exposing the dark side of adoption
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November 15, 1992

Janice Haidet

Dayton Daily News


Five children, four of them visitors, are sitting around the dining-room table listening to Gail Back, the 32-year-old Franklin woman who's leading the day's home-school lesson.

The two oldest are doing independent study in the den, periodically popping into the dining room to ask a question. In the living room, two other children are getting physical therapy, rolling around and laughing on a gym mat with their mom, Kathleen Carroll.

Next to the mat, 3-year-old Noah, a crack baby who'd been suffering from seizures, sleeps in a playpen.

Near a window, 10-year-old Isaiah watches silently from his travel safety chair. They say he understands everything going on around him, but he can't say anything.

Mollie, 3, who is severely mentally retarded, sits on Timothy Carroll's lap as he talks to her and repeatedly stops her from pulling her hair.

The Carrolls' house is almost always full of children, but they said that these days, it still seems kind of empty.

Their loudest, liveliest child, Hannah, 6, is gone. So is Chloe, their first newborn.

"We feel there's a void . . . We've felt like our life was spinning out of control. It's been bizarre," said Mrs. Carroll, 31. "We've just buried two children and we've been accused of something so hideous, it's just beyond me."

As parents of 10 adopted children - seven with physical and mental problems - Kathleen and Timothy Carroll had already been leading what most people would consider a chaotic life. But things really spun out of kilter on Sept. 21, when Hannah died after household bleach spilled over much of her body.

Two days after Hannah died, a court ordered 3-week-old Chloe returned to the Columbus adoption agency that was placing her with the Carrolls. The baby, who was born with only a brain stem inside her skull, died Oct. 19, the agency told the Carrolls.

In the midst of it all, officials are wondering why the Carrolls didn't get medical treatment that might have saved Hannah's life. Prosecutors ask how the couple ended up with so many children and whether the Carrolls - who have been charged with involuntary manslaughter in Hannah's death - adopted more children with more problems than they could handle.

"Certainly, we are extremely troubled by the facts of this case.

. . . We were not aware there were so many children with multiple handicaps living in one household," Assistant Greene County Prosecutors Suzanne Schmidt said. "It raises the question whether the legislature or someone ought to set some limits regarding the placement of these children. As far as I know, there's nothing on the books like that."

The Carrolls, whose trial is set for Jan. 19, insist they aren't to blame for Hannah's death. They say she didn't seem to need medical treatment after the bleach spill.

"There've been a lot of people who've said things about us without knowing anything about us. We thought maybe it was time things were said by someone who knew something about us," Timothy Carroll said.

Inside the Carrolls' brick ranch-style home at 3315 Straley Road in Cedarville, the mantlepiece displays silent testimonials to the family's troubles: twin white oval frames holding photographs of Hannah and Chloe, beside a plaque that reads: "I Can Do All Things Through Christ, Who Strengthens Me."

Four-year-old Samuel, who like Hannah was born with Down's syndrome, will sometimes point at the picture and ask, "Hannah - where go?"

"We just say, 'Hannah - Jesus,' and it's OK. he just accepts it," Timothy Carroll said. "His trust is the way it's supposed to be . . . Maybe we'd all be better off if we believe everything's OK, as long as the Lord's involved."

Mrs. Carroll says she cries almost every day for the loss of Hannah and Chloe. It's especially hard to walk into the little girls' bedroom, where there are three beds - and only one of them is occupied.

Since Hannah's death, the Carrolls have tried to maintain some semblance of normalcy, despite visits form sheriff's deputies, psychologists, doctors, case workers, lawyers and prosecutors.

They say, however, that they're accustomed to scrutiny. For each of the 10 children they've adopted, they've had to go through a six-month home study.

But the Carrolls resent that officials don't believe their answers to questions about Hannah's death. During the three days between the bleach spill and Hannah's death, the little girl was as animated as ever, Timothy Carroll said.

Coroner's reports said she suffered from pneumonia-like swelling of both lungs and from burns over most of the front of her body and parts of her back - conditions that officials say would make breathing difficult and cause extreme discomfort.

"Nobody believes us that she wasn't suffering, in agony, in excruciating pain, and I tell you she wasn't" Mrs. Carroll said. "If she was, I would've done something about it. Most of my children were abused before they came to us. They've suffered enough. They don't need any more suffering."

Mrs. Carroll met her husband 15 years ago, while their families were vacationing in Hampton, N.H.

Before they met, Timothy was paralyzed at age 16 from an infection. He fought for his ability to walk with two canes. While living in the Boston area, he worked as an electrical technician; she as a nursing assistant.

They have no children of their own, they say, because "it just didn't happen. We'll let the Lord take care of that," Timothy Carroll said.

"Even before we were married, we decided we wanted to adopt," said Mrs. Carroll, who was adopted herself.

Three years after they were married, they adopted their first child, Hosea. He spent only 22 weeks in his mother's womb and weighed 1 pound at birth. Nobody thought he'd live. The Carrolls took him into foster care and then went on to adopt him in November 1984. Now, he's a talkative, 50-pound 9-year-old.

Within two years came three more children: James; his sister, Ann Marie, who's now 19 and no longer lives in the home; and their first physically handicapped child, Isaiah, who's now 10. He suffered physical abuse before they adopted him and was brain-damaged as a result. He still vividly remembers the abuse. The Carrolls wheel him out of the room to avoid upsetting him while they talk about it.

In 1987, the Carrolls adopted Josiah, whose disabilities are somewhat like Isaiah's, and Samuel.

In 1989, came Mollie and Noah.

One of the agencies the Carrolls worked through was Project Impact of Boston, one of the nation's first adoption agencies specializing in placement of special-needs children.

Two of the Carrolls' children came from Project Impact, said Chris O'Shea, a supervisor.

"We would've been hard-pressed to place any more children with them," he said. "There was some feeling that they were concernred with overloading them. The last I heard, they had seven or eight children, and then they moved to Ohio."

They arrived in Madison Twp. in Montgomery County in 1990, and moved to Cedarville in Greene County in July. Hannah came to live with them last year; Chloe, this year.

"When is enough enough? That is a legitimate question, and it's a question I look at very personally because I have nine kids myself," O'Shea said. "There's no magic number."

The Carrolls, who no longer work, said they saved 11 years for the down payment on their five-bedroom, four-bathroom home. With an appraised value of $128,210, the home sits on five acres worth $19,140, according to county tax records.

Their lawyer, John H. Rion of Dayton, said it's really nobody's business how the family gets along financially, but he said Carroll got a settlement from a personal injury and receives Social Security benefits. The family also gets state subsidies to help pay for the care of each child, Rion and O'Shea said.

The family, which travels to Ascension Life Center in West Alexandria for services each Sunday, includes so many adopted children because, "We do what we love to do. We're blessed in doing what we're supposed to do," Mrs. Carroll said.

A typical day begins at 6:30 or 7 a.m.

Those who are able help fix breakfast and clean up; same for lunch and dinner. A chart beside the refrigerator outlines each child's responsibilities.

Of all the children, only Noah needs medicine. A note on the refrigerator tells what his dosages are and when they should be given.

The bulk of the Carrolls' day is spent in home schooling, sometimes with other families. Lessons the students are studying were submitted in advance for state approval, and the youngsters get achievement tests once a year.

The Carrolls use a daily journal to keep track of the youngsters' progress; they pride themselves on getting their children to achieve what should have been the impossible.

Mollie was born with an extremely rare chromosomal deformity that results in severe mental retardation, physical abnormalities and behavior problems. She also suffers from severe allergies and needs a formula imported from Germany that costs $68 a day and is given through a plastic "buttom" in her abdomen.

"Everybody told us she'd never laugh, never smile - she'd just be this blob of a baby who'd never recognize anybody," Mrs. Carroll said. "When we got her, she was all curled up and absolutely did not want anyone to touch her . . . We were determined that this child was going to like being touched by humans."

Mollie, who now smiles and laughs with her parents and siblings, is only able to crawl.

Noah had been crawling, but lost that ability because of some recent health problems. Born to a mother addicted to crack-cocaine, Noah was born with part of his brain outside his skull.

Josiah has to use a walker to get around. Isaiah spends most of his time in his safety wheelchair.

The children have learned to look out for each other. James, 16, and Hosea, 9, have no disabilities and are a big help in looking after Samuel, 4, who gets around quite well on his own.

Mrs. Carroll said outsiders look at their family and wonder all sorts of things.

"I didn't wake up one morning with 10 children . . . you learn," she said. "A lot of people look at my children and see what's wrong or what's different. Their disability is what they are. It's not who they are - and that's what matters to us, that's what brings us such joy."

1992 Nov 15