SHELBYVILLE, Tenn. — Torry Hansen was so eager to become a mother that she adopted an older child from a foreign country, two factors that scare off many prospective parents. Her bigger fears came later.
Torry's mother, Nancy Hansen, said the 7-year-old's violent episodes — which culminated in a threat to burn the family's home to the ground — terrified them into a shocking solution: The boy they renamed Justin was put on a plane by himself and sent back to Russia.
Now, outraged officials in that country are calling for a halt to adoptions by Americans, and Tennessee authorities are investigating the family. However, Nancy Hansen told The Associated Press that the motives of her daughter — a 33-year-old, unmarried nurse — were sincere.
"The intent of my daughter was to have a family and the intent of my whole family was to love that child," she said Friday.
The family was told the boy, whose Russian name is Artyom Savelyev, was healthy in September when he was brought from the town of Partizansk in Russia's Far East to his new home in the heart of Tennessee horse country. The skinny boy seemed happy, but the behavioral problems began soon after, Hansen said.
"The Russian orphanage officials completely lied to her because they wanted to get rid of him," she said.
Video: Questions surround mom Hansen chronicled a list of problems: hitting, screaming and spitting at his mother and threatening to kill family members. Hansen said his eruptions were often sparked when he was denied something he wanted, like toys or video games.
"He drew a picture of our house burning down and he'll tell anybody that he's going to burn our house down with us in it," she said. "It got to be where you feared for your safety. It was terrible."
Hansen said she thought that with their love, they could help him. "I was wrong," she said.
Adoption experts say many families are blinded by their desire to adopt and don't always understand what the orphans have sometimes endured — especially older children who may have been neglected or abandoned.
"They're not prepared to appreciate, psychologically, the kinds of conditions these kids have been exposed to and the effect it has had on them," said Joseph LaBarbera, a clinical psychologist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.
Hansen said her daughter sought advice from psychologists but never had her adoptive son meet with one. They chose an English-language home study program, hoping to enroll him in traditional school in the fall. He would play with his cousin, Logan, at the family's property in Shelbyville, where there is a large backyard and a swingset.
Hansen bought the plane ticket, and the family arranged to pay a man in Russia $200 to take him from the airport and drop him off at the Russian education ministry. He arrived alone Thursday on a United Airlines flight from Washington.
With him was a note that read, in part: "After giving my best to this child, I am sorry to say that for the safety of my family, friends, and myself, I no longer wish to parent this child."
The family, meanwhile, has rejected the Kremlin's sharp criticism and any notion that the boy was simply abandoned.
Pavel Astakhov, Russia's children's rights commissioner, said during a radio interview Saturday that three Russian families have already come forward and asked to adopt the boy.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has called the boy's return "the last straw" after a string of foreign adoption failures, and officials in Moscow have called for a suspension of all U.S. adoptions in Russia — which totaled about 1,600 last year, according to the nonprofit U.S. advocacy group the National Council For Adoption.
The Russian education ministry immediately suspended the license of the group involved in the adoption — the World Association for Children and Parents, a Renton, Washington-based agency — for the duration of an investigation.
Experts and adoptive parents have reacted with similar shock, though they stress that the vast majority of adopted children are raised in happy, loving homes.
"That incidents like the one today can cause children to remain in orphanages rather than be adopted by loving families is the real tragedy," said Sue Gainor, who adopted a child from Russia in 2001 and is the national chairperson of Families for Russian and Ukranian Adoption.
Not clear if laws broken
Bob Tuke, a Nashville attorney and member of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, said abandonment charges against the family could depend on whether the boy was a U.S. citizen.
It wasn't clear if the adoption had become final but a Tennessee health department spokeswoman said there was no birth certificate issued for the boy, a step that would indicate he had become a U.S. citizen.
There was no response to a knock at Torry Hansen's door, and a phone listing couldn't be found for her. Her mother also declined to put AP in touch with her, and the family has since retained an attorney.
Bedford County Sheriff Randall Boyce said it was not clear whether any laws had been broken.
"This is extremely unusual," Boyce said. "I don't think anyone has seen something like this before."
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