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

Delipshy had asked Tim and Lima's most recent caseworker--their fourth in two years--why DHS did not investigate placing the children with Kathy's brother in New York, who had expressed an interest in caring for them. "[The caseworker] stated to me that he had not and would not investigate relative placement 'because these people always stay together,'" Delipshy wrote in her affidavit.

In the fall of 1994, Tim and Lima's last foster family adopted them. By then the children, who were living on a farm in Lufkin, had converted to Christianity. In their hearts, the Krasniqis believed their children were lost to them forever. But they never gave up hope of seeing them again.

They were temporarily comforted by the media attention and, with it, the outpouring of support. But ultimately, the newspaper and television stories, the protest marches, and the candlelight vigils in Austin got them nowhere. After each groundswell of attention and support subsided, the Krasniqis were left more dejected than before.

Through the years, assorted lawyers convinced the Krasniqis they could do something for them. They spent money and got little in return. One local lawyer did some research, wrote letters to assorted politicians, and even wrote a heartfelt missive to the adopted parents, asking them to consider making contact with the Krasniqis. None of his efforts panned out. The lawyer said he was doing all this for free, then he tried to collect the $50,000 that people had donated to Sam and Kathy's effort to be reunited with their children. It was just one more experience that left the Krasniqis embittered.

Two years ago, Sam and Kathy finally met a lawyer who gave them real hope of seeing their children again. Reed Prospere is a no-nonsense, tough-talking criminal attorney and former prosecutor who came to the Krasniqis' aid in a roundabout way. In the winter of 1996, the Rutherford Institute, a Virginia-based legal organization that fights cases involving religious liberty, parental rights, and free-speech issues, asked Prospere to represent Sam in a bizarre criminal trial in which he was facing three charges of felony retaliation. The case stemmed from an emotional interview Sam gave to a Dallas Morning News reporter about his family saga. In the story, Sam was quoted saying that if he ever saw a certain witness again who testified that his parental rights should be severed, "I would kill her."

Prospere convinced a jury that Sam's threats were not serious, but were said out of despair, the product of years of feeling culturally misunderstood and victimized by the court system. After securing a not-guilty verdict, Prospere turned his attention to helping the Krasniqis make contact with their children. He made no promises, because he knew the prospects were grim.

Prospere was convinced that the "system made a terrible mistake" in taking the children from the Krasniqis. "Say Sam overstepped the boundaries of his own country's cultural standards and Kathy stood by and did nothing," Prospere says. "Even in this worst-case scenario, if you take 100 cases that same year where a parent's rights were terminated, the Krasniqis' case would pale in comparison."

Fueled by a sense of injustice, Prospere wanted to help Sam and Kathy. But he was familiar enough with the system to know that his clients were wasting their time and money appealing to the courts and welfare system for relief.

Prospere leveled with the Krasniqis. They had only one option left: to wait until Tim turned 18, when he is an adult and could make his own decisions.

"I stopped the bleeding," says Prospere. "I stopped the financial, emotional, and psychological bleeding."

He closed one wound, only to open another.

For the last year and a half, the Krasniqis could think of little else than May 1, 1998, the day Tim would turn 18. But deciding exactly how and when the Krasniqis would approach their son was an anguishing process. No one wanted to make a mistake and ruin the last best shot the Krasniqis had at being reunited with their children.

Prospere felt that a reunion needed to happen gradually, with Kathy meeting with the children first. Tim and Lima hadn't seen Sam for eight years, since the court took the children away. The stress had taken its toll on Sam, now 60. His mounting legal bills forced him to close his pizza parlors, and for the last few years he pumped gas at a North Dallas service station. But his boss recently let him go, saying he was too slow and distracted.

Sam seemed to understand why Prospere wanted to do it this way, but frankly the lawyer wasn't sure what was the right approach. As Prospere would later say, "They just don't teach this stuff in law school."

Prospere decided it would be best if the Krasniqis could somehow get word to their son that they were trying to reach him. He convinced the Krasniqis to raise $15,000 to hire a private investigator to find out where the children were living. For assistance, Sam and Kathy turned to Guy Molinari, a former New York congressman who had been a source of comfort and support to them in recent years.

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