December 17, 2014

Honor adoptees by honoring their privacy

There has been a lot of talk this week in my online circles around a post by a popular adoptive parent blogger about her kids and the holidays - "parenting kids who sabotage big days," as she puts it.

Kids and sabotage are words I really don't like hearing in the same sentence. And although I am sure there are legions of Jen Hatmaker supporters who are ready to carry her banner and dismiss anyone who disagrees, I say that much of the behavior Ms. Hatmaker describes is a result of parental behaviors that focus far more on their own agendas and not early as much as they should on what kids really need at unsettling times of the year.

I choose the word unsettling for a reason. Holidays can be really rough for people. There is first of all the pace: who can keep up with the endless demands to do more, see more, post more, smile more, travel more, cook more - perfectly? And what if the holiday brings back hard memories, not just happy ones? Holidays should not be about schedules and stuff, they should be, as author Terra Trevor so beautifully says, about love.

It's exhausting. We adults get stressed, and our kids see it, feel it and act on it. This, I think, is what is at the root of a lot of the behavior Ms. Hatmaker discusses in her post. Not all, of course, so it is fair for parents to consider what else might be at the root of what they see as behavioral sabotage. We readers, those, shouldn't be privy to it.

Aselefech Negesso, adult adoptee founder of Ethopian Adoptees of the Diaspora, says it up perfectly. Too bad that as of this writing, Ms. Hatmaker has declined to make this important point of view public on her blog.
Perfect timing and really helpful piece but as an adult adoptee, I wish you were more protective of your child's struggles during this time of the year. Publicly exposing her struggles really diminished the strength of your argument.
Back when I started writing, I occasionally posted about my kids. Not personal details, but everyday news. Once or twice I posted a photo. Over time as I reread those posts, I found that even the innocuous ones were inappropriate. The question I started asking myself was "Would I post this about my adult kids?" And the answer is almost always no.

I honor my kids best when I give them their privacy. They can speak for themselves, and don't need any adoptive parent - me included - speaking for them.

December 8, 2014

Status Hearing in the Kim Hyunsu Murder Case

I attended a status hearing that was held today in Montgomery County Circuit Court in the case of Brian Patrick O’Callaghan, the Damascus, MD man charged with the murder of little Kim Hyunsu, whom O’Callaghan and his wife adopted in February of 2014.

The hearing took place in the courtroom of Judge John W. Debelius, III. The defendant, Brian Patrick O’Callaghan, was present, along with his attorneys, Steven J. McCool and Julia M. Fisher of the law firm of Mallon & McCool. Two prosecutors represented the State of Maryland, who from what I was able to hear during the discussion and from the case search record were Donna Fenton and Sherri Koch.

Following some initial discussion about a motion made earlier by the defense, Judge Debelius turned his attention to status. McCool explained that the Medical Examiner’s report, which apparently has been delayed for some time, continues to be delayed. Although the Medical Examiner’s office provided little firm information about the cause of the delay, they have indicated that it has to do with a delay in input from consultants. McCool indicated further that he has gone so far as to work with the Attorney General’s office to resolve the delay, but they themselves have said no more than “when we get it, you’ll get it.”

Prosecutor Koch confirmed that they have received similar information indicating that the delay is due to pending consultant results, including pathological slides, etc.

Judge Debelius observed that the trial’s start date of March 17th could be in jeopardy if the Medical Examiner’s results are not provided soon. He scheduled a show cause hearing for December 22nd and another status hearing for January 16th at 1:30 pm. Earlier in the proceedings, Judge Debelius reverted to another hearing on December 27th, which may now be canceled in light of the new schedule. The case search detail should make that clear soon.

Brian Patrick O’Callaghan appeared in prison clothes, dark green over a long-sleeved white tee shirt. He made no eye contact with anyone in the courtroom save his attorneys. He struck me as reserved, blank even; I suppose in such a situation this is how someone would be expected to behave. He was escorted in, sat and stood when told, and was escorted out.

Unless I didn’t recognize her in the audience, his wife was not there.

As I was putting on my coat and locating my keys in the courtroom lobby, I heard the attorneys for the defense and prosecution both confirm that they had received the same information from the Medical Examiner about the delays in completing their report. I don’t know what the delay signifies, but it’s pretty clear that it’s not a fabrication of any sort.

I also heard McCool tell the prosecutors that O’Callaghan sees his son twice a week. Apart from that comment, no one spoke about Brian Patrick O’Callaghan at all today.

No one spoke about Kim Hyunsu, either. I wondered, as I tried to keep up with legalese in a courtroom with poor acoustics, who will speak for him in this trial, really take his death to heart and fight for justice for him. Perhaps because this was a procedural event, it wasn’t where there would be any discussion of the victim or the evidence. It was brief and pedantic, focused on motions and hearings and upcoming dates.

I therefore left the courtroom ill at ease, mostly because of the news of the delayed Medical Examiner’s report, but also because of the hearing's generally dry tone.

Until the system proves me wrong, though, I will continue to believe that #JusticeforHyunsu will be done.

November 29, 2014

A Flipped Script and a Homecoming #flipthescript

You are not seeing things. I have come back.

I have learned the hard way that moving around in blogland isn't a smart thing to do. I still get more traffic here than at Paradigm Shift, which I find amusing since I haven't posted here in a couple of years. But there you go.

Through the magic of technology I have been able to bring Paradigm Shift's content here. I will leave a few posts there, because I do have a plan for that site, a plan that needs some reform-minded adoptive parents to bring it to fruition. I'd like it to become a place where reform-minded adoptive parents can post and share their writings on adoption reform - think [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum for adoptive parents. If you are an adoptive parent who is passionate about adoption reform and would like to join together with others in this kind of online forums, let me know in a comment and we'll figure out how to get in touch.

To those who ever read at the other blog, thank you. for reading there. And thanks in advance for reading here.

Now, on to more important business.

* * * * * * *

Yesterday evening, I watched all the ‪#‎flipthescript‬ videos at once. ‪There's really only one word to cover my reaction: awestruck. I know each of the interviewees from their work and wasn't the least bit surprised that every single one knocked it out of the park. I was, however, awestruck by the clarity of the overall message. These interviews have the power to transform adoption dialog once and for all. The mike has been well and truly wrestled from the hands of adoptive parents and the adoption industry. If you haven't watched them yet, this will make it easy for you. Start with Rosita Gonzales's post on The Lost Daughters that started the #flipthescript movement and watch the video that promoted it. Then watch the interviews, which took place all over the country.
These interviews are magic. And mark my words, because of these strong, intelligent, informed leaders, things are going to start getting better.

November 3, 2014

Listen to adoption experiences, speak to adoption issues

It’s that time of year again: National Adoption Awareness (or Bewareness, for some) Month. For the next 30 days, we will be bombarded with opinions on adoption even more than we usually are. Some will promote adoption on behalf of orphans around the world, others will decry the evils of corrupt adoption facilitators and laws that deny adoptees their identities. In adoptionland, expecially online adoptionland, this means that there will be lots of debates about the pros and cons of adoption and the rights of those living it to speak their truths.

Often, the debates have less to do with facts about adoption and more about the rights of individual adoptees, first parents and adoptive parents to say what’s on their minds about it. It’s kind of funny, now that my kids are officially adults and out living their lives, how little that debate means to me. We waste so much time supporting or denouncing each other’s opinions! How much we could accomplish if we stopped thought- and tone-policing and put the same amount of time into fixing what’s broken!

Perception is reality, as they say, and I would add that perception is based on experience. When we share the perceptions that come from our experiences, they are real to us, even when they appear bogus or downright stupid to someone else. But listening to another adoption experience without reacting, voicing an opinion, admonishing, lecturing or humiliating, is perhaps the best way to learn what adoption is all about. When we listen for a long time to a wide range of adoption experiences, we are far better able to discern adoption reality, which runs the gamut from the very best to the very worst of what humanity can dish out.

Without the broad view of adoption and child welfare that consider an equally broad range of issues in need of correction, we may miss some that are in fact critical for children. For example, many who are strongly in favor of intercountry adoption speak to the injustice of children without families. I myself have been wary of that notion because I believe it is so misused (think “fabricated orphans”). But when I strip away my personal bias, I find it terribly unjust for an abused, neglected or truly orphaned child to grow up without permanence. I don’t want my personal opinions about the adoption of children whose families could have been preserved to blind me to the needs of children who want and truly need adoptive families.

Unfortunately, listening to a multiplicity of opinions counters to the wild west fun of a rousing adoption debate. I can get very engaged in these myself, but I have to say that when I pull away, I almost always have bad feelings about it, particularly if there has been an ad hominem edge. It doesn’t get the work done, either; that always happens in different, and generally less divisive arenas.
So this #NationalAdoptionAwarenessMonth, I would like to make the case for this to be a month of listening to experiences, lots and lots of adoption experiences, but speaking to the issues. There are many, and they need the attention of everyone in the adoption community if we are to put them right.

October 14, 2014

HLN's Nancy Grace covers the murder of Hyunsu Kim

HLN’s Nancy Grace brought little Kim Hyunsu’s murder case into the national media limelight on Monday October 13th when she aired a segment providing an overview of the case and its current status (transcript here).

Grace began the segment with a theme she repeated throughout: Did Brian Patrick O’Callaghan receive preferential treatment in the adoption process or as a suspect in this case because of his status within NSA? She and Dan Morse of the Washington Post, who covers Montgomery County, Maryland for the Post and co-authored the initial Post article about the case, provided the introduction to O’Callaghan with which we are now familiar: decorated veteran of Kosovo and Iraq; fluent in Arabic; Chief of the NSA’s Korea division. The adoption of Madoc O'Callaghan, as he is known in much of the press, was agency-facilitated and appears unremarkable from a procedural perspective.

Nancy Grace and child welfare expert Maureen Flatley both noted the possibility of PTSD as a possible contributor in this case. Flatley noted that child homicide is escalating, and that the kind of violence perpetrated on Hyunsu doesn’t come out of the blue. She and psychologist Caryn Stark both noted the correlation between PTSD and child abuse. Flatley further questioned the pre-screening performed for Hyunsu’s adoption, asking if, in light of O’Callaghan’s multiple combat assignments, PTSD was addressed. (I would question if an adoption homestudy screens for PTSD or any mental health disorders.)

According to Morse, when interviewed by the police, O’Callaghan spoke of events of the day and night before he brought Hyunsu to the hospital for treatment, indicating that Hyunsu had slipped in the shower. He did not disclose anything consistent with the injuries Hyunsu presented at the hospital, although HLN staff blogger Stacey Newman noted late in the program that at some point during his interviews, O’Callaghan added that Hyunsu had fallen down the stairs, too.

Hyunsu' injuries are truly horrific:

  • 86 degree body temperature upon arrival at the hospital
  • Swelling and bleeding of the brain
  • Injuries to front and back consistent with beating
  • Impact or squeezing trauma to genitals
  • Fractured skull
  • Bruises to forehead
  • Marks from a linear triangular object
  • Other contusions
  • Hemorrhaging

By the time he was brought to the hospital, he was brain dead.

Grace mentioned more than once her concern that O’Callaghan may be receiving preferential treatment given his position at NSA. NSA has made no comment about the case, nor has the adoption agency. (Although no reason has been given, Holt stopped placing children from Korea through Catholic Charities of Maryland, who facilitated Hyunsu’s adoption. Holt, however, has not placed blame on Catholic Charities, nor have they admitted any procedural culpability. Catholic Charities, for obvious reasons, is silent.)

Grace briefly discussed the legal aspects of the case with attorneys Peter Odom and David Benowitz. Odom noted that the more medical evidence suggests abuse, the more difficult it will be to prove that the injuries were caused by an accident. Benowitz described how such a defense would likely proceed: by reviewing every detail of the autopsy, carefully evaluating the house (especially the shower and stairs) as a potential crime scene for evidence of accident and determining O’Callaghan’s medical condition at the time of police interviews. Grace pointed out that at least one fact will be difficult for the defense to ignore: O’Callaghan’s own statement that the injuries were due to a slip in the shower. (O’Callaghan’s defense is being provided by the DC law firm of Mallon & McCool, LLC.)

Grace asked rhetorically what the role of Jennifer O’Callaghan is in this case. Pretty much everyone interested in this case is asking the same question. Ms. O’Callaghan is standing by her husband, but saying nothing else.

In closing, Grace and Morse discussed next steps in the case. Both the prosecution and defense are reviewing the evidence, in particular the autopsy report. Autopsy has been seriously hampered by the fact that the O’Callaghan’s donated Hyunsu’s organs immediately following his death, prior to Brian O’Callaghan’s arrest. Prosecutors are attempting to locate those organs, presumably to determine if they have in fact been donated, were unusable or have been destroyed.

(As of today, little Kim Hyunsu’s grave in the Damascus Methodist Church Cemetery remains without a stone, identifiexed only with a small paper marker. I sincerely hope the family, which given current adoption law in Korea and the U.S. has custody of his body, places a stone soon to honor his short life and death.)

Montgomery County Circuit Court case search website for correct docket info and court schedule for events in this trial. Car details follow. Note that changes occur frequently, and check the very bottom of the docket for recent court orders that may affect the schedule. Call the Montgomery County Circuit Court Adornment Assignment Office at 240-777-9000 to confirm the schedule. 

Circuit Court for Montgomery County - Criminal System
Judge John W. Debelius, III
Location: 50 Maryland Avenue North Tower Courtroom 3e, Rockville, MD
Case 124572C
Tracking Number: 14-1001-04609-3
District Court Number: 5D00304526
Defendant: O'Callaghan, Brian Patrick

October 5, 2014

So we don't forget: #JusticeforHyunsu wiki

I spent a part of this past Friday in the Montgomery County Courthouse in Rockville, Maryland, hoping to attend the pre-trial hearing of Brian Patrick O'Callaghan, the alleged murderer of little Hyunsu Kim, a Korean adoptee just three years old at the time of his murder. Unfortunately, the hearing was cancelled and from the current information on the Montgomery County Circuit Court docket, has not yet been rescheduled. I will certainly attend the rescheduled pre-trial hearing and other trial events if I can.

The trial is due to start at the beginning of December, so the virtual silence around the case since the flurry of articles and posts in February and March will soon be broken. Because, in cases like this, the trail can grow cold after the trial and verdict are over, I thought it would be a good idea to pull together what I could find. A simple search of "Hyunsu O'Callaghan," along with some key information from TRACK and several other sources, netted quite a list of articles and blog posts.

A little bit of what's in the #JusticeforHyunsu wiki follows. News and other links are consolidate on the wiki page. I will add links as I find them, and will also expand my search. I also welcome suggestions, so please comment here or on the #JusticeforHyunsu page.

Honoring Hyunsu

In Remembrance of Hyunsu Facebook group
Forever Missed: Hyun-su Kim
Hyunsu's memorial service in Korea
Photos of Hyunsu's memorial in Korea
Mindle Mothers memorial in Sweden
Madoc Hyeonsu O'Callaghan's obituary
Hyunsu's resting place

Justice for Hyunsu

Brian O'Callaghan court dates
Brian O'Callaghan arrest warrant (thank you, TRACK)

Blogs & Forums

Adoption & Asian American Communities
Paradigm Shift #JusticeforHyunsu
TRACK: Information about Hyunsu and Brian O'Callaghan in the context of Korean adoption activism in Korea
Call for Solidarity amidst Tragedy
현수 '해외입양' 책임, 과연 누구에게 있나?

September 22, 2014

Rest, little Hyunsu, you are not forgotten

The case of the murder of Hyunsu Kim, known in the news as Madoc Hyunsu O'Callaghan, has drifted out of metropolitan Washington, DC news. The death of little Hyunsu, allegedly at the hands of his adoptive father, Brian O'Callaghan, triggered the kind of media storm the adoption community has seen far too many times: hot and vocal in the immediate days and weeks following the event, quieter as the months go by, and finally, radio silence. The adoption community has kept Hyunsu in its conversation, but even we have had little to talk about. The trial of Brian O'Callaghan, scheduled to start on October 3rd, will surely rekindle the outrage.

The adoptee community has been the most attentive to Hyunsu's memory. TRACK is following the case and posts as bits of news become available, and a Facebook group dedicated to Hyunsu's memory does the same. Several members of the group live in or close to Damascus, Maryland, the adoptive family's suburban DC town; one was able able to find Hyunsu's resting place and pay a visit. We were all appalled to see the state of little Hyunsu's grave six months after his death: bare and brown, with no evidence of visits or care.

I believe in the concept of innocence until guilt is proven. But I also believe in the evidence presented by the coroner's office that leave no doubt that Hyunsu suffered far more than a fall. It therefore rankles to know that his little body lies forgotten in what is foreign soil to him.

It rankled others in the group, too. And so, on a hot August day, a group of us came together in Damascus, Maryland to pay our respects and let Hyunsu know he was most definitely not forgotten.

I happened to arrive first, in spite of getting turned around several times in Damascus trying to find the cemetery. With time to spare, I walked through the little country burial ground to see who shares this earth with Hyunsu. The names spoke of western European, mostly Anglo, people. Some names were represented many times, demonstrating a multigenerational history in this place. There were married couples and singles, and far too many who had died too young. The feel of the place was America, such an odd place for a little boy just a few months here to rest.

The cemetery is on a slope, and Hyunsu's grave is in the very last row before a little access road that separates the main cemetery from a large meadow with a few newer graves. Where most of the graves were grassy, Hyunsu's was brown, the grass dry and untended. A vase with a few wilted flowers, a gift from a Korean adoptee who had visited earlier, was the only evidence that someone had been there at all. There is no stone, only the flat printed marker provided by the cemetery or funeral home.

In the time before the rest of the group arrived, I said my prayers for Hyunsu: Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace ..." But it was hard to bring peace to the sad little grave. It is simply too disturbing to imagine a child as young as Hyunsu lying there, broken as he was. But I prayed all the same.

The rest of the group, adoptees and another adoptive parent, joined shortly after, and we first set about clearing the grave. We placed a photo of Hyunsu at the head and surrounded it with flowers and stuffed animals and a little Pororo to match the one on his t-shirt. The emotion was palpable, although we weren't crying at that point. I think we were all a little angry at the state of the grave, but showed our anger in silence.

The ceremony that followed was simple and beautiful. In the reading of a memorial, music, the lighting of candles and placing of beautiful chongi chopki hearts with the names of attendees present physically and in spirit, we all remembered Hyunsu. A special candle was lit in honor of Hyunsu's mother and placed near his own. There was song. And there were tears.

At the end of the memorial, one very organized attendee placed all of the paper hearts in a plastic box she had brought for the purpose, along with a note asking that it be left there in memory of Hyunsu. The box was big enough to hold the stuffed animals, so we put them in as well.

We talked a little longer, all voicing the hope that our memorial, and in particular Hyunsu's picture and the box of hearts and toys, would stay with him for at least a little while, and would then be taken somewhere and saved as tributes from a community that hasn't forgotten. We talked, too, about a headstone for Hyunsu. It's hard to say why there isn't one there; I am not actually positive that Hyunsu's adoption was finalized and am therefore not sure the adoptive family would have been allowed to purchase one. There's some research being done on this, in the hope that - if it is allowed - the community can buy a stone to honor him.

I actually wish for something different. I wish that Hyunsu could return to Korea, and sleep among his people. The land that gave him life didn't meet his needs, but the country that should have welcomed him did worse. It just seems wrong to me that he is in this suburban Maryland community, where his grave will only bring curiosity, for his name or for his story, depending on whether or not visitors to the cemetery know it or not.

It's not likely that he will move, though, so while he is here we will continue to honor him. Sooner or later there will be a stone, because the Korean adoption community will make it happen, one way or another. He will be visited by those of us who can come.

Hyunsu will not be forgotten. I pray that justice will be done for him, so he can rest in peace.