A mother and child reunion

Eight years after the state took away their children, an Albanian Muslim couple take their first, bitter steps toward rebuilding their broken hearts and family

Though their cause was championed by everyone from local and national Muslim organizations to a high-profile New York politician, who contacted Gov. George W. Bush on their behalf, the Krasniqis could not get their children back. Like a real-life twist on the scary children's tale Hansel and Gretel, the Krasniqis held on to the only hope left--that someday their children would find their way home.

In place of breadcrumbs, the path would have to be forged by the children's distant memories of the life they once knew; the persistence of a crusty, determined lawyer; and the support of the people Tim and Lima now call family.

Once upon a time, Sam and Kathy Krasniqi seemed to embody the American dream. They fled the economic oppression and ethnic tensions of their homeland with little but determination. After years of hard work, they built a successful business. They owned a Mercedes and a four-bedroom house with a pool, and their children attended one of the best elementary schools in Richardson.

But like many immigrants, they held fast to Old World customs. Their parents arranged the Krasniqis' marriage. They spoke only Albanian at home with their children, addressed each other by their given names Sadri (Sam) and Sabhete (Kathy), and mainly socialized with family members and other Yugoslavs.

The disparate worlds in which the Krasniqis lived set the stage for what one anthropologist called a "tragic cultural misunderstanding" that ultimately destroyed their family.

Born in a small village in Kosovo, the autonomous Albanian region of Yugoslavia that is the site of the region's most recent ethnic bloodshed, Sam immigrated to the United States in 1971. A former Yugoslavian police officer, Sam spent more than a decade in Chicago working two menial jobs to save enough money to start a family.

When he turned 40 and felt financially secure enough to marry, Sam returned home to meet the bride his family had chosen for him. Fifteen years Sam's junior, Kathy was still living at home, where she cared for her father, a widower for almost 20 years. After a brief courtship, they married and moved to Chicago, where their son, Urtim, was born. A few years later, they moved to Dallas, where Sam opened his first pizza parlor. In 1984, Lima was born. As their family grew, so did their prosperity; by the late 1980s, the Krasniqis owned five Brothers Pizza franchises. Kathy and Sam worked together at the store on Montfort Road, across from Valley View Mall. On Saturdays, Kathy took the children to work with her.

On a hot mid-August day in 1989, the family's lives changed forever.
On this Saturday morning, 9-year-old Tim pleaded with his father to attend a karate tournament in which the boy was competing at a Plano high school gymnasium. Although Saturday was his busiest workday, Sam agreed to go. Tim's vivacious sister Lima, who was almost 5, insisted that her father take her too.

An hour and a half into the tournament, Plano police officers arrested Sam on charges of indecency with a child. Several witnesses sitting behind Sam and Lima, who were seated on the front row of the bleachers, saw Sam slip his hand inside Lima's underpants and squeeze and rub her genitals.

From the outset, the case against Sam Krasniqi seemed too strange to be true. Why would a man sexually molest his daughter in front of 500 spectators? Sam and Kathy Krasniqi insisted the whole episode had been a misunderstanding. Sam insisted that his actions were not sexual. He had only touched his daughter in a playful, affectionate way that was common and accepted in his country, he told authorities. Kathy told child welfare workers what Sam had done was all right where they came from, and her own father had touched her the same way when she was little.

Neither the police nor the social workers bought the Krasniqis' story. A social worker removed the children from their home and placed them in a foster home--a frightening experience for the children, who had never even been left with a baby-sitter. Tim and Lima would later tell a caseworker how the foster mother had scared them when they came downstairs to ask for a glass of water and she yelled at them, while brandishing a knife, to get back to bed.

At a court hearing 10 days after Sam's arrest, a Department of Human Services supervisor decided that the children should go back home, because the foster placement had been so traumatic for them. The court temporarily barred Sam from having any contact with his children. He moved into an apartment. The court also ordered the family into counseling.

For the next four months, the Krasniqis abided by the court orders. Dr. Paul Prescott, a leading child-abuse expert at Children's Medical Center, examined Tim and Lima and found no physical evidence of abuse. But the invasive exam upset Tim terribly. The family also underwent a psychological evaluation. The psychologist recommended that Kathy, whose English was limited, and the children would benefit most from family and individual counseling. Her suggestion was not heeded.

Sam attended a sexual offenders group, but he made little progress. He refused to admit that what he did was sexual in nature. "If I touched her like they said, for sex, I would kill myself," Sam told the Observer.

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