Adoptive parents feel betrayed

Date: 2009-02-25

Salt Lake Tribune, The (UT)
Author: Kirsten Stewart The Salt Lake Tribune

Three adoptive parents who spoke at Wednesday's sentencing each came to the courthouse with different expectations: Two sought jail time for the Bankses while another asked for leniency.

But all of them later expressed relief at seeing the nearly three-year long saga come to an end.

"I feel peace," said Mike Nyberg, a former Utah resident now living in Idaho Falls. "I feel [the Bankses] started their adoption agency with perfect intentions … But that doesn't change the fact that we were lied to."

Earlier in court, though, Nyberg argued the penalty "should be far greater than a slap on the hands" and that probation wasn't enough.

He recounted the day he and his then-wife Kari picked up their daughter Sei So at 1 a.m. at a New Zealand airport. The pick-up couldn't happen in Samoa because a hurricane had recently damaged the island and there had been an outbreak of German measles, the Nybergs were told.

Their devastated 4-year-old emerged from the airplane on the verge of tears with messy hair, scabies and clutching a small basketball. The Nybergs returned to the U.S. with Sei and renamed her Elleia, never suspecting that something was awry.

But as Elleia learned English and recalled snippets of her former life, things didn't add up. Seeking answers, the Nybergs said they were able to locate the Sos and learned of promises made and broken to her birth parents by Focus on Children.

They made the painful decision to return Elleia to her parents.

Rod Young of Pleasant Grove, who adopted his son through Focus on Children, spoke in support of the agency, saying he was perplexed by court documents that list him and his wife as victims.

"We had nothing but a positive experience," said Young, who said he wants an injunction against the filing of any civil claims by birth families.

Elizabeth and Gary Muenzler, the parents of a Samoan girl adopted through FOC, told the judge she and her family have endured their own "personal prison" since learning from federal authorities that much of what they knew about their daughter was a lie.

While the Muenzlers said their daughter is doing well now, she had to be treated for attachment problems and post traumatic stress disorder.

"We lost years of her childhood and so did she," said Muenzler, "and now we are dealing with an emotional albatross forever."

Muenzler said she feels betrayed by the Bankses who facilitated two adoptions for her.

"All we ever wanted was a family, a family built the right way," said Muenzler. She regrets there's no moral to the story, no take-home lessons for other adoptive couples.

"We did this the right way. We checked our references … There's no other explanation other than we were just duped," she said.

Though not completely satisfied by the outcome, Gary Muenzler said, "We'll take this day and move on."

Nyberg said his botched adoption took a toll on his family; "had this not happened, my marriage would probably still be intact."

But "some good" came of the ordeal, he said. "We now have a family in Samoa."

He and his two boys returned to Samoa last May for a reunion.

"She is being raised in love," said Nyberg. "That's all that mattered to me, that they're taking care of their little girl."

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