A bronze statue was dedicated at a special needs school in Maryland Monday in memory of a 3-year-old South Korean boy who died while in the care of his American adoptive father.
Korean-American adoptee Thomas Park Clement created the sculpture, “Hyunsu’s Butterfly,” to remember the life of Hyunsu O'Callaghan, a special needs child brought over from South Korea in 2013.
His adoptive dad, Brian O’Callaghan, of Damascus, Maryland, pleaded guilty to first-degree child abuse resulting in death in connection with Hyunsu’s death in 2014. He was sentenced last year to 20 years in prison, but could be released sooner.
The statue, between 3 and 4 feet tall, portrays a child releasing from his hand a butterfly, wings outstretched, that’s about to take flight. It was unveiled along with a plaque Monday morning outside the Linwood Center, a school for autistic children in Ellicott City, Maryland.
“The symbolism is that the butterfly represents hope and new life and new beginnings and something beautiful out of tragedy,” Nanleigh Yi, president of Hyunsu Legacy of Hope, a group formed after the boy’s death, told NBC News.
A second matching statue has also been installed at the Daniel School in South Korea, which serves students with disabilities.
Since around the end of fighting in the Korean War in 1953, more than 107,000 Korean children have been adopted into American homes, according to the Donaldson Adoption Institute.
Yi said the original plan was to place a proper headstone at Hyunsu’s grave, which had been identified by a small plastic marker. But those efforts proved unsuccessful. Creating the statues offered the next best option, Yi said.
Clement, founder and president of medical device company Mectra Labs, worked on the figures for eight to nine months, and his wife, artist Wonsook Kim, added the finishing touches, according to Yi. The statues were completed earlier this year, Yi said.
Between 50 and 60 people attended the Maryland unveiling on Monday, according to Yi, including elected officials, adoptees, and the state’s first lady, Yumi Hogan.
Yi said it was important to tell attendees in her prepared remarks that Hyunsu’s biological mother sent him to the United States in good faith, hoping he would enjoy a beautiful life.
“I needed to make sure that the community was aware that mothers send their children because they want a better life, and they can’t give that as mothers that are unmarried in Korea, which is a taboo thing,” she said.