End of Sasha’s second chance (part 2)

Date: 2007-01-08

End of Sasha’s second chance
Brandon Stahl Duluth News Tribune
Published Monday, January 08, 2007

When Sasha was 7, a Minnesota family traveled to Ukraine to adopt him. By the time he was 11, two families had given him up, saying they couldn’t handle him. He was taken back to his native country and left there. “Sasha” was his nickname in Ukraine. The News Tribune has decided not to use his real name in this story because of his age and the sensitive information about his situation. Now, he is in a Duluth children’s home waiting for a determination of his fate. What would you do with Sasha?

Sunday: The story of Sasha is tragic — orphaned in the Ukraine and adopted at age 7, but given up by American families twice before he was 11. Yet some who know him say there’s another side to his story — that he has a history of violent behavior.

Today: For Sasha, there always seemed to be a honeymoon period. With David and Glenda Kinghorn, it lasted about four weeks. Then Sasha fed Glenda’s pet poodle to a Rottweiler. “If I were to believe there was such a thing as demonic possession, I think I saw it,” she said.

Sasha stands behind his bunk bed in his room at Northwood Children’s Services in Duluth. His adoptive parents returned him to Ukraine from his Washington County home when he proved too difficult to handle. Sasha was retrieved from Ukraine and brought back to Minnesota, and is having hearings in Washington County District Court to adjudicate his case. (Associated Press)

Sasha timeline
No place for Sasha? (1/7/2007)
Tuesday: After learning their adopted son, Sasha, would not be re-adopted by another family, Michelle and Jeffrey Bignell saw two choices. They could take back the boy who they say threatened to kill them or they could take him back to Ukraine to try to undo the adoption.

For Sasha, there always seemed to be a honeymoon period. With foster parents David and Glenda Kinghorn of Meadowlands and later Arkansas, that period lasted about four weeks. The Kinghorns had added Sasha to a home that swelled to nine other children, including an infant.

Sasha, then 9, began to act out.

Tires from the cars and tractors mysteriously would be found with nails in them, Glenda Kinghorn said last week from her parents’ home in Arizona. He would set fires in the house. Cows on the farm, found with pitchfork stab wounds, died slow deaths. He tossed Glenda Kinghorn’s pet poodle out of the house to a Rottweiler, which killed it. Once, she said, he spiked her coffee with codeine from the medicine cabinet, which she’s allergic to, and would put dirt and powdered cleanser in their food supplies.

Though most of her other children had reactive attachment disorder and would misbehave, none of them, she said, acted out in violence like this.

They took Sasha to therapists, but he grew more violent and would occasionally go into uncontrollable rages.

They even called in a man from Hibbing who was known to perform exorcisms. She said he spent a day praying with Sasha and the family, but nothing worked to control him.

“I had never seen that kind of behavior before,” she said. “If I were to believe there was such a thing as demonic possession, I think I saw it.”

Sasha, now housed at a Northwood Children’s Services home in Duluth, downplays the violence, Northwood CEO Jim Yeager said last week. He admits, however, to acting out, attacking others and “getting even with people by harming their animals,” Yeager said.

Asked if Sasha has ever shown any regrets for that, Yeager said, “No. [He felt] they made him mad and they had it coming.”


Glenda and David Kinghorn, wishing to add to their small family and unable to have more children of their own, had turned to the Internet. They took in troubled children from broken adoptions, which is how they met Michelle and Jeffrey Bignell and agreed to take Sasha in April 2003.

In April 2004, the Kinghorn family was confronted with a new problem.

The St. Louis County attorney’s office was tipped that the Kinghorns allegedly were providing foster care without a license. An investigator was sent to the farm on April 6 and found something the department had never seen before, said Clay Odden, the assistant county attorney with the social services division who was in charge of the case.

By that point, according to the county, the couple had 14 kids living in their home, only two of whom were their biological children. The rest, court records allege, were either adopted or awaiting adoption, while four were there through illegal placement.

“Here are 14 kids, with virtually no paperwork,” Odden said. “Some of them, we had no idea where they were from.”

According to a report filed by Odden’s office, the investigator found that the four-bedroom home was cluttered and smelled of cat urine. Six girls slept in one room, five boys in another. Only one bathroom was seen.

Though the family was building additions onto the home, the report noted, the condition of their house “would preclude” the department from considering the Kinghorns for licensed foster care.

Still, Odden said that because the children seemed well-fed, healthy, had registered paperwork with the school district and did not seem to be mistreated, the case was not considered a child-in-need-of-protection.

“It appears that they were trying to help children,” Odden said.

But Odden said his office still had to find out where the kids were from and how they got there. By late April, the attorney’s office filed court petitions to intervene in the pending adoptions of the children.

Glenda Kinghorn said there was nothing illegal about how the kids got to her home; she believed she had the proper approvals and paperwork for the children while getting advice from an attorney.

“I wasn’t collecting children and hiding them out,” she said. “If I was going to adopt them, why would I do that?”

As Odden’s office continued its investigation, an ad appeared in the July 25 Duluth News Tribune about an auction of the Kinghorns’ property. An investigator went to the farm and found everything gone. The family had moved.

“It was eerie,” Odden said. “The home was empty, the barn was empty; there were no cars, no farm implements. Nothing. Not even a chicken.”

Kinghorn said she believed the county attorney’s office and the court were taking steps to remove the children and put them back in foster care. Auctioning off their property and moving to a state with more-relaxed adoption laws, she said, was their only choice to prevent that.

“I would sell my soul to keep my children,” she said.

With no children from St. Louis County living at the home, Odden said his office had to drop the case and didn’t hear about the Kinghorns for two months. That’s when he got a call from an assistant county attorney in Arkansas saying she had befriended a large family living in a bus at a nearby campground, Odden said. They told the attorney they were from Duluth.

Kinghorn said her family lived in a trailer beginning in May 2004 until they were able to find a home in September in Mena, Ark. During that time, she said they were better able to manage and watch Sasha.

Once in a home, however, Kinghorn said the boy’s violent behavior continued. Kinghorn said he stole from neighbors, killed the Rottweiler that had killed the family’s poodle and punched their baby twice, once so hard it broke her tooth.

‘Please, don’t bring him back’

In January, Kinghorn had to take one of her daughters to a hospital and brought along Sasha. There, she said, he had another breakdown, one so severe that they put him in a psychiatric hospital, which later transferred him to the Millcreek of Arkansas treatment center in Fordyce, Ark., in February 2005. That’s the last time he would live with the Kinghorns.

“The stress was relieved so fast,” she said.

After a long family discussion, “the kids said, ‘Please, don’t bring him back.’ ”

The Kinghorns informed the Bignells they would not finalize the adoption, news that Michelle Bignell greeted with anger, Glenda Kinghorn said.

She went back to Millcreek one last time to say goodbye to Sasha.

“I said, ‘I can’t bring you back home. I’ll give you back to Michelle and Jeff,’ ” she said. “He put his head down and said, ‘That’s hard.’ Then he popped his head right up and said, ‘When do I get my new family?’ ”

“I went off crying back to Mena,” she said. “It didn’t affect him at all.”

But their relationship with Sasha wouldn’t end there.

In the hospital, Sasha had been diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder. He accused the Kinghorns of physically abusing him while at their Meadowlands home, saying that in retribution for killing the family’s poodle, he was “tied to a pole in the barn with his hands behind his back and was hit with a metal pole while cold water was poured on him.”

But later he appeared to change his allegation.

According to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, which was the first to report Sasha’s story, Patricia Zenner, the lawyer appointed to represent the boy, told a judge during a Dec. 7 court hearing that the boy “had told her he was scalded with boiling water and punched repeatedly and suffered several bruises at the hands of the Kinghorns.”

Kinghorn denied the abuse accusations, but admitted through tears that she had failed the boy.

“He could be so sweet and loving. He could be — when he wanted to be. When it was to his benefit,” she said. “I don’t ever want him to find out where I live. I fully believe that he’d try to find us and hurt us.”

About a month and a half after saying goodbye to Sasha, David Kinghorn, 54, raped a 13-year-old girl the couple was planning to adopt.

David Kinghorn, serving 10 years in an Arkansas prison, declined an interview request from the News Tribune. Glenda Kinghorn said she reported David to the police and later divorced him so she could keep the children. She said she still loves him and doesn’t believe he ever harmed any of their other children.

“He had been a good husband, a loving father, a good provider,” she said. “Would I ever bring him back? Never. Could I ever trust him again? No.”

Meanwhile, Sasha was living thousands of miles away.


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