Woman Denies She Abused Adopted Children on Plane

Date: 1997-10-09
Source: nytimes.com

Woman Denies She Abused Adopted Children on Plane

By KATHARINE Q. SEELYE

The Arizona woman who is accused of abusing her two newly adopted Russian children on the May 28 flight from Moscow to New York testified yesterday that she did slap one of the girls, once, out of anger, frustration and embarrassment. But she said she was disciplining the child, not abusing her.

The woman, Karen Thorne, said that one of the girls had never wanted to leave the Russian orphanage where she was raised and that she had screamed and cried from the moment they met. After the girl had been crying for three hours straight in the Moscow airport, Mrs. Thorne said, ''I was that mother I always felt sorry for.''

Mrs. Thorne, 43, testified that once aboard the plane she did everything she could think of to comfort the girls -- one blond, the other brunette. The blond girl's whimpering would sometimes erupt into loud screaming, Mrs. Thorne said, so she tried rubbing her back, wiping her tears, talking in a soft voice, playing with toys, showing her pictures, feeding her snacks and putting earphones on her head so she could hear classical music and children's tapes. Nothing worked.

''I wasn't able to calm her,'' Mrs. Thorne said. ''She was inconsolable, by me.''

She said the clapping sound that witnesses identified as slapping was actually clapping to the beat of the music when she tried to get the girl to dance.

''By this time I was getting very frustrated with my efforts to calm and quiet her,'' Mrs. Thorne testified. ''I was embarrassed because I knew we were upsetting people around us.''

Eventually, she said, the girl slapped her on the face five or six times.

''I grabbed her hand and smacked it and said, 'No!' '' she testified.

Asked by her lawyer, Harvey Jacobs, if she was angry, Mrs. Thorne said she was ''upset and frustrated and probably angry, too.''

Mrs. Thorne and her husband, Richard, 48, have sat silently in Family Court in Queens since June as seven witnesses testified that the couple beat and slapped the two girls forcefully and inappropriately on the 10-hour flight in May. Yesterday, for the first time, Mrs. Thorne gave her side of the story.

This court proceeding is to determine whether the Thornes abused the girls on the plane, and if they did not, what action should be taken to put the girls back in their care. Judge Joseph M. Lauria has allowed reporters to cover the hearings on the condition that they not name the two girls.

The Thornes still face a criminal trial on charges of assault, harassment and endangering the welfare of children.

In her testimony, Mrs. Thorne painted a picture of the blond girl as someone who screamed constantly from the moment they met, refused to be left alone with the Thornes and brightened only when the Thornes left after each visit to the orphanage. She said the other girl appeared happy about the adoption but slowly revealed that she too was troubled -- aggressively kicking strangers in a market in Moscow and whacking her doll on the head with a shoe after tucking it in for the night.

The girls had spent their lives in an orphanage in the town of Voronezh, about 300 miles southwest of Moscow. When the Thornes first met them, on May 19, the dark-haired girl ran to them, hugged them and called them ''Mama and Papa,'' Mrs. Thorne said.

The blond girl, though, cried and clung to a worker at the orphanage. In the 10 hours that the Thornes spent with the girls before being allowed to take them from the orphanage on May 23, they never spent any time alone with the blond-haired girl because she would cry and scream if no one familiar was in the room.

Because the girl was crying incessantly, Mrs. Thorne said, even her passport photo captured her in tears.

When they left the orphanage, the dark-haired girl cheerfully put on the new clothes the Thornes had brought and ''hardly looked back to say goodbye.'' The blonde, she said, ''was crying, very loudly, inconsolably, grasping onto the caretaker.''

But, Mrs. Thorne said, she and her husband never questioned whether it was wise to adopt her. ''She was our daughter,'' Mrs. Thorne testified. ''We were taking her home with us.''

She said that she and her husband were still eager to regain custody of the girls, who have been moved to four different foster homes since they arrived at Kennedy International Airport. They are now with a family in Arizona.

Yesterday, Judge Lauria dismissed only one of the seven abuse counts against the Thornes, saying that the city's Administration for Children's Services, which is prosecuting the case, had not provided any evidence to back the accusation that Mrs. Thorne hit one of the girls over the head with metal eating utensils.

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