exposing the dark side of adoption
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John Witt

Richmond Times-Dispatch

There were two funerals yesterday for 13-year-old Dominick Diehl, one attended by his brothers and sisters and the other by the adoptive parents charged with his murder.

A court order prevented Michael and Karen Diehl from having any contact with their 16 remaining children, who are now in foster homes. A private service for the children was held before the public service attended by the parents.

"The children's concern was `When can we see our parents again? When will we be together?' " Pastor Fritz Stegemann said. "Two of the boys took roses to the coffin and prayed for their brother and for their mother and father."

Even as the family wept beside the open coffin of the boy they had renamed "Andrew," prosecutors disclosed new details about the circumstances preceding the death of the emotionally disturbed youth.

Chief Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Robert Humphreys said the Diehls told police the youth was handcuffed naked to the floor of the converted school bus he shared with his family for up to a week as discipline for fighting and stealing food.

In the parents' statement, the boy was forced to relieve himself on the floor, and as part of his punishment he was sometimes made to eat his own excrement, according to Humphreys.

The family's attorney Paul Sutton II declined comment at the funeral.

But neighbors who lived at the campground where the Diehls had parked their bus since March expressed disbelief.

"They were wonderful people who had taken in all these unwanted children, just a normal happy family," Virginia Huffman said. "I just cannot believe these charges. I think there has been a gross injustice here."

Mrs. Huffman said she thought it was wrong to take the remaining children from their parents after the boy's death and subject them to police interrogation.

"If he had been beaten we would have heard it. Someone would have complained," she said. "They might have had to restrain him if he was an uncontrollable child."

Police found handcuffs, crude manacles made of an automobile hose clamp, a whip and a wooden paddle in the bus where Michael and Karen Diehl lived with their four natural and 13 adopted children.

An autopsy showed that Dominick Diehl, who had been in a coma for five days, died Wednesday of repeated blows to the head.

Michael and Karen Diehl have been charged with murder, abduction and child abuse. Michael Diehl also has been charged with two counts of malicious assault for beatings he allegedly administered.

When the couple arrived at the Open Door Chapel in Virginia Beach yesterday, the other children had already left. As the Diehls walked hand-in- hand down the aisle, they were embraced by several friends.

Pausing at the gray steel coffin, Mrs. Diehl looked down at the still face of her adopted son and began to weep. Her husband whispered in her ear. They took a seat on the front row before a bank of candles that cast reflections of the cross on the white walls.

"Lord, we are here to celebrate the graduation of Andrew into your kingdom, a time when his tears and sorrows are over," Mr. Stegemann prayed. "Hear the cry of this father, `Take good care of my son.' "

The sparse congregation responded with murmured "amens" as the pastor praised the Christian commitment of the parents and offered sympathy for their grief.

"I see the mother weeping over the loss of her son, wondering how anything good could ever come of these circumstances," he said. "His mother today at the coffin said, `Young man, you are about to bring glory to the name of God.' "

Mr. Stegemann said the boy's death should serve as a sign to the nation, a call to provide love and care to homeless waifs.

When Mrs. Diehl's shoulders began to quake and her sobs became audible across the chapel, her husband offered his handkerchief and lifted his eyeglasses to wipe a tear of his own.

At the end of the service he rose to speak, and the entire congregation leaned forward to listen to his soft words.

"I just want to say thank you to all of you that have showed up today for your show of support and compassion," Diehl said.

With that, he helped his wife to rise and together they followed the coffin as it was rolled up the aisle to the waiting hearse.

1986 Nov 1