A Different Perspective on Russian Adoption

posted by Dr. James G. Hood
Monday, May 3, 2010

From Horror to Happy Ending:
Russian girl survives awful first adoption to find love in a new home
by Jeb Phillips

Source: The Columbus Dispatch

April 26, 2010

These are the facts in the murder of 3-year-old Liam Thompson:
Gary and Amy Thompson of the Far West Side traveled to eastern Russia in April 2003 to adopt a little girl and a little boy. They already had two biological children – one together, another from Amy’s first marriage – and wanted to expand their family.

By summer, the Thompsons were sick of the adopted kids, according to a diary that Amy kept. Even though they weren’t biological siblings, Amy wrote of them as a pair. Liam had a cleft lip and palate that had been badly repaired in Russia. Amy wrote that she felt nothing but indifference toward the girl.

She and her husband had considered getting rid of the adopted children “like dogs in a pound,” she wrote.

On Oct. 11, 2003, Gary put Liam into a 140-degree bath and held him there while he struggled. Amy, a licensed practical nurse, was at work at a nursing home. The Thompsons never took Liam to a doctor or a hospital for his severe burns.

During the next five days, as the boy’s skin peeled off, Gary kept Liam on a mattress in the basement. He died on Oct. 16, his third birthday.

Gary Thompson, now 38, pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. Amy Thompson, now 39, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and endangering children and was sentenced to 14 years.

The older of Amy’s biological children went to a foster family. The younger went with relatives. But there was a little Russian girl in that household, too, the one adopted with Liam.

The girl’s name never became public in all of the media coverage of the case. Investigators said she wasn’t abused, but the Thompsons had neglected her. She was small and weak. Columbus homicide detective Patrick Dorn, who handled the case, remembered her as “abnormally withdrawn.”

Her name – once Irina Alexandrovna Pavlova, then Irina Thompson – is now Irina Elizabeth Jean Palmer. She’s 10 years old and is so strong that she can push herself up from a headstand to a handstand. She’ll let you feel her biceps, just for extra proof.

Pink is her favorite color. She wants to be a veterinarian or a zookeeper. She once ate five clementine oranges in a single sitting. She likes Taylor Swift.

“And Justin Bieber,” says her sister Cache Palmer, 9.

“And Miley Cyrus,” says her other sister, Jessica Palmer, also 9.

The Palmer girls are not about to let one sister talk without chiming in. While Irina answered questions on Wednesday evening about her favorite sports – lacrosse and gymnastics – Cache left the room for a minute and then reported that the girls have 32 trophies among them. Jessica said one of her trophies is the shiniest.

Don and Nadine Palmer already had adopted Jessica and were foster parents to Cache when Irina arrived at their Powell home in November 2003. Liam had died about three weeks earlier. Irina was about to turn 4.

Don, who is now 57, has two older children from a previous marriage. He thought, once upon a time, that that was plenty. The girls make fun of him for that now.

A caseworker with Franklin County Children Services who knew the Palmers thought they might be a good fit for Irina. Don, a retired manager for UPS, is the quiet, big-lug type. Nadine, 52, who once worked as a paralegal, smiles and laughs and talks every bit as much as her girls.

“They just have this warmth and this love,” said Thomas Taneff, the Columbus lawyer who handled the adoption case.

When they heard Irina’s story, the Palmers wanted to take care of her.
Russian adoptions occasionally end in horror stories like Liam’s, say Taneff and others who deal with them. Russia threatened to suspend adoptions to the United States this month after an adoptive mother from Tennessee put her 7-year-old on a plane, alone, back to Russia. She sent a note with him saying that he had psychological problems and she no longer wanted him.

Barb VanSlyck, a Columbus-based adoption counselor, said some Russian children develop emotional problems living in orphanages, and adoptive parents might not realize that. Health records and information about biological parents can be spotty and don’t prepare adoptive parents for the difficulties they might face, VanSlyck and others said.

In her diary, Amy Thompson wrote of Liam and Irina that “I am mad at them for being so much damn work, (angry) at them for not just fitting in and for having no personality.”

Irina was sweet from the time she joined the Palmer family, but she wasn’t affectionate the way Jessica and Cache were, her mother said. Jessica and Cache have been in the Palmer family since they were babies. For a long time, Irina didn’t quite trust that the Palmers were her “forever family,” her parents said.

She constantly seeks out people, making new friends, looking for more attachments, Nadine said. Before Irina talked about her favorite color and the sports she plays, she talked about her best friend, Haley, and a lot of her other friends. The next day, she got her mom to e-mail the names of friends she had forgotten to mention.

Irina also wants to know about her “tummy mommy” and what she looked like as a baby. The Palmers have no pictures of her before she came to them and not much information about her family in Russia.

But she knows that she is a Palmer now, and a gymnast, and a lover of sleepovers with her friends. Her parents call her “Irina Beana” and “Bean Bag.” Her father has laid down the law for all of the girls – no boyfriends until they’re 19.

“We’ll see how that goes,” he said. He sounded hopeless.

Irina remembers Liam. She remembers the basement he was kept in after he was burned. Nadine used to walk by the girls’ room and overhear Jessica and Cache:

“Tell us about Liam,” they would say.

Irina also remembers Amy and Gary Thompson. She knows what they did.

When their names come up, her parents – who have raised Irina and the two other girls to be cartwheeling, chattering, loving daughters – try to focus on the good.

“We always say that if Amy and Gary hadn’t gone to Russia, we wouldn’t have Irina,” Nadine said.

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