Area couple out nearly $50,000 after failed Guatemalan adoption attempt
Reporter, The (Fond du Lac, WI)
Author: Joann SchrauthFond du lac Reporter
TOWN OF AUBURN — When Mark and Heather Demmon wanted a sister for their 2-year-old son, Ross, they decided to give a child a future she might never have without them.
"We really wanted to give a home to a child who is waiting. There are thousands of waiting children," Heather said.
But instead of a daughter, the Demmons found themselves with empty arms and broken hearts. And they're out nearly $50,000.
Wary of scams, Mark and Heather did their homework, attended meetings, carefully checked out agencies with the Better Business Bureau, as well as references from families who had already adopted.
After intensive research, they contracted with Reaching Arms International of Minnesota to adopt a little girl from Guatemala. They reviewed the expenses on the Reaching Arms Web site — which amount to several thousand dollars — as well as the travel costs to pick up the adopted child, passport and necessary document costs.
The Reporter attempted to contact Reaching Arms at its office in New Hope, Minn., but was unsuccessful. A recorded message answers after one ring with: "We're sorry, your call cannot be completed as dialed." E-mails were returned as undeliverable.
The Demmons took out a $50,000 home equity loan on their farm and have used nearly all of it in vain on adoption expenses and a trip to Guatemala in hopes of adopting a little girl.
Almost immediately after applying, Heather said they were told about a little girl. Much to their surprise, they received a birth certificate and medical records.
"We hadn't even filled out our application yet," Heather said.
Later they learned it was illegal for Reaching Arms to send them legal and medical documents that early and to accept payment before services were rendered.
They also were told the little girl had a cousin the same age, and that the girls had no family.
"Mark and I talked," Heather said. "How horrible to separate two little girls. They've lost everything."
So the couple got together more money, hoping to adopt both girls, named Flor and Linda.
"We paid $30,000 to hold (adopt) those two girls," Heather said.
But then the problems started.
The Demmons had to take care of documentation in triplicate after paying $1,000 to the agency for that process. Their phone calls and e-mails went unanswered. They received no response to certified letters.
When they started asking questions, Heather said an agency representative yelled at Mark "harshly" and called him "a complainer." The rep told Heather she had "anger issues," and they might not be suitable adoptive parents.
"She told us that the girls were citizens of Guatemala and she'd make sure they stayed that way," Heather said. "Basically, she scared us to death. We stopped complaining."
Then they were told to file all the paperwork again for the second girl — adding to the cost.
Next, they received a general e-mail from Reaching Arms, saying the agency was being audited by the Minnesota Attorney General's office, and the agency was denying claims of wrongdoing.
"By that time, Mark and I knew something was wrong," Heather said.
Mark checked the complaints that had been filed with the attorney general, and "it was shocking," Heather said.
The Demmons decided to fly to Guatemala to try to get the girls they called "our daughters."
A friend met them to translate and they were given two little girls they were told were Flor and Linda. But Heather was sure the girls were not the ones in the photos and video.
They eventually learned the girls they were bonding with were twin sisters, Gabby and Ella. No one knew what had happened to Flor and Linda.
"Flor and Linda don't exist in Guatemala," Heather said.
The Demmons hired a team of adoption supervisors in Guatemala who confirmed the problems they suspected.
After spending four days with Gabby and Ella, the Demmons were told the girls weren't available for adoption. By that time, they found that in spite of all the paperwork they had filed, there were no records in Guatemala of their attempts to adopt.
The American and Guatemalan embassies did not have their names or any of their paperwork. They also learned of fake doctors, falsified documents, attorney aliases, forged birth certificates, child switching and forged medical updates.
Then Gabby and Ella were physically removed from their arms.
"The twins were calling us Mommy and Daddy... it was horrible," Heather said. "I was crying, Mark was crying. They (Gabby and Ella) were taking tissues and wiping our tears. They were clinging to me. They were saying, 'No Mommy, no Daddy.' All four of us were crying."
"It was the hardest thing we ever had to do," Heather said.
She can't forget about Flor and Linda.
"Are they with their mother? Are they in Honduras? What kind of future do they have... we're talking about the lives of children, families," she said.
"We had pictures (of the girls), but we took them down," Heather says, running her fingers through her hair. "We can't look at them. Ross knew they were his sisters; they were coming to live with us. Now he's having nightmares.
"We need to get over this somehow," she continued. "We can't start another adoption; we spent all our money. We'll be paying on this adoption for 30 years — until we retire. And we didn't do one bit of good for the children."
According to Heather and Mark Demmon of the town of Auburn, and the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Reaching Arms International is being investigated by the Minnesota Attorney General's office for alleged adoption violations.
The Demmons have filed a complaint, but don't know if they'll get any of their money back.