TN mom's return of adopted son to Russia ignites furor
By Chas Sisk
SHELBYVILLE, Tenn. — Authorities in Tennessee and Russia have opened investigations after a Shelbyville woman sent her adopted son on a one-way flight back to Moscow with a note saying he was violent and had severe psychological problems.
The incident has provoked an international uproar, with Russian officials threatening to cut off all adoptions to the United States.
Law enforcement in Bedford County, the state Department of Children's Services and child welfare officials in Russia have opened inquiries into a decision by Torry Hansen, a 32-year-old nurse, to return 7-year-old Artyom Savelyev to his birth country.
The boy's adopted grandmother, Nancy Hansen, said family members feared for their safety.
"He drew a picture of our house burning down, and he'll tell anybody that he's going to burn our house down with us in it," she told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "It got to be where you feared for your safety. It was terrible."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called the actions "the last straw" in a string of U.S. adoptions gone wrong, including three in which Russian children died.
No charges have been filed in this most recent case, but the family retained an attorney Friday as inquiries from Tennessee and abroad mounted.
"Initially there appears to be a lot of pressure from external matters involving the adoption," said Trisha Henegar, a Shelbyville attorney who practices family law and criminal defense. "We're hopeful that after our investigation, the family will have a reasonable explanation of what has occurred."
The case has ignited a firestorm in Russia, where officials have become increasingly wary of international adoptions.
Americans adopted 1,586 children from Russia in 2009, the lowest number adopted from the country in a decade, according to the U.S. State Department. Forty-one of those children were adopted into Tennessee homes.
A spokesman for Tennessee Department of Children's Services said the agency has no oversight or involvement in international adoptions, but the family's actions are being investigated for signs of child abuse or neglect. It was unclear Friday whether there were other children in the home.
Bedford County Sheriff Randall Boyce also said Torry Hansen was under investigation, but plans to interview family members Friday afternoon were put off to next week after Henegar asked to speak with them first.
Henegar said Friday afternoon she planned to interview the family this weekend. She said she could not confirm or deny any details of the case until then.
The Russian education ministry immediately suspended the license of the group involved in the adoption — the World Association for Children and Parents, a Renton, Wash.-based agency — for the duration of the investigation.
Julie Snyder, spokeswoman for World Association for Children and Parents, said the organization is limited in what it can say because of confidentiality rules. She said the group is working with authorities in the U.S. and Russia.
"It's as shocking to us as to anybody else to hear about it," she said.
No one answered the door Friday at the homes of Torry Hansen and relatives on the outskirts of Shelbyville along Highway 41A. Neighbors said they had seen a police car on the property Thursday, adding they have had little interaction with the family since the Hansens moved in, in the past three years.
According to Russian media, Torry Hansen adopted Artyom Savelyev in September from the town of Partizansk in Russia's Far East. Savelyev was given the name Justin Hansen.
The boy returned to Russia on Thursday, arriving unaccompanied in Moscow on a United Airlines flight from Washington, D.C. The Kremlin children's rights office said the boy was carrying a letter from Hansen saying she was returning him due to severe psychological problems.
"This child is mentally unstable. He is violent and has severe psychopathic issues," the letter said. "I was lied to and misled by the Russian Orphanage workers and director regarding his mental stability and other issues. ...
"After giving my best to this child, I am sorry to say that for the safety of my family, friends, and myself, I no longer wish to parent this child."