Seattle where their mother, Janice Moore, had given birth to twin girls and didn’t think she could provide for them in the right way. She put them up for adoption and insisted they stay together in a Catholic-faithed home.
Two years later, Moore met Dean Holley. The two moved to Virginia Beach, got married and had two daughters.
The girls who grew up a couple of hours away from Seattle had always wondered if they had siblings somewhere because they were adopted. The Virginia Beach sisters never had reason to think the same way.
“Mom died last year and took it to the grave with her,” Vann said. Her mom’s sister —Sue Hall —also had promised to keep the secret.
But Hall did tell someone, her daughter, Tracey Hall, about the adoption 12 years ago. Tracey was among the cousins who took the DNA tests.
“I figured, if I died someone had to know about this,” said Sue Hall, who lives in Fredericksburg. “Janny was determined to do the best thing for the twins and we always wondered about them. And I always thought that if the twins wanted to find us they would have by now.
“I’m still in shock that this has all happened and I’m glad it did. I think Janny would have been happy about it.”
Harrington said the reunion is making for an already crazy start to 2019.
“I was in Australia for New Year’s Eve and had to have emergency surgery for appendicitis,” said Harrington, who added that her parents had told them they had sisters but knew little else about them. “I get back home and a couple of weeks later it’s like, bang, this all happens.
“Me and Rachelle had a wonderful childhood and upbringing, but we always wondered what our sisters would be like.”
Turns out, despite being half sisters, the four are remarkably similar —and not just when it comes to looks. All have bubbly personalities and similar voices. They’re into fashion and love all things family.
“Both of my children came to the dinner and every time the four of us would laugh they put their hands over their mouths because they couldn’t believe how much we sounded alike,” said Nicoll, 49. “I mean, we were finishing each other’s sentences.
“This has been the biggest gift you can imagine.”
The twins turned 53 and consider their new family one of the best birthday presents they’ve ever received.
“When they told me we had half sisters I stood up and turned white as a ghost,” said Dyer, who, in a twist of fate, moved to Virginia Beach in 2004 with her now ex-husband. “I immediately figured it was Shannon and that meant Lisa, too.”
There are amazing side stories to their reunion.
“My husband’s dad’s birthday is the same as our birth mother’s,” Dyer said. “Our mom had a pilot’s license and my husband’s mom did too.
“All this is mind boggling, but it’s so very wonderful.”
There are no immediate plans for another get-together, which will be tough because three live in Virginia Beach and the other lives in Seattle. They have all vowed, however, to constantly keep in touch.
“Dinner was a great time and we can’t wait to be together again,” Harrington said. “The holidays will be hard for me because I have so much family in Seattle and I know they’ll all be getting together in Virginia Beach.
“Who knows, maybe we can all get together on the Ellen Show. Wouldn’t that be something?”