By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
On a recent Saturday morning, Koop applied mascara to her lashes with one hand while blow-drying her long brunette mane with the other. She turned off the dryer for a moment to assess whether the screams coming from the living room, where the boys and a friend were wrestling, were shrieks of joy or pain.
"They will always come get me if one is really hurt," Koop, reassured, said as she resumed her grooming.
Matthew soon turned to his household chores, unloading the dishwasher and vacuuming the carpet. A visitor remarked on his independence. Matthew laughed quietly. "I've kind of had a special training," he said.
The 12-year-old's maturity and school performance have dazzled everyone. "It is a miracle," says his sixth-grade teacher. "You hear about Matthew's past, and you can't believe it. He has the best attitude. He has been given a lot of love from somewhere."
The teacher says Matthew has performed at the top of his class on standardized tests. "He's like the all-American kid," she adds. "He gets along with everyone in the class. They all respect him. I pass him in the mornings, riding his bike to school, and he's always smiling."
Matthew, who rarely talks at school about his past life, recently brought in a videotape of a Channel 5 story about him. The teacher asked Matthew if he wanted to talk to the class before showing it. He told her no. "He seemed to want them to know about it, but he didn't want to tell them," says his teacher, "so he let the video tell the story."
Koop, whose own parents are divorced, remains close to her father, a former military officer who now lives in South Texas. While she and her mother rarely speak--and she speculates her mom would disapprove of her newfound family--her father has embraced the children. During a visit over Christmas break, he took Koop and the boys deer hunting.
Koop's apartment has clearly become the children's home.
Roderick already calls Koop "Mom." Tall and broad for his age, he has started learning his numbers and colors. With Koop's prompting, he eagerly recites them for guests. When not tagging after his brother, he happily crawls into her lap.
Sitting there recently, he saw an infant on the television. He asked if they might have another baby.
Koop laughed. Where would he sit, she asked, if she had another baby in her arms?