New family takes in broken child
By Kim Hone-McMahan - Beacon Journal staff writer
Lindsay Semple - Akron Beacon Journal
The radio popped on at 6 a.m. Sue Minick stirred, but kept snug beneath the covers waiting for the forecast. If the weather was chilly, she would dress the kids in layers — maybe sweatshirts and jackets. Thinking ahead to her busy day, she only half-listened to the news.
The big story was the execution the day before of Robert A. Buell, the Franklin Township man who raped and murdered 11-year-old Krista Lea Harrison in 1982. She felt momentarily sad for the girl’s family. But it was the next report that made her lunge for the radio and turn up the volume.
WNIR’s Jim Midock told of a 26-month-old Russian child who was taken to Akron Children’s Hospital with a severed spine. The little girl had been in the care of her adoptive father, Gerald Hyre, in their Kenmore home. The incident was under investigation.
Sue wondered if she had heard correctly. Could history be repeating itself?
Sixteen years earlier, her eldest adopted daughter, Amanda, had been left a paraplegic at the hands of her biological father. Whoever was chosen to be this child’s caregiver would surely need to know how to nurse a youngster with a spinal cord injury. God knows, Sue did.
Her husband, Chuck, was already at work when she climbed out of bed and woke up their three daughters.
In the kitchen of her Suffield Township home, Sue flipped on the radio and began preparing waffles and sausage.
“Please, no talking,” she told the kids. “I need to hear the news.”
They watched as their mother paced, clinging to each word blasting from the Bose speakers. Finally, Midock repeated the story.
“That’s my little girl,” she said. “She’s coming here.”
Sue suspected the toddler would be placed in the custody of Summit County Children Services when released from the hospital. She was familiar with the folks there. In the past 10 years, she and Chuck had fostered four children, all with special needs. Of those, the Minicks had adopted three.
When the agency opened at 8:30 a.m., she called for more information about the child from Russia and pleaded to be involved in her life.
Officials told her they would keep in touch. Sue vowed to be a pest.
Adopted from Russia
Gerald and Bonnie Hyre had returned to Akron from Russia on Jan. 19, 2002, with the two children — 18-month-old Kelsey and 22-month-old Nathan. The couple spent more than $32,000 on the adoptions — money advanced on credit cards and borrowed from friends and family members.
A party, complete with a cake and balloons, was held to welcome the youngsters, who were not biological siblings.
Outwardly, Gerald was a doting father with a calm demeanor who would never intentionally harm his children, a man of compassion and caring. The grocery store worker boasted about the children’s accomplishments and proudly shared their pictures with pals. But sometimes he lost his patience: He once punched a hole in a closet door in a bout of anger.
Three months after the youngsters arrived in America, the injuries began.
Time and again, Gerald called his wife at work and asked that she come home to tend to a child who had been hurt. On one occasion, Nathan had fallen. The little boy had bruises on his back and inner thigh.
Another time, Gerald phoned to report that Kelsey had taken a spill off a rocking horse and was limping. She had a broken foot. There were other incidents.
Bonnie discussed her suspicions with co-workers that Gerald might be hurting the kids. She began documenting the bumps and bruises with pictures. However, merely snapping a few photographs wouldn’t be enough to ward off tragedy. Fearing that Kelsey and Nathan might be removed from her home, she failed to report her inklings, or to show the photographs to authorities.
Kelsey is injured
On the morning of Sept. 25, 2002, Bonnie got a call at work from Gerald asking that she come home. He told her that he had dropped Kelsey while getting her out of the crib.
And though he didn’t mention it, Nathan was limping. Doctors would later discover the boy had a broken foot.
Gerald would tell police that he had changed Kelsey’s diaper and taken her into the kitchen for breakfast. But the little girl wasn’t interested in the Cream of Wheat, and though Gerald saw her back was swollen, he never called 911. Instead, he laid the toddler down and waited for his wife to arrive.
Kelsey was on the sofa, her lips quivering, when her mother got home. Noticing a bruise over her right eye and a bump on her back, Bonnie scooped the toddler up into her arms and drove her to the hospital.
Although Gerald would explain that he had accidentally dropped Kelsey, the medical staff knew otherwise.Her injury was the equivalent of someone snapping a stick in half over his knee.
The little girl with hair and eyes the color of chocolate kisses was brought to America for a better life. Now she would never walk again.
Foster mom feels call
Sue called her friends who worked at the hospital. She told them she was hoping their little Russian patient would be coming to her home as a foster child. Secretly, she was praying it would be more.
She is so beautiful, a hospital worker told Sue.
“Can I come in and see her?”
Oh, no. No one is allowed.
Keeping her promise to be a nuisance, Sue repeatedly telephoned Children Services, pleading that she and Chuck be permitted to see Kelsey.
Three days after Kelsey’s adoptive father broke her back, and about 48 hours after the toddler had surgery to fuse part of her spine, the Minicks were granted a brief visit.
“You have to promise me something,” Chuck told his wife before they left for the hospital.
“OK,” Sue said, sheepishly.
“I will agree to foster this little girl, if you promise not to fall in love and want to adopt her.”
“OK, I promise,” she fibbed.
Although Amanda was now completely self-sufficient, Chuck worried about his wife — who was pushing 50 — taking on another big responsibility. In addition to their girls with special needs, the couple had three biological adult children and were grandparents.
Besides, Chuck, who is a couple of years older than Sue, had visions of retirement: a time when all the kids were out of the house and he and his bride could travel. They werefar too old, reasoned the Goodyear Tire & Rubber electrician, to become the parents of a 2-year-old.
Still, there was no harm in paying her a visit.
Minicks meet Kelsey
Chuck slipped behind the wheel of the Cadillac for the 20-minute ride. The speed limit on the route from their Victorian-style home in Suffield Township to downtown Akron ranged from 25 to 65. Bothered that her husband was abiding by the law, an anxious Sue bit her lip, resisting the temptation to tell him to put the El Dorado into passing gear.
They chatted about the children and their plans for the week. During the discussion, Sue was careful not to tell Chuck about her dream of bringing Kelsey home permanently.
After 32 years of marriage, she knew her husband was an old softy. And if Kelsey was anything like Sue had imagined, he would soon be swooning.
Cradling a stuffed Barney dinosaur in her arms, Sue entered the room directly across from the nurses’ station.
“Hi! Hi!” Kelsey called, flashing a mouthful of baby teeth.
Using the purple toy, they played make-believe. Kelsey snatched Chuck’s leather hat off his head and plopped it on her own. By the time a hospital worker told the Minicks it was time to leave, Chuck was smitten. Already he was vowing that no one but he should be the father of the toddler whose eyes sparkled when she giggled.
“You know, she’s going to be very high-maintenance,” Chuck told his wife on their way home.
Saying nothing, Sue just grinned. Her husband’s remark was confirmation. Like her, he was bewitched.
Kelsey leaves the hospital
Sue visited Kelsey often during the child’s 10-day stay at Children’s Hospital. The toddler was always happy and delightful, right up until she was transferred to the Cleveland Clinic for rehabilitation.
In the past, the drugs had masked the pain — and Kelsey’s memories. But now, she was being weaned off some of the medication.
“Out!” she shouted to visitors, pointing her tiny finger toward the door.
Frustrated, Sue begged hospital and Children Services staffers to allow Kelsey to be cared for in her home. She reasoned the little girl needed to be in a nurturing environment rather than an institution.
Four days later, convinced that Sue was an expert at caring for children with spinal cord injuries, they allowed her to take Kelsey home.
Before Kelsey arrived, Sue warned her children that the 2-year-old was suffering, that her personality had changed, and the homecoming probably would not be a happy one.
Fraught with pain and terrified, Kelsey refused to sleep, often staying up all night watching cartoons on television, the only thing that seemed to bring her comfort. The fever-pitched wails lasted for months, intensifying when Chuck walked into the room. The little girl who had left an imprint on his heart now hated him.
Kelsey was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, explained a psychologist at Akron’s Child Guidance & Family Solutions. The images of what had happened to her were streaming through her tiny head like a horror film. To her, Gerald Hyre was the bogeyman, and most adult men in her life would suffer because of it.
Any noise startled her. The volume on the television was kept off. Even the sound of the crinkling of wrapping paper on Christmas morning made her whimper.
Before the holiday, she had spent hours flipping through the pages of the J.C. Penney Christmas catalog. Each time, she paused on the page that contained pictures of Big Wheel tricycles. When asked what she wanted from Santa, she would tell the family a bike — pointing to the catalog.
Before her “mean daddy” — as Kelsey began referring to Gerald Hyre — had hurt her, she was able to ride a Big Wheel. Now, she would have to settle for something different.
A couple of days before Christmas, Joe Klusti, a young man from Miller’s Rental & Sales, delivered a small customized wheelchair to the Minick home. During the visit, Sue explained what had happened to Kelsey.
The misty-eyed Klusti said: “No child should get a wheelchair for Christmas.”