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

Kathy attended a group with other mothers and consistently maintained that Sam was innocent. Tim and Lima attended a group for victims of incest. The children barely said a word during these sessions. Tim complained to the caseworker that he didn't like talking about other people's problems and that his life wasn't as bad as the other children's. He said the other children didn't like their fathers and were mad at them. He told a psychologist that he didn't like how the other children viewed their fathers.

Tim and Lima told their caseworker that they missed their father desperately. She let them call him after the group meetings and noted how much this improved their spirits. DHS finally allowed Sam and the children to visit at the Krasniqi home under the supervision of the caseworker.

In the afternoon of January 3, 1990, the day of the first visitation, the DHS caseworker arrived at the Krasniqi home to find it burned to the ground. Kathy walked around in a daze, while Sam clutched the children and wept. The caseworker accompanied the family to Sam's pizza restaurant on Montfort Road so they could get something to eat and Kathy and the children could figure out where they would spend the night.

Kathy and the children decided to sleep at Sam's apartment, and he would sleep at the restaurant until Kathy could rent an apartment of her own. Though legally Sam was not allowed to have unsupervised contact with his children, the caseworker had to leave and gave Kathy permission to stay with the children at the restaurant a little while longer. She also allowed them to return the next day to eat there, but she admonished Kathy not to allow Sam to be alone with the children.

Over the next several weeks, the caseworker was busy, according to her notes, and did not have as much contact with Kathy or the children. During this time, the caseworker learned that the investigators determined the Krasniqi house fire was caused by arson. They suspected Sam and possibly Kathy of setting it. (A year later, a jury found Sam innocent of setting fire to his house.)

Seven weeks after the house fire, a woman in Kathy's counseling group took her children to Brothers Pizza late on a Saturday afternoon. She was shocked to find Kathy and the children there along with Sam. She reported to a DHS supervisor that Sam had engaged in "flagrant shows of physical affection with Lima." He had repeatedly hugged and kissed her and was alone with her for at least a few minutes in the pizza-making room. The woman's 6-year-old daughter claimed she saw Sam touch Lima's bottom.

On Monday, the DHS caseworker drove to Brentfield Elementary School to ask Tim and Lima if what DHS had been told was true. A tearful Tim told the caseworker that their mother said it was all right for them to see their father as long as she was there. Lima admitted she had seen her father. "He didn't hurt me," she cried.

The caseworker and her supervisor decided they could not trust Kathy to protect the children. As Kathy waited in her car for the children to get out of school--as she did each day--the welfare worker and the children drove away. She ordered the children not to look Kathy's way.

When Kathy asked the caseworker why she took the children away, she told Kathy it was because she was not protecting them as she had said she was. "I thought it was all right for them to see their father at the restaurant," Kathy said.

The children spent the next 30 days in an assessment center in Fort Worth. Once again, a doctor examined them for evidence of sexual abuse. Tim was so anxious, he became ill during the exam, which found no evidence of abuse. An Arlington doctor claimed she found evidence of vaginal scarring in Lima. (A few weeks later, yet a third doctor--from Children's Medical Center--would give Lima another gynecological exam. This doctor did not find any scarring or other evidence of abuse. But only the second doctor testified at the trial that ended in the Krasniqis losing their children.)

In an unusual move, Sam and Kathy's parental termination trial was scheduled a month and a half later--well before Sam's criminal trial on sexual molestation charges. Because of the emergency removal of the children, the Krasniqis pushed for a speedy resolution in hope they could be reunited with their children. Had Sam been found innocent in a criminal trial first, it could have had a mitigating effect in the civil trial.

Financially strapped, Sam and Kathy made another crucial error in hiring the same attorney to represent them both. Had Kathy had her own lawyer, he might have been able to make a stronger case for preserving her parental rights. The lawyer also was not well versed in family law, which was so obvious even the caseworker mentioned it in her notes.

During the three-day trial, Sam once again maintained that his gestures in the gym the previous August were meant in a playful, affectionate, but not sexual way.

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