Fairview couple relinquish parental rights to adopted Liberian daughters
Ardee, 53, and Penny Tyler, 47, appeared Wednesday in Major County District Court, officially ending their battle to regain custody of the girls, ages 5-16. The two were convicted in February of abusing a fifth adopted daughter.
BY ANN KELLEY
FAIRVIEW — A Fairview couple convicted of child abuse have relinquished their parental rights to four sisters they adopted from a Liberian orphanage.
Ardee Tyler, 53, and Penny Tyler, 47, appeared Wednesday in Major County District Court, officially ending their battle to regain custody of the girls, ages 5-16.
District Attorney Hollis Thorp said it's a case won by no one, because ultimately children have been hurt.
“They didn't provide the type of home the children are entitled to,” Thorp said. “Children are born with the entitlement of having a good home — it doesn't have to be a wealthy one that's completely without problems — but it should be a good home.”
The Tylers were convicted in February of abusing a fifth adopted daughter, the second-oldest of the sisters who now lives with relatives in Illinois.
The girl alleged they tied her wrists to a bedpost, forced her to sleep on the back porch and denied her food.
Their son, Ashton Tyler, 20, is in prison for sexually assaulting the girl, who is now 14.
His sister, Nathania Tyler, 19, was convicted of misdemeanor assault and battery for slapping the girl on the head.
A child welfare case was launched with the criminal case and closed shortly after their conviction. Major County Associate District Judge Vinson Barefoot ruled the children would stay with their parents.
Prosecutors then asked the state Supreme Court to appoint another judge to review the case. In April, Harmon County Associate District Judge Mike Warren reopened the child welfare inquiry and removed the girls from the Tylers' custody.
The girls have been in foster homes since then.
In November, the state attorney general's office and Thorp requested the Tylers' parental rights be terminated.
Ron Willis, the Tylers' defense attorney, said then that his clients were passionate about being reunited with the children and requested a jury trial.
That trial was set for Jan. 24.
The Oklahoman's calls to Willis and the Tylers were not returned.
Thorp said no other criminal charges are pending against the couple.
Where will girls
The Tylers adopted the girls in 2005 from an orphanage operated by the West African Children's Support Network, which was later ordered to suspend its operations by the Liberian government.
The children's father, James Andrews, told The Oklahoman he sent the girls to the orphanage after their mother died giving birth to the youngest. He said he felt they would be able to get an education and have a better life in the United States.
Penny Tyler in April admitted they had made mistakes with their children but learned from them. She said adopting the girls cost them their savings, reputation and scattered their family, but they would do it again — only differently.
“We would have gotten the right kind of help from the beginning,” Penny Tyler said in April. “We had no idea the cultural and behavioral issues we'd be dealing with. But we've all grown.”
Barbara Johnson, a cousin of Penny Tyler, is adopting the child who was at the center of the child abuse cases against the family. She said the girl opened up about the abuse after the Tylers sent the girl to live with her. She said it took months to get local law enforcement and child welfare services to intervene.
During that time, the victim's four sisters denied they had been abused.
The children have had numerous advocates. A local grassroots group calling themselves the Prayer Angels met weekly to pray for the girls and kept pressure on authorities to keep the case going. Many of its members had met the girls in church.
Janice Wichert, a retired Fairview schoolteacher, helped Penny Tyler homeschool the girls. She said she was cut off from seeing them when she complained about how the Tylers were mistreating the girls.
She said she was surprised that Penny Tyler agreed to sever rights to her adopted daughters.
“I know I should be jumping up and down for joy, because this is what we've all worked for in these last three years,” Wichert said. “But it's been exhausting and trying, and frustrating at times.”
Thorp said it will be up to the state Department of Human Services to find suitable permanent homes for the four girls.
Johnson, who is a licensed foster parent, said she would be willing to take in all the girls. She said it would take time to make the transition, because at least two of the girls harbor ill feelings against the sister who already lives with her.
“They've been brainwashed by Ardee and Penny to think their sister is evil and that all this is her fault,” Johnson said.
Wichert said some in Oklahoma City's Liberian community think the girls should live with people from their home country.