Hana Alemu graveside memorial, Oct 29, 2013

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On Tuesday October 29th, K and I went to to the sentencing of Hana Alemu’s adoptive parents Larry and Carri Williams. I will have a post soon on the sentencing. After the sentencing,  there was a memorial at Hana’s grave in … Continue reading

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Justice for Hana, Immanuel — Carri and Larry Williams found guilty

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Hana’s Remembrance Vigil, ECMA, Aug. 21, 2011

The  Verdict

A jury in the Skagit Valley Courthouse yesterday found Carri and Larry Williams guilty of manslaughter in the first degree (of their adopted daughter Hana) and assault of a child in the first degree (of their adopted son Immanuel). In addition, Carri Williams was found guilty of homicide by abuse, while the jury was unable to agree on whether Larry was guilty of this charge.

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The Skagit County Court House, where Carri and Larry Williams were tried.

Read more about the verdict at Gina Cole’s article in the Skagit Valley Herald (SVH), or the AP article in the Seattle times.

Justice has been done. The jury and the community have sent out a signal that this kind of cruelty, mental and physical, will not be tolerated.

There is a lot of healing to be done. I hope Immanuel finds peace and love in a new adoptive family. I hope all the Williams children get counseling, and reject their parents’ ideas of bringing up children.

I hope Hana’s death and Immanuel’s suffering are not in vain. I hope this sparks outrage at people who can abuse children this way. I hope this sparks anger at child “training” practices, such as those recommended by Michael Pearl and his wife Debi Perl.

Rest in Peace, Hana. I hope you somehow get to know that a lot of people loved you and cried for you. You will not be forgotten.

More to be done

The battle may be won, the war isn’t. There is a lot more work to be done, lots more children to be saved from abuse.

In my last post, Sorrow, Tears & Questions: The trial of Hana Williams’ adoptive parents, I had a number of suggestions to avoid such tragedies, including ensuring that adopted children have frequent contact with the outside world, with schools and churches. In response, my friend Ramesh sent this heart-rending story of Daniel Pelka.

From a BBC report: Four-year old Daniel Pelka, of Coventry, UK,  died of a head injury in March 2012, at the end of months of starvation and severe mental and physical suffering – at the hands of his own mother, Magdelena Luczak and her partner Mariusz Krezolek. This couple allegedly broke Daniel’s arm when he was three and a half and did not take him to hospital till a day later. They systematically starved him, and subjected him to “cold water punishment”, forced repeatedly to kneel for long periods of time, run continuously, perform squats, or swallow salt.  From another BBC report we learn a sibling felt compelled to hide food for him while he was being starved by his parents.

In early August 2013, Luczak and Krezolek were sentenced to a minimum of 30 years each. The Coventry Safeguarding Children Board is reviewing Daniel’s death to review actions taken (and presumably actions not taken) by police and social services after staff at his school noticed bruising and black eyes —  on a 4-year old!

Here’s a particularly disturbing excerpt from a BBC piece on the judge Justice Cox’s remarks before she sentenced the couple:

“…The judge said Daniel was confined for regular and prolonged periods of time in a small, bare box room where the inner door handle was removed and the metal panel arranged so that he could not even see out of the keyhole.

‘The small hand and finger marks on the inside of that door provided a poignant image of his desperate attempts to escape. The urine stains to the mattress on which he was made to sleep and the damp state of the carpet testify to his inability to go to the toilet when he needed. There is evidence of him soiling himself.’  …”

and another even more disturbing excerpt:

“I am satisfied, Mariusz Krezolek, that this head injury was inflicted by you and you applied considerable force….

“Daniel then lay alone in the box room, as his life slipped away, from that Thursday evening until just before 3am on Saturday morning, while you both continued your lives, hoping that he would regain consciousness.

“Your internet searches on that Friday morning reveal both the scale of the cruelty you had inflicted on him and your growing realisation that he was not responding.

“Still you did not take him to hospital, until you discovered in the early hours that he was not breathing and eventually called the emergency services.

So, on top of their constant cruelty, with no apparent reason, the couple had left Daniel alone, mortally injured, from Thursday till Saturday! Poor, poor child.

In early September, Daniel Pelka was given a funeral in Lodz, Poland, where his father lives.

There are similarities and a lot of differences between Hana/Immanuel and Daniel. All of them were ill-treated, physically and mentally. But unlike the home-schooled, home-churched Hana or Immanuel, Daniel was a child who went to school. Daniel was taken to the hospital when his arm was broken. One would have thought someone at school or at the hospital would have noticed problems. But no – his mother and her partner concocted stories about him having an eating disorder, and asking his teachers never to feed him anything. They lied about Daniel’s injuries to specialists, but no one seems to have thought to ask for confirmation. And so Daniel slipped through the cracks in the system.

Clearly the suggestions I had in my previous post need to be refined and strengthened to get around obstructive behavior on part of (adoptive) parents or parent-surrogates. When cruelty is suspected, the community must act and act fast. Better a bruised ego than a battered child. Of course, the evidence must be strong to prevent false accusations.

There’s lots more one can say here, but I’ll stop with saying: you too, Daniel: Rest in Peace.

Background Information

Hana & Immanuel: There are detailed accounts of the trial in Gina’s series of articles in SVH and her tweets from Gina_SVH. Maureen McCauley Evans has extremely detailed reports and discussions on the different days of the trial and related issues.  Hermana Linda’s blog Why Not Train a Child has details of the trial plus pointers to others’ coverage of the trial. Kiro-TV has had continuing coverage of the case and the trial.  In addition, there is a very active Facebook page: Remembrance of Hanna Williams . I was able to attend the trial on only day, and my wife was able to go only for a few days but both of us avidly consumed the reports from Gina, Maureen, Hermana and others; we are so grateful to them, as well as to members from the Ethiopian Community Mutual Association, who were in constant attendance at the trial.

Daniel Pelka: Searching on his name returns a number of articles from the BBC. Thanks to Ramesh for bringing Daniel to our attention.

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Sorrow, Tears & Questions: The trial of Hana Williams’ adoptive parents

It’s been over 15 months since my last post, Rest in Peace, Hana Williams, written on the 1st anniversary of the death of Hana. I’m resuming my blogging now with a post after my visit last week to the Skagit County courtroom, where her adoptive parents are being tried.

1. Background

Hana Grace-Rose Williams, born in Ethiopia, was adopted into a Sedro-Woolley home in Aug. 2008, along with a younger boy, Immanuel, also born in Ethiopia.  Their adoptive parents Carri and Larry Williams had seven (biological) children when they decided on adopting Hana and Immanuel.

On May 12th, 2011 (over 27 months ago), 13-year-old Hana was found dead in her yard, with the coroner concluding she died of hypothermia in the approx. 40 degree rainy weather. At the time of her death, sources said she had significant weight-loss.  Investigations by law enforcement agencies and DSHS indicate that Hana was starved and abused over a period of time. Larry and Carri Williams have been accused of, and are being tried on a variety of charges, including homicide by abuse and first-degree manslaughter in connection with Hana’s death, and assault of a child in the first degree in connection with the treatment meted out to Immanuel. They have pleaded not guilty to these charges.

The 15 days of the trial thus far have brought up truly sad details of ways in which Hana and Immanuel were mistreated.

Here are some excerpts from Gina Cole’s report in GoSkagit.com from the prosecution’s opening statement:

“… [Prosecutor Rosemary] Kaholokula said Larry and Carri Williams abused and tortured the children “in the guise of discipline or punishment.”

She said the adopted children were hosed down, forced to sleep in the barn or a closet or shower room, hit with various implements, excluded from family events and holidays, and not allowed to communicate with their siblings.

The adopted children were sometimes given cold leftovers and frozen vegetables outside away from the family, and sometimes not allowed to eat at all, Kaholokula said.

… Hana was, for about a year, instructed to use a Honey Bucket outside instead of the family bathroom. Her hair, which she loved, was “virtually shaved off” once as a punishment, Kaholokula said.

… The transgressions that brought these punishments included poor handwriting, not making the bed a certain way, leaving clothes on the floor or sneaking sweets, Kaholokula said.

The night Hana died, she had been outside for several hours and it had started to drizzle. At one point, Hana removed some of her clothes — a common sign of hypothermia — and collapsed. Her parents and paramedics could not resuscitate her, and she was pronounced dead at the hospital about an hour and a half after being found. …”

It breaks my heart to think of Hana — this child – hungry, cold and seemingly without anyone to care for her – suffering so much. How and why did we as a society fail her?

This trial is about Hana, Immanuel and the charges against the Williams couple. We want due process and justice, and appropriate action based on what the jury decides. But dealing with this one case is not enough. Hana’s death should spur us into action to ensure that what happened to Hana and Immanuel does not happen to any other child.

In the rest of this post, I list some issues raised by this case and suggest some ways to avoid such tragedies.

2. Issues raised by this case

Here are some questions that bother K and me, and our friends. Answers to these questions may lead to actions that could help other adoptees, and in general, other children in similar situations. I have discussed some of these in an earlier post.  I’ve revised this list based on what I’ve learnt in the last few weeks.

  • Why did the Williams couple, who already had 7 children, and were pressed for money, decide to adopt 2 more, especially children with special needs? The altruistic urge was good, but further events suggest they were not prepared to handle these adopted children. Was there an external factor encouraging them to go adopt?
  • Specifically, the adoptive parents do not seem to have been able to handle Hana’s health conditions (including hepatitis) or Immanuel’s speech and hearing issues. They seem to have avoided getting medical attention for Hana for her stomach infections and for Immanuel’s bed-wetting.  They also seem to have abruptly decided against using sign language with Immanuel, punishing him instead for resultant communication issues. Is there no program to help adoptive parents with advice on medical issues that are common in adoptees? Doesn’t the adoption agency that facilitated the adoption have some responsibility to ensure such education, and to ensure that the children are cared for and their medical needs met?
  • How did the parents pass home inspection by the adoption agency? Did the adoption agency know about their child rearing methods, and if so, how did that pass inspection? Did Ethiopia know what level of corporal punishment this family engaged in? If the parents lied about how they raised children, how did they reconcile with their beliefs?
  • Why doesn’t Skagit Country require home-schooled children to be routinely tested and be seen?
  • Did the adoptive parents (who are alleged to have acted with such heartlessness, for so many months) not have anywhere to go for help? Was there no one to help them in dealing with these children? Why did they not ask for help even from their church community? Why, when it was clear their methods were not working, when there was such a pronounced downward spiral, did they continue on the same path?
  • How can we, as a society, protect free speech yet limit the impact of books like “To Train Up a Child”, which advocate what I would consider abusive child-rearing methods?

3. Avoiding such tragedies: Some suggestions

As I said in an earlier post, our adoption agencies and CPS should be extra vigilant about potential adoptive parents who may have noble intentions but neither the finances nor the moral compass to properly bring up children. We know agencies are busy, and there are very many children waiting for adoption. But parenting is not easy, and adoptive parenting can be even harder, especially when adopting older children. Providing help proactively will help make adoption a more positive experience for all parties. In this spirit, here are some suggestions.

We should mandate and make arrangements for the following:

  1. More extensive and stringent checks on the background, financial ability, and child-rearing practices of adoptive parents.
  2. Regular checks by social workers/adoption agencies on adopted children for one or two years after adoption to ensure that their adoptive parents treat these children properly. These checks should be fairly frequent soon after adoption, and may taper off later.
  3. Requirements on adoption agencies to make sure that adopted children are never isolated (like Hana and Immanuel were), e.g. by home schooling.
  4. Regular, mandatory, health checks by a doctor frequently for say two years after the adoption, and at least once a year later, say till adoptees are 18 years old.
  5. Resources for adoptive parents and their other children to help them cope with issues arising from adoption (that may be new to them), such as issues related to culture, race or health. This could include establishing “mentoring” relations for more experienced adoptive parents who could “hand-hold” parents new to adoption. Adoptive parents, especially if under stress, should be able to get the help that may avert these kinds of tragedies.
  6. Ability for adoptive parents to give up. In general, this is not desirable. But it is better for parents who cannot cope to acknowledge that and work with agencies to find another home for their adopted children, rather than create or foster miserable, possible deadly, conditions for all concerned. There could be proactive variants of this: e.g. we could create paths for adoptive parents to be able to foster children first, a kind of a trial, so they can see if that works for all parties.
  7. A way for adoptive children to hit the panic button, to cry for help, if necessary. This has to be a mechanism that is easily accessible to adoptive children. If there is no simple mechanism that the child can access by herself or himself, then a mechanism must be created so that external 3rd party visitors with authority are able to meet with adopted children regularly, to ensure their continued well-being.

Perhaps some of these steps are already mandated – if so, they should be enforced. None of these ideas work unless they are back by legal “teeth” – any violation must have consequences. It is also true that many of these ideas could be of use in the rearing of biological children as well.

Going beyond what needs to be mandated, every one of us should be cognizant of our responsibilities — as a parent, neighbor, or a friend — to protect the children around us. If we suspect or see something that looks like child abuse, we need to speak up – it is better to be mistaken than have children suffer because of inaction.  We need to put the welfare of children above protecting relatives, friends or a church or temple. 

Further reading

For background about Hana: There is a Facebook page about Hana with a number of contributors.

From this blog: See my first post on this subject Why and how did 13-yr old Ethiopian adoptee Hana Williams die? A vigil and questions about Hana. Also see my posts on harsh [child] “training” methods advocated by some and on some instances of child abuse, and the notion of “child-collectors”, both of which seem relevant to Hana’s case. A report about Hana’s parents being charged is at Adoptive parents Carri and Larry Williams charged with Hana Williams’ death .

For details about the trial: There are a number of news stories, blog postings etc. about the trials and the issues surrounding this case, including the following: Reporter Gina Cole from the Skagit Valley Herald has a number of articles on the case and the on-going trial. She also tweets about it from the courthouse. Kiro-TV has continuing coverage of the case and the trial.  Maureen McCauley Evans has a number of detailed reports and discussions on the different days of the trial and related issues.

 

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Rest in Peace, Hana Williams

I want to take a few minutes to remember Hana today.

On May 12th, 2011 — one year ago — 13-year-old Hana Grace-Rose Williams was found dead in her yard, with the coroner concluding she died of hypothermia in the approx. 40 degree rainy weather. At the time of her death, sources said she had significant weight-loss.  Hana, born in Ethiopia, was adopted into a Sedro-Woolley home in Aug. 2008, along with her younger brother.

Hana’s adoptive parents Carri and Larry Williams were charged in late September last year on charges of homicide by abuse in connection with the death of Hana. They were also charged with assault of a child in the first degree in connection with the treatment of Hana’s brother, whom they’d also adopted. There is a lot of activity on a Facebook page created for Hana; on that page I see the trial date is set for Oct 1st this year.

Sadly, Hana’s case is not a singular instance. There have been a number of cases of child abuse and/or neglect reported during the year. Even yesterday, the Columbia Basin Herald reported that a 2-year old Moses Lake boy was found in a state of “extreme malnourishment with no heartbeat”. Responders got his heartbeat going, and the boy was taken to hospital and put on life support. The shocking thing about the report is that the 2-year old was found to weigh less than 10 lbs, as opposed to an average weight of 34-48 lbs. I’ve known of some babies whose birth weight was 10lbs.  CPS now has custody of four other children living at that address, says the report.

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From a remembrance vigil for Hana Williams, Aug 21, 2011

For background about Hana: see my first post on this subject Why and how did 13-yr old Ethiopian adoptee Hana Williams die? A vigil and questions about Hana. Also see my posts on harsh [child] “training” methods advocated by some and on some instances of child abuse, and the notion of “child-collectors” , both of which seem relevant to Hana’s case. The last post I had on this was the report about Hana’s parents being charged: Adoptive parents Carri and Larry Williams charged with Hana Williams’ death .

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Flowers and Trees, Green Lake, Seattle

This gallery contains 4 photos.

Last Sunday started out bleak and grey, but the afternoon was nice and sunny. I got some pictures of some hyacinths in our front yard, and of some lovely trees near Green Lake. Hope you like ’em pix!

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An EpiLOG to Pi day

Moosewood Homespun Pot Pie

The Moosewood Homespun Pot Pie

Mixed Berry Streusel Pie

The Mixed Berry Streusel Pie

So I told you my wife was planning a pie for dinner to celebrate Pi Day right?

Well, she made not one but two pies!

A savory pie, a “Moosewood Homespun Pot Pie” (all vegetarian), and a sweet pie, a “Mixed Berry Streusel Pie” ! The savory pie had a secret ingredient: mustard, and likewise the berry pie had cream cheese in the crust!

I’m not much of a food photographer, but hope you like the pictures of the two pies !

And once again, happy Pi day, which incidentally is Albert Einstein‘s 123rd birthday!

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Happy Pi Day 2012!

Happy Pi Day, all !!

What are you going to do to celebrate Pi Day?

Last year my wife made chess pie! Let’s see what she comes up with this year (hint, hint!).

Here’s a pointer to last year’s Quipshots blog on Pi Day and piphilology!

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UN special rappoteur on torture: Bradley Manning’s treatment cruel and inhuman

Here’s the crux of this Guardian article: “Juan Mendez [the UN special rapporteur on torture] has completed a 14-month investigation into the treatment of Manning since the soldier’s arrest at a US military base in May 2010. He concludes that the US military was at least culpable of cruel and inhumane treatment in keeping Manning locked up alone for 23 hours a day over an 11-month period in conditions that he also found might have constituted torture.”

We should never condone torture, especially not in the name of justice.


 

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Adoptive parents Carri and Larry Williams charged with Hana Williams’ death

Carri and Larry Williams were arrested his afternoon on charges of homicide by abuse in connection with the death of their adoptive daughter, 13-year-old Hana Grace-Rose Williams. They were also charged with assault of a child in the first degree in connection with the treatment of Hana’s brother, whom they’d also adopted.

For some background, see my first post in this blog about Hana Williams, who was
found dead in her backyard of her Sedro-Woolley home in May this year. Also see
my posts  on harsh [child] “training” methods advocated by some and on  some instances of child abuse, and the notion of “child-collectors”. Both of these seem to be relevant in this case.

Today we have some details about the abuse that Hana is alleged to have suffered. According to the Seattle Times, ‘A report on [Hana’s] death concluded she’d died from “a culmination of chronic starvation caused by a parent’s intentional food restriction, severe neglect, physical and emotional abuse and stunning endangerment.”
… Investigators found Hana had been put in a dark closet for discipline and forced to sleep outside in a barn. When she was locked in the closet, one person told authorities, the parents played the Bible on tape and Christian music.
Hana … was routinely beaten. Sometimes she wasn’t fed for a day or two,
investigators found.’

A report from MSNBC adds more sad details: “In the charging documents, Carri
Williams talked about how much she disliked her two adopted Ethiopian children.

According to charging documents [Hana’s] adopted parents, Carri and Larry Williams starved her for days, put her in a locked closet, shower room and forced her to sleep outside in the barn in the cold. She wasn’t allowed to use the bathroom in the house, instead a porta-potty behind the barn. In addition, Hanna was struck daily with a plumbing tool, a tube with a round ball on the end.
… All of the William’s biological children and adopted son have been removed from the home. In the documents, a book entitled ‘To Train a Child Up,’[sic] was referenced.
[Skagit County Prosecutor Richard] Weyrich says it includes punishment techniques the
Williams’ mimicked. There have been other child abuse cases linked to the book
across the country.”

On the one hand, I am happy that Child Protective Services (CPS) and the Skagit County Prosecutor acted to investigate this case, and to bring charges against the perpetrators. On the other hand, there is so much sorrow in the air. To start with, we have Hana’s death, after months of abuse. Then we have the abuse that her brother and other biological Williams children are said to have suffered. Next, we have the issues related to the adoptive parents, who are alleged to have acted with such heartlessness, for so many
months: did the parents not have anywhere to go for help? Was there no one to
help them when they were out of their depth in dealing with these children?
What compelled them to cling to these children but yet abuse them so? Finally,
we need to think about how, as a society, we can protect free speech yet limit
the impact of books like “To Train Up a Child”, which advocate what I would
consider abusive child-rearing methods.

This matter does not end now with these arrests. We need to ensure that there are no more cases like Hana’s. As I said in an earlier post, our adoption agencies and CPS should be extra vigilant about potential adoptive parents who may have noble intentions but neither the finances nor the moral compass to properly bring up children. In addition, we should be cognizant of our responsibilities — as a parent, neighbor, or a friend — to protect the children around us. Recall the “If you see something, say something” program from the Department of Homeland Security? Analogously, if we suspect or see something that looks like child abuse, we need to say something – it is better to be mistaken than have children suffer because we did not take steps to stop abuse.  We need to put the welfare of children above protecting relatives, friends or a church or temple. And we need to get parents under stress the help that may avert these kinds of tragedies.

And then we can truly say: Rest in peace, Hana, rest in peace.

Quick links:

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KUOW Story on Hana Williams

KUOW’s Amy Ridal has a well-researched story on Hana Williams, which was aired on Monday Sep 12th. You can hear the story and/or read the transcript at
Questions Surround Death Of Hana Williams .

There’s an update on Hana’s brother Immanuel and her other siblings in the story.
Amy reports:
“All the children are in foster care except one. He’s now 18, and moved back with his parents.
Skagit County Commissioner G. Brian Paxton is overseeing the Williams children’s care through the Superior Court. At a recent court hearing, he overruled the parents’ wishes that the children continue home schooling, saying that’s not an option right now. The boys likely entered public schools for the first time in their lives last week.
Immanuel will attend a school for the deaf and hard of hearing in Anacortes.”

It looks like there is a lot of momentum on the case at this point. I hope we get to hear the findings from the investigation soon.

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