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

With much trepidation, Tim agrees a few days later to meet with Kathy in Austin. But he cancels at the last minute for reasons that either no one knows or no one is willing to share with Prospere.

"I know there couldn't be a more tumultuous time in Tim's life," Prospere says. "I think he and his sister finally have some stability, and they don't want to be used as a wishbone in the system. But it is impossible for an 18-year-old who is not a parent to understand what a parent like Kathy is feeling. The fact that the Krasniqis have waited as long as they have to try and find them is amazing. But I don't know how much longer I can keep a lid on."

Kathy is clearly brokenhearted when she arrives at Prospere's office and learns she will not be seeing Tim today. But she is appreciative that the former foster father has taken the time to come. Some yawning chasm of misperceptions and misunderstanding that has separated all sides finally has begun to be bridged.

He apologizes for not knowing more about their culture when the children came to live with him. He didn't understand why Tim announced to him that he didn't eat pork. He tells her what wonderful children they were when they were in his care. He and his wife did not have a moment's trouble with them. Of all the foster children they've taken in, the man tells her, they were the most special to him.

When Kathy talks about how much she loves Tim and Lima and what a good mother she tried to be to them, the man cries with her.

"I know you are in pain," he says. "I know you've been hurt, and I hurt for you. You will always be his mother." Then he hands her the children's most recent school photos as a gift.

After Kathy leaves, the foster father stays behind and finally explains to Prospere why Tim is apprehensive.

"The problem has nothing to do with the Krasniqis," Prospere says. "These people were operating under the assumption that the Krasniqis were violent, the kids would be kidnapped, and their lives were in danger. After the 20/20 story ran, the adoptive family was so fearful, the father closed his business and the family fled Lufkin. The kids had to leave school and their friends. Financially the family has never recovered. A year or so later, the father died of a heart attack. Tim blames Sam and Kathy for causing all these problems."

Prospere is relieved to learn that the foster father doesn't think the children were abused. "He doesn't think anything happened to the boy," Prospere says. "And the daughter had an unnatural way of showing affection that stemmed from the cultural deal."

The day after the early Saturday-morning meeting in Prospere's office, Prospere, who is doing all this for free, and the foster father fly to Houston to meet with Tim and his adoptive mother and uncle. The lawyer wants them to know their fears are misplaced, that the Krasniqis have no intention of harming or kidnapping anyone. Tim calls Kathy from the meeting and tells her he wants to meet with her, but isn't sure when.

Prospere returns from the meeting elated. "My vocabulary isn't extensive enough to describe those two folks--the mother and uncle," he says. "They are as nice as can be. They said their philosophy with all of their foster children has always been to encourage contact with their biological parents. They see it as a natural phenomenon, like birds returning to the nest. They've never discouraged the kids under any circumstances, and they couldn't be happier this was taking place.

"At first they believed that Kathy and Sam were head of some organized Muslim cartel that was devoted full-time to getting these kids back. When I separated fact from fiction, they didn't express any fears about Sam and Kathy," Prospere adds. "I believe the healing has begun."

A face-to-face meeting between Kathy and Tim is set up for Saturday, June 13, after he returns from spending a week on a relative's ranch. The plan is for Tim to spend the weekend in Dallas with the foster father, whose son is a close friend of Tim's.

Prospere tries to prepare Kathy for the encounter. He's worried that she'll push too hard, will ask too many questions, have too many expectations, and try to extract things Tim's not willing to give up.

"She's going to have to accept the fact that Tim is like a nephew or first cousin she hasn't seen in a long time. He will call and visit occasionally, and the more pleasant she makes it, the more it's going to happen," Prospere says. "Tim and Lima are not the kids that she knew when they were taken from her. She has to accept them for who and what they've become. If she doesn't, she will totally alienate them.

"They are very, very comfortable with these folks. Tim is most worried about his sister. What he is concerned about is being uprooted, if not physically, then psychologically and emotionally. It's easy for me to say. I know this isn't some prep-school roommate she hasn't seen in eight years, but I hope she can resist the temptation to smother him. If she can play it cool, it will be something he wants to get back to. In the end, they could have three sets of people who love and care about them. But Kathy has to realize she will be one of three. It will take a long time for her to attain a comfort level with these children that they have with these folks and [the foster family]. The more pressure Kathy exerts, the further she'll push them away."

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