By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
In the early-morning darkness, Kathy Krasniqi, a stout woman in a pretty print dress, waits on the front porch of her Richardson home. Her feet swollen like sausages from working double shifts at a hospital cafeteria, she gingerly makes her way to the car.
With her hobbled gait, puffy eyes, and sallow skin, Kathy looks much older than her 44 years. That she has slept just six hours the previous week adds to her haggard appearance, but more than her work has exhausted her. All week, she has been filled with an uneasy anticipation that keeps her awake nights.
This Saturday in late May, Kathy Krasniqi is supposed to meet with the son and daughter the state of Texas took from her eight years ago. Her son, Tim, was 9, and her daughter, Lima, was 5 then. She has fought and ached and hoped for this moment almost every second since. It is now within her grasp, but it is almost too much to fathom.
The plan is to meet Reed Prospere, her lawyer, at his Preston Center office at 6 a.m. and then drive to Austin--a neutral destination halfway between Dallas and the town where the children live with their adoptive family.
But as soon as Kathy enters Prospere's office, she knows something is wrong. A man whom she has never seen before is there, and she knows--from a decade of dashed hopes--the day will not end as she had planned.
Kathy looks from the stranger's face to Prospere's, trying to size up the situation. Before Prospere can utter a word, she says, "We're not going to Austin, are we Mr. Reed?"
"No, Kathy, there has been a change of plans," Prospere says evenly.
For a few seconds no one says anything, and the room is thick with tension.
"I think my heart has stopped," Kathy finally says, as she collapses onto a leather sofa across from Prospere's desk. "This was to be the happiest day of my life."
The stranger walks over to Kathy, extends a fleshy hand, and introduces himself. He slowly and carefully explains that he is a close friend of Tim and Lima. The man, who does not want to be identified publicly, was their first foster father, with whom the children lived for a year in the early 1990s. The children's adoptive parents are friends of his, and he has stayed in contact with Tim and Lima over the years.
Kathy takes a few minutes to focus on what the man is saying, as the words penetrate the fog of disappointment that enshrouds her.
He tells Kathy that Tim is not ready to see her; he is afraid of something he can't quite explain. "He's been through so much...uncertainty and turmoil," the man says, grasping for the right words. "But there's never been any doubt that Tim loves you. In fact, the last thing he said to me before he left our house was to tell you he was all right."
Kathy begins to cry. "I love those children more than myself. I will always be their mom."
The man nods his head in understanding. As they continue to talk, Kathy's face starts to soften, the bitterness and pain seeming to evaporate. She realizes that this man standing before her is the first tangible link she has had to her children since she lost them, and that he might be the one person who can help her find a way back to them.
"In eight years, I never meet anyone who spent even 24 hours with my children," she says in her thick Eastern European accent. "I thank you a million times for what you did for my children."
The man tells Kathy that he is urging Tim to meet with her, that he thinks it is a good idea. Unfortunately, he adds, she will have to be patient--painful advice she is tired of hearing. Using a green cloth-covered Bible as support, the man writes down his phone number on a shred of paper and hands it to Kathy. He encourages her to call anytime and asks if there is anything that he can do for her.
"Please, please, don't forget about us," Kathy pleads.
Emotionally drained and physically exhausted, Kathy leaves the office and returns home to wait, once again. The day she has been living for will come sooner than she knows.
Above all, Kathy and Sam Krasniqi want their children to know they have never stopped fighting for them. They spent six long, expensive years battling for them through the courts. When they lost the legal fight--and in the process their once-thriving pizza business--they turned to the court of public opinion for help.
The Krasniqis, Albanian immigrants from the former Yugoslavia, first told their story on the pages of the Dallas Observer ("Tell Mama Why You Cry" November 17, 1994) and later to a national audience on the ABC-TV newsmagazine 20/20 and Donahue.
Thousands of letters and more than $50,000 poured into the Krasniqis' home from around the world, from viewers outraged that a father who was acquitted of sexually molesting his daughter and a mother who had not been charged with anything--except believing in her husband's innocence--could lose custody of their children. And they were equally upset that the state placed these Muslim children with foster parents who converted them to Christianity.