A boy at the center of a four-year custody battle was taken sobbing and whimpering from his adoptive parents Sunday by the mother who had given him up and the father he had never met.
Biological parents Otakar and Daniela Kirchner picked up the 4-year-old boy, identified in court records only as Baby Richard, from the adoptive parents’ house in suburban Chicago.
The child cried, whimpered and reached out to his adoptive mother repeatedly as she turned him over to the Kirchners in front of the house where the boy had lived since he was 4 days old. The boy’s adoptive father looked on with tears in his eyes.
Many in a crowd of about 200 neighbors cried as the boy was driven away in a van and taken to his new home, also in suburban Chicago, with a stop first at McDonald’s.
Some called out “monster” at the Kirchners, who met with the boy and his adoptive parents for about an hour before taking him away. About a dozen police officers stood by.
Earlier in the day, the boy was sobbing so convulsively he seemed barely able to breathe. His adoptive mother was holding him inside the home.
“I don’t want to go.” The boy tried to scream through his sobs, but the words were choking him. “Don’t make me leave.”
There was no way for the woman he has always known as his mother to answer him. She was sobbing, too. “We’ll love you forever,” she managed to say.
“But don’t make me go,” he begged. “Please. Please. Don’t send me away.”
Not getting an answer from her - seeing that she was unable to get the words out - he turned to his adoptive father, a foot away.
“You, Daddy,” he called, stopping crying for a moment, allowing himself a few seconds of hope. “You can come with me.” His adoptive father, a firefighter, dissolved into tears.
The transfer capped a legal fight that has involved the governor, the Illinois General Assembly and judges all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The state Supreme Court granted Kirchner custody in January, ruling that the adoption was illegal because Kirchner had been told by the boy’s mother that the child had been born dead. He has fought for his son ever since learning the truth when the child was just 57 days old.
The prolonged court battle over Baby Richard, like that over Baby Jessica, has prompted Americans to re-evaluate adoption laws in light of the best interests of the child and the rights of the biological father.
Richard’s teary departure from his adoptive home mirrored that of Jessica, the 2-year-old returned to her birth parents by order of the U.S. Supreme Court.
In both cases, the child had been put up for adoption even though the father had not surrendered his parental rights.
Last year, Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar sided with the adoptive couple, warning that Richard would be “brutally, tragically torn away from the only parents he has ever known.”
Kirchner had said he wanted a gradual transfer of custody to make it easier on the child, but talks broke down with the adoptive parents, known in court papers only as Jane and John Doe.
Kirchner had proposed taking custody of the boy with the help of a child psychologist, plans for the Does to continue to see the boy and counseling for everyone in exchange for an end to all litigation. But lawyers for the Does and the child rejected the offer.
Finally on Friday, Kirchner demanded that the adoptive parents turn the boy over to him within two days.
Kirchner was abroad when the baby was born in March 1991. Told, incorrectly, that he had married someone else, the mother put the baby up for adoption and told Kirchner the child was dead.
When he learned the truth and began pursuing custody, a county judge ruled Kirchner an unfit parent because he had failed to demonstrate a reasonable degree of interest within 30 days of the boy’s birth.
Kirchner and the mother have since married.
The U.S. Supreme Court twice refused to consider the Does’ case. A third motion was filed with the court last month.
But Richard wasn’t an issue, or a controversy, or a court case on Sunday afternoon.
His expression becoming numb, his face slick with tears, he dug his fingers deeply into his mother’s neck. “Oh, Mommy,” he sobbed.
Chicago Tribune columnist Bob Greene contributed to this report.