Carly, Newell and Colleen Cerak, and Oprah

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When the hospital realized what had happened, Colleen Cerak received another phone call at 2 a.m. Newell was out of town again, so the person on the other end asked her to put Carly on the phone too. "He introduced himself as the Grant County Coroner and the chaplain. It was the same voices that had called five weeks before," Colleen says. "They said they had reason to believe that my daughter was alive."

The caller asked them to bring Whitney's dental records to the hospital so they could verify the identity of the survivor. Colleen and Carly were stunned. Carly was convinced it was some kind of cruel prank. "Why someone would say that when I knew for sure there was no way it was Whitney in the hospital," she says. "I was trying to tell my mom, 'There's no way it's Whitney.'"

Colleen hung up and called a family friend named Jim, asking him to check with the coroner to make sure it was not a prank. Colleen then called Newell, who was in New York City. "I didn't know what to say," he says. "I just kept saying, 'No.'"

When Jim confirmed the coroner's story, Colleen arranged to get her daughter's dental records, and she and Carly were on the road by 3 a.m. "The first part [of the drive], we were pretty angry," Colleen says. "But the closer we got to Grand Rapids, then we started saying, 'If [the Van Ryns] couldn't recognize their daughter, what are we going to see?' And then it's almost like the panic started to hit. 'What are we going to see here?'"