Grandparents of Utah girl didn't want to give her up

Date: 1997-11-23

Larry and Elizabeth Dornan still have their 1994 Christmas presents for their grand-daughters.

They hold on to pictures taken that year before their two blonde granddaughters were taken from their Battle Creek, Mich., home and placed in foster care.More than a year later, they learned from a newspaper article that 4-year-old Danielle had fallen down the stairs and died while living in the home of Chris and Rebecca Tucker, 45 miles away in Coldwater.

And two years later, they saw a television story that Danielle's older sister had been found locked in a basement room, wearing only a T-shirt and weighing just 31 pounds, in a little place called Trenton, Utah.

Larry Dornan, 55, cried Friday thinking about "his babies" and what had become of them.

The 6-year-old girl, taken from the Tuckers' home last week, was a golden child who came to live with the Dornans when she was 3 months old, he said.

She was a bright, loving child and didn't suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome like officials have reported, he said.

The Tuckers, who were charged Monday with second-degree felony child abuse, told authorities the child had been locked in the basement since July and was unmanageable. If that's the case, Larry Dornan said, it's because she was torn from him and his wife, the only parents she ever knew.

The Tuckers were the girls' foster parents before they adopted them in Michigan. The couple, who has two teenage sons, were already caring for the girls when their birth mother, Nellie Dornan, had another child. The other child, too, came to live with the Tuckers and was adopted. That girl, now 3, was also taken from the Tucker home in Trenton.

Larry Dornan says his 26-year-old daughter has learning difficulties and wasn't fit to mother her children. Another daughter born to Nellie Dornan when she was in high school is being reared by the child's father in Battle Creek. The Dornans see that child often, though they rarely see Nellie and aren't sure where she lives.

But it is their two granddaughters in Utah who have preoccupied their thoughts: They are the reasons they built extra bedrooms when they moved to the country last year, bedrooms in case the girls ever came home.

After the girls' birth, Elizabeth Dornan said, the couple tried to adopt them, but officials continued trying to reunite them with their mother. It was in that effort that county authorities took the girls from their grandparents' home and put them in the Tuckers' Coldwater home, a placement closer to Nellie Dornan, the grandparents said.

Shortly after they moved to the Tuckers' foster home, the Tuckers reported to authorities the oldest girl had told them her grandfather had urinated on her. According to Larry Dornan, he begged police to do a lie detector test to prove his innocence. The case was never substantiated.

Elizabeth Dornan said the couple would drive by the Tucker home to get a glimpse of the girls, but they were never outside. When Danielle, who was born with spina bifoda and Down's Syndrome, fell down the stairs and died in December 1995, the Dornans didn't attend the funeral.

The Dornans wrote a letter to the president and retained an attorney, but the Tuckers and the girls moved to Utah.

"It's like someone sticking a knife in you," Larry Dornan said. "They took my babies; they may as well have taken my heart."

On Nov. 12, an investigator for the Utah Division of Child and Family Services, working on a tip, visited the Trenton home and demanded the basement door be unlocked. The 6-year-old was found lying in a fetal position in a room furnished with only metal bed springs and a tub of dirty water.

The girl, emaciated and found with scars on her arms and buttocks, has began gaining weight and has received medical and dental care in the state's custody.

Chris and Rebecca Tucker left jail on bail earlier this week. A preliminary hearing is set for Tuesday in 1st District Court in Logan.

The Dornans still hope there is a chance for them to see their granddaughters again.

"We're willing to do whatever it takes," Larry Dornan said. "We don't want them to go to another foster home when they have a family here in Michigan who misses them and loves them."

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