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

President of the New York borough of Staten Island, home to a large enclave of Albanians, Molinari first learned about the Krasniqis' plight from his hairdresser, who is a cousin of Kathy's. She brought him a tape of the story that aired on 20/20.

"I was appalled at what I saw," says Molinari. "It was one of these cases where the system breaks down. There were major gaffes--most of them committed by lawyers who didn't do their job. Good God, what was the sin of the mother? There's no way in the United States you would take two children from their mother who did nothing wrong except accompany her children to an unsanctioned visit in a public place--and even that is arguable.

"The first time the kids visited Sam with the social worker, she left Kathy and the children with him, and that signaled it was OK," Molinari says. "Was [Kathy's] mistake deserving of such a horrible penalty? You might expect this to happen in some foreign country that doesn't have a court system, but not here. This is a national tragedy."

When Molinari first learned about the situation, he contacted Gov. Bush's office on the Krasniqis' behalf. But he was told that once the adoption was final, there was nothing anyone could do. In the intervening years, he talked with the Krasniqis frequently and helped bring them to Staten Island, where they appealed to the local mosque for spiritual and financial help. Molinari also helped the Krasniqis raise money to pay a private detective to find the children.

Earlier this year, the detective tracked down Tim and Lima. They were living in a small town north of Houston with their adoptive mother and several younger siblings. Their life revolved around the church where the adoptive father's brother was the pastor. They attended a small school run by the church.

The detective took pictures of the children and showed them to Sam and Kathy to make sure he had the right people. Lima, with her long dark hair and easy smile, looked the same. Tim was now more than 6 feet tall and wore glasses, but Kathy was pretty sure it was him.

One Sunday after church, the detective slipped Tim an envelope with a prepaid phone card and a letter written by Prospere telling him that his parents loved and missed him and hoped he would contact them.

Months passed without a word from Tim. Sam and Kathy were beside themselves with grief. Why hadn't Tim phoned? Was he scared? Had he been brainwashed? Kathy refused to believe Tim's silence was a message that he had rejected them. She wanted to see him with her own eyes and hear from his lips whether or not he wanted them back in his life.

"If he sees me one time, he will remember the kind of mother I was," Kathy says.

Sam and Kathy told Prospere they wanted the children's address on May 1, so they could find Tim on their own once he turned 18.

Prospere knows one thing for certain: Giving the Krasniqis the address and letting them force an encounter with their children is a bad idea. It would no doubt spook the adoptive family, who would call the police and have the Krasniqis arrested. But convincing the Krasniqis of this is no easy matter.

Prospere seeks Molinari's counsel--they've chatted several times over the years--and the New York politico agrees. What would be best, says Molinari, is a meeting between mother and son that everyone agrees to. Molinari even places another call to Gov. Bush to see if he can intervene, but nothing comes of this.

The Krasniqis keep pressing Prospere for the address, and he keeps putting them off. Molinari tries to broker the increasingly strained situation between Prospere and his desperate clients.

"This is a highly charged issue," Molinari explains. "Reed is concerned about divulging the children's whereabouts. God knows what could happen. But this is the Krasniqis' entire lives. Kathy has turned very bitter and doesn't believe anyone is on their side. But anyone with heart has to put themselves in her place. Who could possibly pass judgment on her? Who could defend what happened to her was proper and fair? There is nothing worse than losing a child. A child's death is a tragedy, but in time you come to accept it. Here, they are still alive, with a different religion, living in someone else's house. I think it is important to everybody to get some resolution. But there has to be intervention from the outside."

Kathy threatens to sit in Prospere's office until he gives her the address. Prospere has been reluctant to contact the adoptive family himself. He thinks it will be "psychologically threatening if a lawyer shows up on the scene." Finally, he gets word to the adoptive family about what is transpiring. The adoptive mother and uncle call Prospere. They have a pleasant conversation and tell the lawyer they have no problem with Tim re-establishing contact with his parents. In fact, they encourage it. But ultimately, they say, it has to be Tim's decision.

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