Friday, November 22, 2013

I am Devastated and Heartbroken

Hana Williams (Photo via Patheos)
Earlier this week, I read the feature story in Salon. Hana Williams, an Ethiopian adoptee, died after being systematically abused by her adoptive parents.

Researching Hana's story led me to the story of Lydia Schatz, a Liberian adoptee who was spanked to death by her parents.

In both cases, the parents, conservative Christians, seemed to believe they were disciplining their children as instructed in Scripture.

I'm devastated and heartbroken.

There really are no words.

Today, however, I feel compelled to speak up for these two girls who died at the hands of their adoptive parents.

What can I say that hasn't already been said? What can I add to the hundreds of news reports and magazine articles and blogs that are already posted online?

Maybe nothing. But I know that many families considering older child adoption end up here at my blog. Taking time to consider what went so terribly wrong in these adoptive families is an important step toward making sure it doesn't happen again. . . that it never happens in your family.

So if you are an adoptive parent, or if you know adoptive parents in your church, or if you are considering adoption yourself, please take some time to read the links below. Honor these girls by listening to their stories. Be informed.

Hana Williams, adopted from Ethiopia in 2008 at age 10; died May 11, 2011 at age 13. (Her age is disputed by her adoptive parents who claim she was actually older.)

Hana Williams: The tragic death of an Ethiopian adoptee, and how it could happen again - the story.

Corpses Don't Rebel: A former follower of Michael Pearl's "To Train Up a Child" reacts to the death of Hana Williams - a parent who at one time followed the same discipline system as Hana's parents speaks up.

The Legacy of Ethiopian Adoptee Hannah Williams - written by a mom with adopted Ethiopian kids.

Lydia Schatz, adopted from Liberia in 2007 at age 4; died February 5, 2010 at age 7.

Godly Discipline Turned Deadly - the story.

In which I discuss the unthinkable - written by a family friend in the days following Lydia's death. Honest and emotionally raw.

Couple sentenced for religious beating death and torture of children - the sentencing.

Tragedy in a homeschooling family - powerful words from a Christian dad.

There are some common threads in both girls' stories. Adoption. . . conservative Christianity. . . large families. . . homeschooling. . . and most specifically, following the teachings of Michael Pearl as outlined in the book, To Train Up a Child.

One thing I've noticed when things like this happen, is that if we fall into one of the groups listed above, we tend to quickly circle the wagons. We dismiss the offending families as fringe people who were not really part of our movement. Giving brief lip service to the dead child, we quickly move on to defending our rights to adopt. . . or practice our faith. . . or have a large family. . . or homeschool. . . or discipline our kids as we see fit. We worry about the fallout from the unfortunate incident.

That attitude compounds the tragedy.

Because this is not about defending our rights as adults. It's about speaking up for and standing up for defenseless children. They have to be the focus of the story.

There are so many thoughts swirling in my head, but underlying it all is a deep, deep sadness, that instead of finding love and safety in their new families, these girls were abused and tortured and killed.

And the part that makes my head hurt most of all is that I don't believe any of these parents thought they were child abusers.

They adopted older, traumatized children, and then viewed their every negative behavior as evil and rebellion.

Convinced that God had commanded them to use physical discipline, they punished every act of disobedience.

They fought to win every battle.

They killed their kids.

Heaven help us.

I've said it before. Dear Christian Parent Adopting an Older Child: Please Don't Spank.

And finally, To Train Up a Child Parenting Book Leads to Multiple Child Deaths. Some are asking if the author of this parenting book bears any moral responsibility in these children's deaths.

Sharing today at Imperfect Prose.


  1. Deeply sad along with you. Thank you for sharing these powerful words.

  2. Please don't forget 4 yo Sean Paddock who, I believe, was the first to die at the hands of his adopted parents in 2006. In his parents' house the book "To Train Up a Child" was also found along with 1/4" plastic plumbing tubing like these other two homes. He was wrapped so tightly in a blanket that he suffocated. His older brother and sister were also adopted by the Paddock's. "Sean's 9-year-old brother was beaten so badly he limped, a prosecutor said. Bruises marred Sean's backside, too, doctors found." (quote found at: )

    Let's not just single out the two African born children, because this issue really doesn't have anything to do with race or where they are born and it has EVERYTHING to do with the Pearls and their child abuse book "To Train Up a Child."

    1. Thank you for adding Sean's information, as well. I focused on Lydia and Hana simply because a lot of my readers are involved in the international adoption of older children and because I did extensive reading about their cases. I did not mean to imply in any way that Sean was less important. Thank you.

  3. Heaven help us all, indeed! I am devastated too when I read such stories. Spare the rod spoil the child does NOT mean HITTING! I read a good article about this the other day. It seems that the proper translation for rod is in fact the shepherd's rod, and it was refering to GUIDANCE, not necessarily HITTING. And even if you spank a child, how can one spank more than one or two slaps?! Sadly, many adopted or not children are abused by their parents.

  4. Thank you for sharing this info, though it hurts my heart--badly. We were introduced to the "To Train Up..." book years ago by a home schooling family we trusted. Some of the advice was helpful and practical, but some of it was troubling and scary. What bothered my husband the most was Pearl's belief that children are like "little animals," which they are not--they bear the image of God. What bothered me the most was the man's lack of humility, as if nothing he taught could ever be a mistake. i.e. if I followed Pearl's instructions to the letter and my child was not responding the way he thought my child should, then I must be doing it wrong, and if I continued to "do it wrong," then that meant I was "in rebellion." I began to feel guilt and condemnation because my eldest was not responding the way Pearl said he should. That's when I had the feeling something was wrong. My husband started referring to the Pearl books as "Beat Your Child in the Name of the Lord" and made the decision that the "To Train..." books were not for us. I had a horrible fear that some well-meaning parent could do irreparable harm to his child if he followed Pearl's instruction to the letter. I was hoping I was wrong; I hate to see what's happened to these kids. A more balanced and humble approach to corporal discipline, if a parent chooses to use it, is Ted Tripp's "Shepherding a Child's Heart." We studied Tripp's book at church and threw out the "To Train.." book.


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