DIARY OF AN ADOPTION TRAGEDY
DIARY OF AN ADOPTION TRAGEDY
Mother chronicles couple's struggle to raise two Russian-born children and the abuse that killed one
Author: Robert Ruth
To the pediatrician who had treated their children for years, Gary and Amy Thompson were typical, loving parents.
The couple last visited Dr. Joseph H. Banks in 2003 when they brought Liam, their newly adopted 2-year-old son, to Northwest Pediatrics.
The boy was withdrawn and had a severe cleft lip and palate that had been sloppily stitched together in his native Russia, but the Thompsons did not seem despondent about the deformity, Banks said.
"I never got the impression that it was that frustrating for them," he said, certainly not to the point that they would harm the boy.
But there was a dark side to the family's story, one found in a diary that Mrs. Thompson kept on her home computer.
Referring to Liam's deformity and other problems, she wrote:
This adoption is the hardest thing I have ever done. I cannot express how difficult this has been. The year heading up to it was dreadful.
It is no wonder that we were very mean and had no patience at all with the children. We yelled, whipped and had so much anger that each of us could have killed, literally.
By Oct. 16, 2003, Liam was dead. It was his third birthday and five months after he had arrived at the Thompson's Far West Side home on Navion Court. Five days earlier, his adoptive father had shoved him into 140-degree bath water.
Today, the Thompsons sit in separate Ohio prisons after pleading guilty to charges in the death -- she to involuntary manslaughter; he to murder.
Their resentment was extreme, experts said, but some degree of frustration is common among parents who adopt children from Russia and other poverty-stricken countries. Spartan conditions and a lack of nurturing in many orphanages leave some children with little emotion and limited skills.
The Thompsons had traveled to eastern Russia in April 2003 to adopt Liam and a 3-year-old girl from orphanages in the city of Blagoveshchensk, near the Chinese border. What began as a journey of hope quickly turned sour, Mrs. Thompson wrote in late July and early August 2003. The Dispatch obtained a copy of the diary through a public-records request to the Columbus Police Division.
I am mad at them for being so much damn work, anger at them for not just fitting in and for having no personality.
Sometimes I lose it and go too far. I have done this more often than I would like to admit. I feel like if I don't hit or yell, I will explode.
She wrote that she never had trouble bonding with her two biological children, a 15-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son.
They were so much fun that I couldn't wait to do things and teach them about life.
But Liam and the other Russian child were different, she wrote.
He is so slimy, he makes me ill. He always has some sort of body odor and dried yuck on his face. He is gross.
Her? I am pretty indifferent to her. I don't feel like or strong hatred. Just indifference.
Patrick Dorn, who has been a homicide detective for 11 of his 25 years as a Columbus police officer, said Mrs. Thompson's diary and Liam's death gave even him pause.
"Basically, I was stunned," he said. "In parts of it, you almost feel sorry for her, until you think about how it must have been for that little boy."
Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien added, "Clearly, the parents were ignoring his medical condition, in effect torturing him to death over a period of a week."
During a recent interview at the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville, where she is serving 14 years, Mrs. Thompson, 34, said she was at work when Liam was scalded and did not realize for several days the extent of his injuries.
Her husband balked when she suggested they take him to a hospital, she said. "He was hysterical. He mentioned that if we took (Liam) into the doctor that Children Services would come out . . . and take all our children and take him to jail."
Instead, Mrs. Thompson, a licensed practical nurse, gave the boy Tylenol and treated his burns with Vaseline. The couple didn't call for help until Liam had trouble breathing.
Mr. Thompson, 33, declined to be interviewed. He is in Ross Correctional Institution in Chillicothe, serving 15 years to life.
Dr. Banks could not explain what happened with the Thompsons.
"They're educated, bright, caring people," he said. "Everybody assumes they're rotten people, but they're not."
Amy Lowry and Gary Thompson married on Oct. 5, 1992, in Marion County, less than two weeks after her divorce from her first husband, according to county records. She had her biological daughter during her first marriage.
Their son was born in April 2000, four months after the couple bought the home at 1772 Navion Court, where neighbors didn't find them particularly friendly.
"We nicknamed them 'The Unsociables,' " said Kevin M. Moore, who lives two doors from the Thompsons' former residence. "They wouldn't allow their kids to play with other children. They would walk across the street to avoid talking to anyone."
Mrs. Thompson acknowledged that she and her husband didn't socialize much.
"I'm a very, very private person," she said.
Amy and Gary Thompson wanted a large family, as many as six children.
Her need to nurture probably was to compensate for shortcomings in her own life, Mrs. Thompson said. She remembers meeting her birth father only once. She was 3 years old when her mother remarried, and she never developed a relationship with her stepfather.
"I haven't seen him since my early teens, maybe 13," she said. "He was an emotionally distant person."
Mrs. Thompson had trouble conceiving. "I was on fertility treatments for two or three years," she said.
So they decided to adopt from overseas. They were elated to learn that Liam and the girl were available.
Then reality set in.
We were so unprepared for all of this. I read books and did my best to educate myself to all the potential problems. I was so caught up in the dream. I couldn't see reality.
The couple took out a second mortgage on their house to cover the $40,000 cost of the adoptions, Mrs. Thompson said.
She worked as many hours as she could as a licensed practical nurse at First Community Village, a nursing home on Riverside Drive. Mr. Thompson managed the Western Credit Union in Plain City.
Although Mrs. Thompson had prided herself on being a good mother, the troubles with Liam and the Russian-born girl eroded her confidence. She did not even confide in her mother, Linda Evans, who lived across the street.
"Because I was having so many problems, I thought she wouldn't understand why I was failing," Mrs. Thompson said in a tearful prison interview.
She resisted suggestions by her husband to give up Liam and the girl, she said. She wanted to prove to herself that she could make a success of the adoptions.
Still, she wrote of hitting and yelling at the children.
While I am doing this, it feels oddly good. I feel a sense of relief to get out some of my anger, and I have to stop before I really hurt them. Afterwards, I feel somewhat guilty, but not as much as I should.
Liam's autopsy shows how terribly the couple failed: severe burns on both legs, his right arm, back and buttocks. Bruises on his neck, the right side of his upper lip, right eye, both cheeks and forehead.
A bloody bib he once wore was found in the Navion Court house.
At his death, Liam was 34 inches tall and weighed 25 pounds. Average height and weight for a 3-year-old boy are 38 inches and 32 pounds.
According to Russian documents collected by Columbus police, life was tough for the boy from the beginning. Born Dmitriy Sergeyevich Ishankulov in a mining and industrial region of eastern Russia, he was put up for adoption four days after his birth.
His 26-year-old unemployed single mother wrote, "I have no place of residence and financial means for living."
Liam was later transferred to an orphanage in nearby Blagoveshchensk.
Mrs. Thompson said she weeps every day in prison. The family she and her husband wanted has been scattered. Their biological daughter, now 16, is living with a foster family in Dublin. Their biological son, now 4, is living with relatives in Marion. And their Russian-born daughter, now 5, has been adopted by a family in Powell.
Mrs. Thompson's diary seemed to predict the heartache.
Adoption is a wonderful thing. For some, it probably clicks immediately, but for those of us that it doesn't, we are left feeling guilty, angry, resentful and very, very alone.
(1) RENEE SAUER DISPATCH AMY THOMPSON (2) Liam Thompson (3) FILE PHOTO Amy Thompson confers with her attorney, Richard A.L. Piatt, moments before a judge sentenced Thompson to 14 years in prison for involuntary manslaughter and endangering children. (4) Gary Thompson (5) Graphic with Map (6) Map
"Sometimes I lose it and go too far. I have done this more often than I would like to admit. I feel like if I don't hit or yell, I will explode."
AMY THOMPSON from a 2003 entry in her diary
A life cut short
Here is a chronology of Liam Thompson's brief life and the investigation into his death.
* Oct. 16 -- Dmitriy Sergeyevich Ishankulov is born in the eastern Russian city of Svobodniy. Four days later, his mother puts him up for adoption. He is moved to an orphanage.
* April 28 -- After months of delays, Amy and Gary Thompson adopt Dmitriy and a 3-year-old girl from orphanages in the eastern Russia city of Blagoveshchensk. The Thompsons rename the boy Liam.
* August -- Mrs. Thompson writes a chilling diary, preserved on two home-computer disks, describing her anger and frustration with the two children.
* Oct. 11 -- Shortly before noon, Mr. Thompson puts Liam in a bathtub of 140-degree water. When he pulls the screaming boy out, the child's skin is peeling off his legs and other parts of his body. Mr. Thompson lays the boy on a crib mattress in the basement. Mrs. Thompson is working 12-hour shifts at a nursing home and says she did not immediately notice that Liam had second- and third-degree burns.
* Oct. 13 -- For the first time, Mrs. Thompson said, she realizes the seriousness of Liam's burns. Her husband talked her out of taking him to the hospital, saying they would lose their other children.
* Oct. 16 -- Liam is breathing erratically. The couple calls 911, and paramedics rush Liam to Doctors Hospital West, where he dies at 7 a.m. It is his third birthday.
* Oct. 31 -- A Franklin County grand jury indicts the Thompsons for murder. Grand jurors don't think Mr. Thompson's excuse that a broken water-heater thermostat led him to believe the bath water was lukewarm.
* Nov. 3 -- Acting on a tip from the Thompsons' 15-year-old daughter, police seize two home computer disks that contain Mrs. Thompson's diary.
* Dec. 3 -- Mr. Thompson pleads guilty to murder. Common Pleas Judge Dale A. Crawford sentences him to 15 years to life in prison.
* June 18 -- Mrs. Thompson pleads guilty to involuntary manslaughter and child endangering and is sentenced to 14 years in prison.
Source: Columbus police file, Amy Thompson