The internet is a massive outlet for people to connect, shop, research, and advertise, but a new horrifying use for the internet is currently under heavy investigation. Reuters reports that an online community for parents who want to unload adopted children they no longer want has been uncovered, and some of the stories of the unwanted children are chilling, to say the least.
Reuters has teamed up with NBC to investigate this underground world of “re-homing” in a series of reports. The idea of re-homing refers to adoptive parents giving away their kids with little or no government involvement when they become overwhelmed or frustrated.
According to Today, nearly a quarter of a million children have been adopted overseas since the late 1990s, but the children sometimes come with undisclosed behavioral or physical issues. When the adoptive parents can’t take it anymore, they simply find someone and give the children away in homes, motel parking lots, or even truck stops.
Nora Gateley, now 26, thought she’d struck gold when she found out she was being adopted when she was about to turn 13. Nora had been abandoned at birth in Guangdong, China, and right leg has been crippled by polio. At 13, she would have been too old for adoption, so she was thrilled “when an American couple showed up at her orphanage with a Snoopy backpack and jewelry.”
“I was the luckiest girl in the world,” said Nora, recalling being taken to her new home in the Florida Keys. “I never felt so special.”
That feeling was short lived because within a year, Nora had been accused of hitting one of her siblings and even briefly ran away from home. One day, her mother said Nora and her father were going on a road trip, but it ended two days later at a remote farmhouse in Tennessee where Nora was re-homed with Tom and Debra Schmitz, along with 17 other children.
“He said, ‘We’ll come back in a couple years and pick you up.’ And I believed him,” Nora said.
Nora was forced to take care of the younger kids, many of whom had special needs. There were beatings, and Nora would sometimes be forced to stay up all night scrubbing floors with a toothbrush. Debra even took away her leg brace several times as punishment and made her dig a hole, which she referred to as Nora’s own grave.
“[Debra] said, ‘You can run away for all I care and I’ll let the coyotes out there eat you,’” recalled Nora. “’Nobody knows you were here anyway.’”
According to Nora, Debra would spend much of her day drinking and surfing the internet, looking for more children to re-home. They were very isolated from the outside world, but Debra had an alarm on the gate and cameras for unexpected visitors.
Sherry Dvorak, a nurse who’d been to the house to treat some of the children, was their ultimate savior. Having suspected that things weren’t right, she somehow convinced Debra to allow Nora and another child to visit her at her home. “I was scared for them,” Dvorak revealed. Her intuition paid off, as the girls cried and recounted all the horrors in their home as soon as they were in the car. Dvorak taped their revelations and gave the tape to police.
The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services found that 7 of the 18 children they took from the home did not legally belong to the Schmitzes. Only 11 belonged, including a biological child of the Schmitzes, and Nora, who had surprisingly been legally adopted.
Debra pleaded no contest to 14 counts of child abuse and one count of trafficking. She was sentenced to six months in jail and put on probation.
According to Today, “Megan Twohey, who spearheaded the investigation of re-homing for Reuters, said that there are numerous internet chat rooms where desperate adoptive parents post notes advertising available kids.”
Fortunately, Nora’s story has a happy ending. She lived with Dvorak, her rescuer, for several months, and then went on to live with the Gateley family, whose name she took. She currently lives on her own, works in a doctor’s office, and plays wheelchair basketball in her free time.
“I’m happy,” Nora says. “I have people that love and care about me. I’m very humble and very happy and just blessed that I’m out of that situation.”
What a horrendous story, and we are left with so many questions. What is happening to these people who are re-homing their adoptive children? Did Nora’s initial adoptive family face charges? We can only hope so!
Source: NBC News