exposing the dark side of adoption
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Chapter 5: A boy on a leash


Chapter 5: A boy on a leash


Randall Cook, the principal of both Frost and Cascades elementary schools in Jackson, was leaving Frost in mid-August 2004 when he saw something unusual: a woman with a boy on a leash.

It was Lisa Holland, bringing 6-year-old Ricky to enroll him in the second grade. He was strapped into a child's safety harness and Lisa was holding the leash.

"I said hello and welcomed him to our school and told him we were glad to have him," Cook said. He remembered that Ricky was silent but Lisa had plenty to say.

"She informed me that he was not a very good student and it was going to be a real problem for me to have him in the school," Cook said.

Cook, who hadn't met Lisa Holland before, was taken aback by the negative comments she made in front of the boy. His encounter prompted him to take a personal interest in Ricky, so he sought him out on the playground and observed him in class. Everything led him to believe Ricky was a normal second-grader, but Lisa kept trying to have him placed in special education. Another meeting was set up in early September to talk about it.

A teacher reported that Ricky was making a smooth transition to the second grade, progressing academically and fitting in socially. But Lisa continued to bring up his bad behavior and wanted the school to go along with her on everything. She insisted, for instance, that Ricky be denied classroom treats like birthday cupcakes when he was being punished for something at home. Cook wouldn't agree.

Ricky's seventh birthday was six days after the meeting. Lisa kept him home and called the school to say he wouldn't be back. Ricky never went to school again.

A new home for growing family

By this time, in addition to Ricky and his half-brother Trevor, 2 1/2 , the Hollands had adopted the boys' sister, Sarah, who was almost 2. She had been placed with them in February 2003, about two months after her birth. They also had become foster parents to a fourth sibling, Brett, who was born in December 2003 and placed the next day with the Hollands. With Lisa and Tim's baby girl, born in May 2004, they had a full house.

The Jackson County Department of Human Services no longer had jurisdiction over the three adopted siblings, but Brett was still a state ward and caseworkers were impressed with the family.

"The Hollands are a very pleasant family to work with and are cooperative with the workers," a licensing worker wrote after a home visit in February 2005. Though Ricky hadn't been in school for months, Lisa told the worker that he was in the second grade at Frost. Adoption worker Melissa Sewell also thought Ricky was in school.

"Tim and Lisa report Ricky is a great help with the younger children," Sewell reported in March. "Ricky loves to stay busy and loves to please his parents and hear praise. Lisa has an easygoing personality and never seems overwhelmed with her family responsibilities. Tim is a very involved father, and is a great partner in parenting to Lisa.

"They appear to have a very strong marriage. The Hollands are looking for bigger housing to fit their larger family more comfortably."

Tim had just gotten a promotion that included a raise of $30,000 a year, boosting his salary as a civilian intelligence specialist for the Army to $70,000. He'd been stationed in Warren since 2001, but now was working out of an office in Troy. The commute was still too long. He wanted to move closer to work and, with so many kids, Lisa wanted to be closer to her family in Williamston.

By mid-April, the Hollands had moved into a sprawling, five-bedroom house in Leroy Township, just outside Williamston. They bought it for almost $140,000.

Stunned neighbors discover Ricky

Neighbors at first were unaware that a family with five children had just moved in. They later said they never saw the kids out playing. Then, one evening in April, one neighbor spotted Ricky inside the parked van of another resident. He was eating doughnuts and milk.

The same night, another neighbor, Joanne Perkins, found him in her kitchen, going through her freezer. He said he was hungry, so she made him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and gave him orange juice and an ice cream bar. Trying to persuade Ricky to go home, Perkins walked outside with him and spotted a patrol car. She got the officer to take the boy home.

Then, around 8:30 a.m. May 9, neighbor Richard Cole heard noises in his kitchen and found what he thought was a little girl with long hair. It was Ricky, standing at the open door of the refrigerator, where he had drained a bottle of flavored water before opening a can of pop. Cole asked him where he'd come from and was told, "I don't know."

Cole told the boy his parents must be worried.

"They don't want me," the boy said. "They said I was a pain and they wanted another baby. ... I'm a runaway child."

Thinking it might help to call the school, Cole asked what grade the boy was in. "I'm not in school," the boy said before finally revealing his name.

Concerned about what people might think, Cole told Ricky he had to go outside. Ricky grabbed a cookie and two bananas off the counter and said, "Make me some eggs."

Declining, Cole again told him that his parents must be worried. "No, they don't want me anymore," Ricky said.

Ricky tossed a banana peel into a trash can and again asked for eggs. Finally, he said he lived across the street. When Cole told him he had to go home, Ricky asked for another banana. Sure, Cole said.

Then Cole noticed something odd: a raggedy line of stitches on the boy's chin that appeared too sloppy to have been done by a doctor. Cole asked Ricky how his chin was hurt and was told he'd fallen while running.

Father's explanation: Ricky is ill

As the two walked across the street, Ricky ran to Lisa's van and tried to get in. Then he ran to the Hollands' trash bin, found a half-bottle of cola and started drinking it. Cole knocked on the door several times before Tim answered.

"I had a visitor this morning and his name was Ricky," Cole told him. Tim acted confused, then picked up Ricky and carried him inside.

A short while later, Tim was at Cole's front door, apologizing. He said Ricky was bipolar, had a lot of mental problems and their doctor in Jackson had suggested moving to give the boy a fresh start. Tim said the family couldn't own pets because Ricky would kill them, though the family had three dogs. A psychiatrist had diagnosed Ricky with "Ted Bundy disease," Tim said, referring to the notorious serial killer.

After Tim Holland left, Cole called 911, thinking he should make a report. An Ingham County sheriff's deputy arrived and was talking to Cole when Tim returned. When Cole brought up Ted Bundy syndrome, Tim seemed to discount what he'd said earlier and "acted like he was disgusted" with such a diagnosis, Cole said.

The deputy asked Tim how Ricky had cut his chin. Tim said he'd been installing new windows in Ricky's bedroom and his son had broken one and cut himself. Ricky "would often cause injuries to himself, and he would sit in his bedroom and pound his head on the wall so hard that he would knock himself out," Tim said.

Bloody injury goes untreated

Tim Holland later told police that he came home on June 24 after five days of training in California and saw Ricky standing between the TV and a stand that held videotapes. Ricky was wearing nothing but a diaper and staring like a zombie, Tim said. He had a large, dried clot of blood and hair on the right side of his head.

Lisa said Ricky had dived into the wading pool.

The next day, Ricky was still in a haze. Tim said he and Lisa argued over whether to take him to the hospital. Lisa said she would do it and left with Ricky for about three hours. When she returned, Tim said, Ricky's wound hadn't been cleaned or bandaged.

A day later, Tim said he tried to get Ricky to drink something, but the liquids just dribbled out. Tim went to work for the next three days, coming home each day and finding Ricky in bed, barely responsive.

On Thursday, June 30, Lisa drove Tim, who'd twisted his ankle the day before, to the family doctor in Jackson.

Much later, a prosecutor would ask Tim why they hadn't taken Ricky.

"I don't know," Tim answered. "I didn't think of taking him with me."

Contact JACK KRESNAK at 313-223-4544 or jkresnak@freepress.com.

2007 Dec 6