I've been struggling for days, tying to figure out how to talk about the death of 13-year-old Hanna Williams.
This beautiful little girl and her younger brother came to the United States from Ethiopia in 2008 as the newly adopted children of Carri and Larry Williams. Now the Washington state couple, who also have six biological children, have been charged with Hanna's death in a case of murder by abuse. Their surviving children have been removed from the home. News Channel 8 of Portland posted the probably cause affadavit online; I read it after dinner one night last week and then couldn't sleep.
Hanna died of starvation and hypothermia after being forced outside on a cold spring night, but she suffered at the hands of the Williams for years. She slept in a dark closet. She wasn't permitted to use the family's indoor bathrooms, but was forced to use an outhouse. She was beaten daily. Her hair was cut off. She was starved.
Carri Williams apparently told neighbors and friends that she didn't like Hanna, and couldn't stand to look at her "grumpy face," but claimed she loved the girl because it was her duty as a Christian. Friends suggested Williams consider finding a new home for Hanna and her brother, but she rejected the idea, claiming no one else would want such "awful" children.
The Williams apparently culled many of their "discipline techniques" from the controversial book To Train Up a Child, which some Amazon reviewers describe as a "manual of child abuse." The book's authors, evangelists Michael and Debi Pearl, run an enterprise known as No Greater Joy Ministries. Hanna's death is not the first to be linked to their methods.
Hanna's murder is inherently sad and disgusting, but I think my despair is deepened by issues of concern around adoption that I can't really articulate. Most of the adoptive parents I know are thoughtful, caring and committed individuals who nurture their children beautifully. I feel lucky to know them. But every now and then I see or hear something in real life that makes me cringe -- like the divorcing couple who agree that neither of them wants their adopted child. The internationally adopted siblings who land in foster care after their new dad molests them. The email I receive from a friend asking if I can help find a new home for a couple of Ethiopian sisters whose adoption isn't working out. Hanna Williams' death falls at the extreme end of a troubling continuum of adoption tragedies that are weighing on my heart.
In my next post, I'll discuss what changes need to happen in the adoption world to better protect children like Hanna -- and what each of us needs to do.