A VIEW FROM THE COURTHOUSE LOBBY
A VIEW FROM THE COURTHOUSE LOBBY
August 18, 1993
Dayton Daily News
One minute Tuesday morning, Kathleen Carroll was standing in a lobby smiling and chatting comfortably with friends. A media guy was asking questions about her dead daughter, her religion, her educational beliefs. She was answering fully.
Yes, she would love to adopt more multiply disabled children. No, even when there were nine, she wasn't ready to stop. The number is up to the Lord. Even as she talked, her lawyer was in a courtroom 10 feet away being told whether Mrs. Carroll's adopted children would be taken away from her.
After the judge delivered his decision to the lawyers, he left. The Carrolls then entered the courtroom to get the word from their lawyer, in the presence of their minister.
Within minutes, Mrs. Carroll was hysterical. Her two most disabled, dependent, vulnerable children were to be removed from her home - at least temporarily.
From the perspective of that lobby outside that courtroom, this decision is a tragedy.
But the lobby wasn't full of detached observers. It was full of members of the Ascension Life church. They had gathered to offer moral support for fellow parishioners Kathleen and Timothy Carroll. They were - in their apparently sincere view - most especially offering support for the Carroll children.
The people at Ascension Life are bound together by a lot. Many of them, for example - including the 10 or so families represented Tuesday morning - abjure schools in favor of home teaching. Part of the reason is fundamentalist belief. The first criticism Mrs. Carroll offers of the public schools is the teaching of evolution.
These people are angry about the problems the Carrolls are facing. They are not (as of Tuesday morning) raising religious issues - that is, claiming persecution or discrimination. But they feel that the media have failed to emphasize just how fragile were the Carroll children who died.
They see the Carrolls - who have cared for 10 children with very special needs - as behaving in a way that doesn't simply meet basic standards, but heroically transcends them. They testify to a home full of love.
The minister describes his tiny daughter's relationship with a black male Carroll child who can only get around by hopping. The girl has talked of marrying the boy and has asked if their children would hop.
Besides the two Carroll children who are newly in the custody of authorities, one is being punished by the state after torching much of the Carroll place. One died under circumstances no one questions. One died of bleach burns. Three died in their bedrooms.
And now there are two.
If the parents are only victims in this - not part of the problem - then they are victims on a biblical scale. Their suffering is hard to imagine enduring.
But their friends say that the suffering that's on the Carrolls' minds is that of the two removed children. Those children have been removed briefly once before. That removal was met with hysteria. The children are said to have just started to recover.
Some talk around the courthouse Tuesday held that the Carrolls must have been emotionally prepared for the removal of James, the physically healthy 17-year-old who's facing charges in the death of one daughter. That possibility had been broached even by friends of the Carrolls.
The decision to remove two smaller children - if only while the system takes stock of the situation - was a surprise to some on the Carroll side. They had not been impressed with the evidence the prosecutor's office had presented to the effect that the Carroll house is dangerous.
But they had been listening too closely.
The devil - from the Carrolls point of view - is not in the details. It's in the basic facts that everybody knows: Four children have died in the house; the parents have been found guilty of criminal neglect in one case; and the oldest child is facing serious charges.
Either you do or don't see those facts as reason enough for a custody judge to err on the side of caution - even at the risk of lasting emotional trauma for the children.