going all out for Gabriel

Date: 2004-07-24

Salina Journal, The (KS)

going all out for Gabriel
Family continues two-year battle to adopt boy

His bunk bed already is set up in the room he'll share with his 5-year-old brother, Jacob. Dresser drawers have been filled with little-boy clothes, and in the closet are brightly wrapped packages -- gifts purchased for the past two Christmases and birthdays.

Everything is ready for Gabriel Joseph.

But two years after Bill and Lori Faerber, 1613 N. Fairchilds, began their quest to adopt Gabriel, who will be 3 in September, he remains in a Guatemalan orphanage, and they don't know when he'll come home.

"All we can do is pray," Lori said.

Wanted a large family

Bill and Lori always had wanted a large family, but after giving birth to three children, Lori had a hysterectomy for medical reasons.

"We looked at foster care and adoption, and we felt we were called to adopt," Lori said.

In June 2002, working through a Catholic nun who operates an adoption referral agency in Kansas City, the Faerbers signed a contract with AMOR. (Adoptions Made of Respect) Adoptions of Albuquerque, N.M. The agency specialized in Guatemalan adoptions and operated an orphanage there.

Within a few weeks, the Faerbers were told they had been matched with 9-month-old Gabriel, who had been abandoned at a Guatemala City hospital at the age of 3 months. They were sent photos, and they immediately fell in love with the chubby-cheeked tot.

A week later, the Faerbers paid the agency $12,500, which was the first half of the adoption fee. A week after that -- much sooner than they had expected -- they were asked to pay the remainder of the $25,000 fee. It wasn't easy, but they complied, not wanting to jeopardize the adoption.

"We were already hooked at that point," Lori said. "We were committed to this child."

And they've remained committed ever since, despite learning, about 18 months after the process began, that A.M.O.R. Adoptions had lost its New Mexico license to handle adoptions and was being investigated by federal authorities on fraud charges.

Despite learning that the Guatemalan attorneys they hired after hearing of A.M.O.R. Adoptions' problems had pocketed the money without filing all of the necessary legal documents.

And despite learning, just this week, that the adoption again is on hold as Guatemalan authorities investigate that attorney for allegedly forging a signature on a document filed in the case.

After spending more than $50,000 and more than two years, the Faerbers still don't know when Gabriel will come home.

Carefully considered

Lori said she and Bill didn't enter into the contract lightly with A.M.O.R. Adoptions. They talked to families who had adopted children through the agency, and they were told it had a history of successful adoptions.

"We found nothing, at that time, that would concern us as to the legitimacy of the agency," she said.

And early on, it seemed that everything was proceeding as expected.

The Faerbers had a social worker do a home study, at a cost of about $1,000. They put together their dossier -- a collection of documents including income tax statements, character references and criminal background checks -- and had the documents authenticated, at a cost of another $1,000 or so.

The dossier was sent to an attorney in Guatemala, who said it had been filed in family court.

In January of this year, Lori and Bill were notified that the case had been approved by family court and the U.S. Embassy and had been sent on for final approval.

"We were told he (Gabriel) was two weeks from coming home," Lori said.

A week later, Lori said she received a phone call from a representative of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who told her that A.M.O.R. Adoptions' license had been revoked in New Mexico and that the company was under investigation for misappropriation of funds and fraudulent activity.

The FBI agent, Lee Kirschbaum, who is based in St. Louis, said Friday that he could not comment on ongoing investigations.

License not renewed

Matt Dillman, spokesman for the New Mexico Department of Children, Youth and Families, said the agency's license was not renewed in November 2002, after his department was notified about numerous instances in which A.M.O.R. was paid for adoptions that never were completed.

Dillman said A.M.O.R. Adoptions had 16 open adoption cases at the time its license was not renewed. The agency was told it could complete those adoptions but was not to open new cases. Dillman said the agency now has closed its New Mexico office.

Dillman said his department sent a letter to the New Mexico Attorney General's Office, detailing the complaints and asking for an investigation, but a spokesman for the attorney general's office said no formal request for an investigation was made.

'He is our son'

After hearing about the federal investigation, the Faerbers were beside themselves.

"It was a very, very difficult several months for us," Lori said.

The Faerbers were being told that money wasn't being sent to the orphanage in Guatemala and that the children were without water and electricity and medical supplies.

"All of the supplies were being taken out the back door and sold," Lori said.

The couple retained a new Guatemalan attorney -- one not associated with A.M.O.R. Adoptions -- and that attorney had Gabriel moved from Guatemala City to an orphanage in Antigua.

And Lori made arrangements to visit her son in Guatemala.

"I had come to the point where I was really struggling with, as a mother, whether my child was OK," she said. "I felt that we had let him down and we should have done something more, but we had no way of knowing any of this was going on. I had to check to see that he was OK. I needed to know he even existed. He is our son."

A week with Gabriel

That March week in Guatemala was more than Lori could have hoped for. Officials at the orphanage in Antigua, knowing what the Faerbers had been through, let Lori pull a cot next to Gabriel's portable crib and stay with him day and night. After eight weeks at the new orphanage, Gabriel looked plump and well cared for.

"He was thriving," Lori said. "I was with him almost 24/7. It was wonderful."

She took Gabriel out to church, to cafes.

She met with the new attorneys, who agreed to represent the Faerbers and three other couples.

After returning home, Lori wired about $3,000 to the attorneys. Every week, she talked to them, monitoring their progress, and they kept telling her that everything was proceeding as planned.

But in May, the family suffered another blow.

"We found out that they (the attorneys) had done nothing," Lori said. "We had only sent about $3,000, but between the four families, we lost $30,000."

She was told the attorneys hadn't filed the proper paperwork when Gabriel and other children were sent to the orphanage in Antigua, so the children had to be sent back to Guatemala City, to the orphanage owned and operated by A.M.O.R. Adoptions.

"We were two years into this, and our case had never been filed," Lori said. "We still hadn't been matched with our son, legally. This is a child we have loved for two years, and that we consider a part of this family. We have photos of him all over the house. Our 5-year-old told us, when we asked him what he wanted for Christmas, that he wanted his brother Gabriel home."

The Faerbers learned just this week that one of their attorneys also had forged a signature on a document in the case, and the adoption has been put on hold while Guatemalan authorities investigate the attorney.

Lori said people have asked her numerous times why, when they've been through so much, when they've lost so much money, they continue their fight.

"I guess we would do whatever we had to, even if it took more money, to ensure that he gets home," she said. "I refuse to orphan him a second time. That's why we continue, I guess."

So, the Faerbers started over.

They've had their home study updated -- another $1,000.

They have redone their dossier -- another $1,000.

They've hired yet another Guatemalan attorney.

And they're waiting for the day when they can board a plane to bring their son home.

Lori said the experience has been emotionally draining on the entire family -- but it hasn't soured them on adoption, either international or domestic.

"There are a lot of challenges, but it is very rewarding," she said. "There are a lot of children who need homes, and it is a positive thing."

People just need to be cautious, and thoroughly check out an agency before signing a contract, including checking with the Better Business Bureau and the Attorney General's Office in the state in which the agency operates, to see if any complaints have been filed.

They also should have a private attorney look over any contract before it is signed, she said.

"I wouldn't want to discourage anyone," Lori said.

An unexpected gift

The family did have high points during the ordeal, mixed in with the bad news.

One day in September 2003, Lori called the adoption referral agency in Kansas City to see if anyone could tell her why Gabriel's adoption was taking so long.

"We had started to have some doubts about some things the agency was telling us," Lori said.

The Catholic nun she worked with couldn't help her with her questions, but she asked if Lori and Bill were still interested in adopting domestically. She had just received word that a single mother in Hawaii was looking for a home for her newborn daughter.

"We talked and prayed about it, and the next day, we decided we'd bring her home," Lori said.

Two weeks later, Elizabeth, who turned 1 on June 28, was home, joining Jacob, who is now 5, Sarah, 12, and David, 15.

Now, the family waits for that day when Gabriel completes their family.

"We're just going to keep praying, and we're just going to keep believing that he's going to come home," Lori said.

Kisses across the room

During the week she spent in Guatemala, Lori couldn't talk to the Spanish-speaking children at the orphanage, so she communicated through gestures and through touch -- and through kisses blown across the room.

By the time Lori was ready to leave, many of the children were blowing kisses back to her. But Gabriel hadn't.

Her final day in Guatemala was difficult, because she knew she had to leave her son behind, but Lori was determined to leave without crying. She hugged Gabriel and kissed him, then got up and walked toward the door.

"As I turned back to him one last time, he crawled under a Little Tykes play gym, and he peeked out from underneath it, and he blew me a kiss," Lori said.

The tears flowed immediately, and Lori cried all the way home on the plane. As she and her family wait and hope and pray for Gabriel, that moment keeps coming back to her.

"This child is so loved that I cannot believe that it's not meant to be," Lori said. "That's what I hold onto. That, and that little kiss he blew to me."

• Reporter Sharon Montague can be reached at 822-1411, or by e-mail at <a href="mailto:sjsmontague@saljournal.com

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