"Hello, pretty ladies," Tracy Peck happily said as she greeted two women on the other end of the Zoom call. Screams and tears erupted on both sides of the screens.
From there, the one-hour conversation "flowed perfectly," Peck said.
The joyful and emotional reunion online Sunday put the Blaine resident in touch with Ayda Zugay and her older sister, Vanja Contino, for the first time since May 31, 1999. Peck was on her way home from playing tennis in France when she met the then-teenage refugees escaping to the United States from the war-ravaged former Yugoslavia on a flight from Amsterdam to Minneapolis. Peck was touched by their story about having to leave their parents behind. So she handed the girls, then 12 and 17, an envelope and told them not to open it until they left the plane.
Peck had placed her earrings and a $100 bill inside the envelope with an encouraging message on hotel stationery.
"I am so sorry that the bombing of your country has caused your family any problems. I hope your stay in America will be a safe and happy one for you — Welcome to America — please use this to help you here. A friend from the plane — Tracy," with a heart symbol after her name.
Zugay and her sister used the money for food that summer while staying with their brother, a college student in Iowa, until they were placed with a host family. The sisters have never forgotten the stranger's gesture, and for two decades had unsuccessfully searched for the mystery woman named "Tracy."
That all changed in late April after Zugay made a video and a refugee advocacy organization posted it to Twitter.
"I want to find to be able to find Tracy to thank her for her generosity, for her kindness for her empathy," Zugay said in the video. "Can you help me find her?"
The video mentioned their helper likely lived in Minnesota and is "amazing at tennis." Zugay asked for people to respond to the organization's tweet. It caught the attention of Peck's daughter, Ashley Mintos.
"You are looking for my mom Tracy Peck!," Mintos tweeted back. "Her handwriting is unmistakable. She remembers you girls from the flight!"
CNN on Friday posted a story about Zugay's search, complete with photos of the stranger's note. Peck's tennis coach called her about the story. Another friend who saw the story and recognized her handwriting called, too.
Peck, who was running errands at the time, pulled over, opened her phone and pulled up the story.
"I thought, holy crap, that is me. That is my handwriting," Peck said. "I'm shocked they are looking for me."
Peck had her daughter help her figure out how to contact CNN. They called the Atlanta-based news station and a reporter asked to see copies of her passport, photos, plane ticket and even a handwriting sample to prove her identity. Once verified, the reporter put the three of them in touch.
"I am overwhelmed with joy," Peck said.
During the Zoom call, Peck learned Contino is married with two children and works as an anesthesiologist in Connecticut. Zugay speaks four languages and works with a Boston nonprofit that helps youth find jobs.
As the story gained traction and was picked up by news outlets across the globe, some retweeted it with the hashtag #betracy, urging others to follow Peck's lead of doing good to others. That's what Peck says is the takeaway.
"Kindness is a gift from God. Kindness is free. It is a choice you can make," Peck said. "I just did what I needed to do to help these girls. God was involved with this. They were seated next to me for a reason. You know when to reach out and be that person. Don't underestimate the power of being kind. That is what life is about."