ANSWERS RAISE MORE QUESTIONS

Date: 1996-08-10

Akron Beacon Journal (OH)

ANSWERS RAISE MORE QUESTIONS
ADOPTED TEEN SEES HER LIFE IN NEWS OF STOLEN CHILD. TO UNDERSTAND HERSELF, SHE LOOKS TO SALVADORAN PAST

Author: JIM QUINN, Beacon Journal staff writer

Judy Weideman was numb with joy when she put down the telephone. She had spent nine months trying to adopt a child, but it was still stunning when she got that call confirming that she would be able to adopt the 5-year-old girl waiting for her in an orphanage in San Salvador.

She wandered through her house until she passed a mirror and saw her dazed expression. "I'm a mom," she told her reflection.

"I'm a mom. I'm a mom!" she said, repeating the words gleefully as she danced through her house. It was Feb. 22, 1983, just two months before this single art teacher would welcome her new daughter, Jane, into the home they still share in Cuyahoga Falls.

Judy Weideman started reliving that warm memory a week ago, when something happened that triggered a less pleasant memory for Jane.

Jane, 19, remembers when three soldiers broke through the door of the one-room shack where she lived with her father. She tried to run, but two of the men held her arms while the third said to her father, "You aren't fit to raise this child."

She can still see the outrage and helplessness on his face as he watched the soldiers carry her, screaming, to the orphanage.

The Weidemans have been remembering their pasts since they read news reports about Gina Craig, 17, of Munroe Falls.

Gina is the first child traced to the United States by a group of families who claim that during El Salvador's civil war, there was a secret policy of stealing children, saying they were abandoned or orphaned, and sending them to live with adoptive parents around the world.

Reports of the kidnappings convinced Jane and Judy Weideman that Jane's journey to Ohio must have started just like Gina Craig's. And they aren't alone.

At least four Akron-area families have responded to the news of Gina Craig by contacting the Association in Search of Disappeared Children in San Salvador, saying they suspect their children were stolen, and asking for help finding relatives.

On Monday, two children from Michigan are to be reunited with relatives in San Salvador. "We are investigating dozens of leads to the United States," said Raphael Calles, an investigator for the association. He said he expects to find hundreds of stolen children in El Salvador, Italy, France and the United States. Many may live with adoptive families in Northeast Ohio.

CHILD'S MEMORIES EXPLAINED

Jane Weideman said news of the kidnappings provides the first explanation of her childhood memories.

She remembers living in the one-room house with her father, her stepmother and an aunt. "If I went back, I could probably find it," she said, describing the row of houses built at the foot of a hill. On top of the hill was the orphanage that took her from the soldiers.

The neighborhood was the scene of repeated battles between the military and rebel troops, and Jane remembers seeing soldiers running through the streets, firing their weapons, and killing each other in shootouts behind her home.

Her father, Armando Flores, worked as a tailor, leaving her locked inside the house whenever the adults were away. Flores was a violent, abusive drunk, and Jane Weideman remembers explosive rages in which he would scream and beat her. Her knees and ankles bear the scars of these beatings, and a scar on her wrist reminds her of the time he pressed her arm against a pot of boiling water as punishment for sneaking away from the house.

Once, during a fight with his wife, Flores picked up a knife and stabbed her. The woman was absent from the house after that, and Jane doesn't know whether she died or simply left. Her worst memories are of being raped by her father.

Although she is glad the soldiers took her away, she remembers being devastated when it happened. "He was my father, and that was the only home I knew," she said, remembering how she sat on his lap and cried inconsolably when he visited her in the orphanage. "He told me he would do everything in his power to take me home," she recalls. "I can't believe that he would ever have agreed to put me up for adoption."

ADOPTION RECORDS FORGED?

But that's what Jane Weideman's records say. Calles said her records are probably forged, that her story fits into a familiar pattern of the government's deliberately disguising children's past so they could be adopted.

Now that she knows her adoption records aren't trustworthy, Jane Weideman is skeptical about the documents that say her biological mother was a 17-year-old housekeeper who abandoned her at birth. "I don't know if she wanted me or not," she said. Several stolen children located by their parents in El Salvador have similar false records that claim they were abandoned.

Jane's adoption was arranged by officials at Rose Virginia Peletier, a state-run orphanage near San Salvador. That's the same orphanage where Tom and Stephanie Craig of Munroe Falls picked up their daughter Gina after being told her parents were dead. Gina Craig is in El Salvador visiting her biological parents and six siblings.

Jane left Rose Virginia Peletier to be adopted by Judy Weideman, 58, now principal at Preston Elementary School in Cuyahoga Falls. Jane, who graduated from Cuyahoga Falls High School in June, works for Washington Inventory Service conducting inventories for retail stores.

Judy Weideman said she turned to foreign adoption agencies because local adoption officials weren't willing to help a single woman become a parent. Concern for Children, a nonprofit organization that helped local families arrange Salvadoran adoptions, helped Weideman adopt Jane.

"The people at the Children's Service Board just blocked me at every turn, but I was very impressed with Concern for Children," Judy Weideman said.

CHILD AMAZED BY FREEDOM

Jane arrived in Cuyahoga Falls on April 25, 1983, fearful and excited at the same time. "The freedom amazed me," she said, remembering how exhilarating it was to explore her new neighborhood without fear. She learned English quickly, absorbing vocabulary from public television's Sesame Street and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.

It took a lot longer to learn that Judy would not abandon her. "I screamed and screamed when she dropped me off at kindergarten because I thought I would never see her again," Jane said. For years, she was tormented by nightmares about El Salvador, and the fear she would have to return as soon as Judy grew tired of her.

Jane was about 13 when she forced herself to let go of her fears. "I just got to the point that I knew I had to put all those memories behind me. I know this is the only mother I will ever have," Jane said, putting her arm around Judy's shoulders.

Judy thinks it's a good idea for Jane to look for the relatives she left behind. "I can understand why parents who have very young children are afraid that there are families in El Salvador who want to take their kids away," Judy said. "But Jane is an adult. She needs some closure to her life."

EAGER TO MEET ANY RELATIVES

Jane said she needs to know if her biological mother is still alive, and if she really agreed to give her up. "I must have half brothers and sisters," she said, and she is eager to meet any relatives she can find.

And she has more compelling reasons to learn more about herself. Already, she has had experiences with alcohol that make her wonder if she inherited her father's alcoholism.

Another worry hit her especially hard one day when she was in the middle of a fight with Judy. "I have a terrible temper," Jane said, explaining she has always been subject to fierce, violent outbursts.

During a recent explosion, Jane walked by a mirror and saw the reflected image of her anger. She saw her father's eyes, blazing with the same rage that left her with so many scars.

She shrank away from her reflection, horrified and frightened. "I need to know what kind of person I am," Jane said, and her biological mother "is the only person who can answer my questions."

Calles said investigators will attempt to locate Jane's relatives, using her memories and records to provide leads. But after hearing her story, Calles doubted that it would be as simple as looking up the names on her documents. "Her birth certificate is almost certainly fake," he said.

In another cruel irony, Jane says she has always known that at least one part of her record is false. There's a page in her adoption record in which a Salvadoran judge wrote that "her father had tried several times to sexually abuse her."

Reading that line always infuriates her, Jane said. "He didn't 'try.' He succeeded," she said.

Caption:
Judy Weideman and her adopted daughter, Jane, shown at their Cuyahoga Falls home, both want Jane to find relatives in her native El Salvador.

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