Re-homing victim: ‘I could have been dead’

Date: 2014-03-21
Source: Reuters

Re-homing victim: ‘I could have been dead’

Since she was adopted and brought to America at age 13, Nita Dittenber was passed from family to family through an underground market for adopted kids. The practice, called "private re-homing," was uncovered last year by a Reuters Investigation

It was the first of several times Michelle offered Nita on the Yahoo group. In her posts, Michelle portrayed Nita as a “bully” with an “attitude of entitlement.” The girl “lies” and is “manipulative,” she wrote, but “does love little kids very much” and has “a soft spot for elderly people as well.”

Each time they transferred custody of Nita, the Dittenbers used a notarized power of attorney document stating that Nita was now in the care of the new family, Tony says. No social workers or attorneys were involved, he says, and there was no official vetting of the parents taking in Nita.

Nita says she did not know that she had been advertised on the sites until her aunt read the Reuters report and told her about it. “I didn't really know what was going on,” Nita says. “I had no clue about where I was going to live and for how long.”

The first two families to take Nita — one in Ohio, another in Idaho — sent her back to the Dittenbers.

Then, Nita was sent to the Kruse home in Marysville. It was her third move in less than a year. She was 15.

‘NINE IS ENOUGH?’

It seemed like a good option. Michelle says that the first Ohio family who’d taken in Nita knew and vouched for the Kruses.

In 2008, the couple also had been profiled in a heartwarming story distributed by the Ohio National Guard, headlined “Nine is enough?” The article described how the Kruses happily scrambled to care for their large family.

At the time, the story said, the Kruses had five biological children - four from previous marriages — and four adopted overseas. A photo showed a grinning Jean Paul tickling one of the adopted children, a girl born in Liberia.

“We wanted a girl because they have it so hard there,” the story quotes him as saying. “They are often raped and molested from a very young age.”

Within weeks of arriving at the Kruse place, Nita alleges, several young girls in the home told her they were being sexually abused by Jean Paul. She says she wasn’t abused herself but was terrified to come forward. It took her about nine months to share the allegations with Emily, she says. When she finally did, Nita says, Emily accused her of lying and promised to put her on a plane back to Idaho if she told anyone else.

FELT REJECTED: As she was passed from home to home, Nita Dittenber says she developed an eating disorder and contemplated suicide. "I remember praying to God, 'Please take me,' because I did not want to go through that again," she says. REUTERS/Harrison McClary

Nita kept silent for another eight months. “I was like, ‘I’m not about to ruin this one,’ ” Nita says. The stress of being sent from family to family was overwhelming, she says: She suffered an eating disorder and contemplated suicide.

Then, in July 2012, Nita and two of the girls were visiting with a Kruse family relative. Nita says she recalls feeling glum that day, burdened by what the young girls were continuing to tell her. The relative asked her why she looked so down. Nita told her of the alleged abuse, and then the other girls told their stories.

The relative took Nita and the girls to see other family members, Nita says, and they went over the allegations again.

In court documents, authorities describe what happened next: After learning that the abuse allegations had come to light, Emily picked up Nita at a local hospital where the teen was working as a volunteer. Emily then took Nita directly to the nearby airport in Columbus.

“Michelle was on the Internet a lot. She’d come back and say ‘there’s a family here who will take her.’ I was like ‘OK.’”
Tony Dittenber on his wife’s efforts to re-home Nita

Emily “did not tell the child where she was going and did not permit her to pack her clothing or other belongings,” prosecutors allege in court documents. At the airport, they say, she ordered Nita to get on a flight to Boise so that the girl couldn’t be questioned in any investigation of Jean Paul. The move was so abrupt, they allege, that Emily didn’t give the Dittenbers advance notice that Nita was heading back to Idaho.

The Dittenbers were away on vacation at the time, so they asked Tony’s brother and sister-in-law, Michael and Tammy Dittenber, to pick up Nita. When Nita walked off the plane, she “looked lost and really confused,” Tammy wrote in a police statement as part of the Kruse criminal cases. “…She said she had nothing. No suitcase, duffle bag, carry on, nothing.”

Almost immediately, Michelle Dittenber again began offering Nita for re-homing.

In a July 24, 2012, post on the Yahoo group, Michelle blamed Nita for the rupture with the Kruses.

“The last straw with the last family was her making allegations that the dad in the family was sexually molesting all the kids but her,” Michelle wrote. “...I would love to be done with her permanently.”

SPEAKING OUT: Nita Dittenber says she felt burdened by what young girls in the Kruse home had confided in her: that Jean Paul was molesting them. When she spoke up, she was kicked out of the Kruse home, according to court documents. REUTERS/Harrison McClary

Soon, however, child welfare workers and police began to investigate the Kruses. In August 2012, 10 children were removed from their home.

Later that summer, police in Nampa, Idaho, interviewed Nita as part of the investigation. Sgt. Don Peck says he never looked into how Nita came to live with the Kruses. He says he had no reason to believe her custody transfer was improper, despite an Idaho state law that prohibits anyone without a state license from advertising children for adoptions.

Jean Paul Kruse is scheduled for trial in May; Emily Kruse is scheduled for trial in July. The two no longer live together, and some of the couple’s children have been returned to Emily’s care.

‘HEART TO HEART’

Eventually, the Dittenbers sent Nita to Mercy Ministries, a Nashville residential treatment center for troubled girls.

In December, Nita received a certificate for completing the program. In her eight months at Mercy Ministries, she says, she recovered from her eating disorder and regained a sense of self-worth, making friends and bonding with staff.

Michelle, who says she now regrets her decisions to re-home Nita, traveled to Nashville for the graduation ceremony. For the first time, Michelle discussed with Nita how she had used the Internet to seek new families for her.

“I was like, I do understand that you needed help…but there could have been murderers or killers,” Nita says. “You don’t know those people. I could have been dead.”

Michelle says she told Nita that “she always has the option to come back home” to Idaho.

Nita has no such plans. Today, she is living outside Nashville with Sandra Booker, a nurse she met through church. With Booker’s help, Nita intends to finish her education and “focus on the future.” Her ambition, she says, is to return to Haiti and work with orphans.

(Additional reporting by Blake Morrison. Edited by Blake Morrison and Michael Williams)

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