AAI, Hana Williams’ Agency, Is Out of Business: Now What?

2014 has been a rough ride for international adoption agencies: Celebrate Children International was the subject of a 48 Hours investigation, and International Adoption Guides is under indictment. The so-called Children in Families First legislation is under siege and appears to be foundering. And now Adoption Advocates International is closing. What other signs are needed to convince agencies and agency-affiliates that they need to change the way they are doing business?

On March 7, Adoption Advocates International, the Washington state adoption agency used by Larry and Carri Williams to adopt Hana and Immanuel Williams, announced it was closing its Ethiopian adoption program. Today, March 12, it appears they are closing their doors completely.

An article about AAI’s closing was printed here, in today’s Peninsula Daily News.

Many people are happy that AAI is closing, given AAI’s role in the placement of Hana Alemu and Immanuel Williams. As always in complex situations, though, there are other elements to consider. Many families in the process of adopting through AAI, not just from Ethiopia but from Burkina Faso, China, and perhaps elsewhere, are now in a difficult emotional and financial position. AAI has placed some 4500 adoptees over the last 3 decades whose records must be (I hope) kept available for them, somewhere. There are now children who will not be adopted, who perhaps legitimately needed new, safe, loving families. There are first/original parents, always the most marginalized in adoption, who may not be able to access information about their children.

Interestingly, AAI is a Hague-accredited agency, certified by the Council on Accreditation through April 2016. That COA accreditation is intended to be a high standard that signifies an agency is in excellent financial and programmatic health.

Christian World Adoptions, a South Carolina adoption agency, suddenly closed its doors and declared bankruptcy early in 2013. It was also a COA/Hague certified agency, right to the end. It startles me that 2 COA-accredited agencies within about a year can suddenly just close. What went horribly wrong in their financial status that COA totally missed?

According to the COA website:

Hague management standards apply to all adoption service providers regardless of the type of provider or services provided. These management standards promote accountability and include:

  • Licensing and Corporate Governance
  • Financial and Risk Management
  • Ethical Practices and Responsibilities
  • Professional Qualifications and Training of Employees
  • Information Disclosure, Fee Practices, and Quality Control
  • Responding to Complaints and Records and Reports Management
  • Service Planning and Delivery

When 2 COA-accredited international adoption agencies abruptly close within about one year of each other, many questions are raised about COA accreditation. Certainly it casts a shadow on the strength and value of the accreditation process for other currently accredited adoption agencies.

According to page 36 of COA’s 92 page Policies and Procedures Manual-Hague, when an agency closes, it has to provide to COA the following: a listing of all Hague adoption service(s), the closing date, detailed description of reasons for the decision, and the transition and referral plan for consumers.

In this case, I am guessing that “consumers” are the prospective adoptive parents: the paying customers. I’d like to think that COA would also demand information about the plans and needs of all the children (some of who are surely adults now) who were adopted through AAI, and even of the first/original parents.

Ethiopian adoptions have been problematic for a while, for many reasons: increased awareness of fraud and corruption, implementation of new procedures, increased costs due to labor/time of ensuring the accuracy about why children become available for adoption, and more. There have been far fewer adoptions from Ethiopia in recent years, and there is increasingly great concern in Ethiopia about the outcomes of adopted children. The majority, of course, do fine, but the reality of Hana and Immanuel weighs heavily on many minds around the globe.That’s true for other Ethiopian adoptees. Kathryn Joyce’s Slate article, Hana Williams: The Tragic Death of an Ethiopian Adoptee, And How It Could Happen Again, describes other placements by AAI, and how these Ethiopian adoptees are greatly struggling.

The recent death of Korean adoptee Hyunsu O’Callaghan surely makes all of us–adoption agencies, adoptees, adoptive parents, first/original parents–pause and reflect with sorrow as well. What now?

Indeed, it’s hard to cheer about AAI’s closing. So many doors are still left open for vulnerable families and children around the world.

This could be an incredible opportunity for adoption agencies and adoption agency-related organizations (Joint Council on international Children’s Services, National Council For Adoption, Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, for example) to reach out to those who’ve been too often excluded from adoption policy discussions: adult adoptees (yes, including those whom agencies have written off as angry and rude), international first/original parents (to whom adoption agencies have a deep, ethical obligation), and even adoptive parents who disagree with them. We all want children to be in safe, loving homes. We all agree that if adoption is a viable option, it must be transparent, and all involved must be held accountable. Some are happy to see adoption agencies close, and most of us also know that the closures don’t mean that vulnerable children are now safe and cared for.

It’s time to have some really hard conversations, and not simply because adoption agencies are closing. It’s because all voices are needed if we are going to see viable, positive change in adoption policy. Pay attention, adoption agencies and coalitions: the changes are happening now, due to the adopted adults and first parents who are stepping up, speaking out, and creating overdue change. 

Adoption and Tragedy: Requiem for Hyunsu

A child died recently, a 3-year-old boy, adopted last October from Korea. His adoptive father has been arrested for the murder. (Read more here: Washington Post) It is a tragedy, and it is an adoption issue. His name (because names matter): Madoc Hyunsu (also spelled Hyeonsu) O’Callaghan.

As an adoptive mother, my heart aches for Hyunsu. I think about his first mother, his Korean family. There have been powerful vigils held in Seoul, led by adult adoptees and others, bringing all kinds of people together for reflection and prayer about the loss of this little boy.

Via Jane Jeong Trenka www.adoptionjustice.com

Via Jane Jeong Trenka

There is much powerful information here at Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea.

There is a Facebook page In Remembrance of Hyeonsu. There is a virtual vigil taking place today, hosted by Adoption Links of DC. So many people, around the globe, are embracing this child.

An adult adoptee from China wrote an insightful, eloquent post on the great blog Red Thread Broken: “Honoring the Life and Death of Hyunsu O’Callaghan.” It’s so important to hear the perspectives of adult adoptees, especially perhaps around the death of an adopted child; their insight cuts close to the bone.

Here’s an excerpt from Red Thread Broken:

“Whenever there is an outpouring of outspoken voices in the adoptee community, dismissive comments from observers are sure to follow. These are some of the common thoughts that seem to be in question:

  • “Doesn’t it make you glad you didn’t get up in a home like that one?” – No, it doesn’t make me glad or extra grateful. Because my family came together in an alternative way, I shouldn’t have to feel appreciative my parents didn’t murder me. It should be my right, not a privilege to be in a safe home.
  • “Biological parents abuse/neglect/murder their kids, too.” – That’s a correct statement, but that fact shouldn’t allow us to ignore the severity of the same problems in adoptive homes.
  • “Adoptive homes actually have a staggeringly low rate of abuse … I mean crazy low…when compared to biological families.” – There is actually a long history of abuse and filicide in adoptee’s homes. However low you claim statistics to be, no child should be subject to abuse in their home. The fact that it’s happening at all means that it’s an issue.
  • “This is NOT an adoption issue.” – Hyunsu had no agency in what happened to him. He was placed for adoption in Korea. The agency matched Hyunsu with the O’Callaghan’s. Adoptive parent screening and home studies are not extensive enough. Adoption is what placed him in the hands of a murderer. This is most definitely an adoption issue.

It’s sickening to me that when a tragedy like this ensues and explicitly shows the brokenness of the international adoption system, people continue arguing the ways in which adoption is a miracle, a blessing, a glorious, romantic practice when it obviously had deadly consequences for this boy. It seems that many would rather spend their time justifying the adoption system and their way of parenthood than acknowledging the atrocities that could allow us to move forward with real reform to the system. A child who “loved his dogs, his big brother Aidan, and anything his parents made for him to eat” is dead because of the defective international adoption system. “He wasn’t dealt the simplest hand in life, but he found something to love in it every day,” the obituary said. Hyunsu’s short life should be honored, and sticking to the status quo by promoting an idealized culture around adoption certainly won’t do that.”

I added the bold to the words above.

My friend and fellow adoptive parent Margie Perscheid wrote this important and provocative post about why Hyunsu’s death is an adoption issue. There’s often a tendency in the adoption community to see these adoptee deaths as tragic and isolated, not linked with adoption. Margie explains, with compassion and fire, why Hyunsu’s death, and those of other adoptees, is indeed “an adoption issue.”

Hyunsu joins Ethiopian adoptee Hana Alemu, and too many others. May they rest in peace. May we not rest in the light of these tragedies. They are painful to think about, and it’s so tempting to pause, shake our heads, and then sweep the tragic event away. May justice be served. May we face terrible truths without fear, and work for genuine change, especially for vulnerable children.

Here are two of my posts about the changes needed: Reflections on Hana: Acknowledging the Failure of the Adoption Community, and It’s Time to Oppose CHIFF.

Update on Hana’s Legacy, “Hana’s Law”

So many people around the world keep Hana Alemu (Williams) in their hearts. Many of us have also hoped for a positive legacy, something good that might come from the tragedy of her suffering and death. To its credit, Washington state has been working to improve pre-adoption standards and post-adoption resources in light of Hana and other adopted children.

In 2012, the Washington state Office of Family and Children’s Ombudsman produced this sobering document: “Severe Abuse of Adopted Children Committee Report.” It contained many excellent recommendations to strengthen adoption policy, for private, foster care, and international adoptions. Yes, I know for some folks it’s not enough. Still, it’s progress, and other states would do well to look at it as a guideline.

Some of the recommendations require legislative action in the state. Last year, HB 1675 was introduced, and passed the Washington State House by a vote of 90-7. The bill went to the Senate and died there, unfortunately. I wrote about the bill and more here “In Remembrance of Hana.”

This past Tuesday, (February 11, 2014) HB 1675 was again considered by the House, and was amended slightly. It passed the House by a vote of 98-0. That is very good news.

For the most current version of the bill, click here: HB 1675 as passed by the House.

There are few especially significant parts to the bill.

In terms of pre-adoption training, here are standards for persons preparing pre-placement reports (home studies):

In addition to meeting education and experience requirements, all such persons must receive at least thirty hours of training every two years, either in-person or online, on issues relative to adoption including, but not limited to:

Pertinent laws and regulations; ethical considerations; cultural diversity; factors that lead to the need for adoption; feelings of separation, grief, and loss experienced by children; attachment and posttraumatic stress disorder; and psychological issues faced by children.

While I have no insider information, I can’t help but think of Immanuel Williams (Hana’s adoptive brother) and his diagnosis of PTSD, and wonder if the legislators didn’t have that in mind as they crafted the language.  I also credit them with insisting that home study preparers be knowledgeable about all of the factors above.

Another significant new requirement is this section:

The report shall be based on a study which shall include an investigation of the home environment, family life, existence of extended family and community connections to serve as support, planned approach to child discipline and punishment, health, facilities, and resources of the person requesting the report.  

What stands out to me here is that the home study shall investigate and include information on “the existence of extended family and community connections to serve as support,” something that seemed not have happened in the case of Hana and Immanuel. We will all wonder if these children might have fared differently had the Williams’ family reached out and embraced the Ethiopian community as a resource. (See my post Hana’s Legacy for further information.)

Another significant part of this legislation is this language:

On all preplacement reports filed after January 1, 2015, the preparer shall verify that the prospective adoptive parents were provided with: (a) Copies of Washington state child abuse statutes and (b) the list of informational and resource materials developed and posted pursuant to section 7 of this act. 

Washington state law allows spanking and other disciplinary techniques that don’t leave a mark. If this legislation passes, prospective adoptive parents will have to be specifically provided with that information. Larry and Carri Williams significantly violated the law, even before Hana died. Perhaps this new requirement will help more children to not be abused, especially in the guise of parental “discipline.”

Section 7 of the bill is a new provision that requires the Washington state Ombudsman for Children and Families to convene a work group every two years that compiles a list of “informational and resource materials that must be provided to prospective adoptive parents.” Included on the list must be information such as child abuse statutes and rules in the state; availability of mental health services; training and educational opportunities for parents in general and adoptive parents in particular; respite services; ethnic and cultural organizations;  and information, services, and outreach opportunities available to adopted children.

That is a big deal: requiring a state to provide much-needed, current, and useful information and resources for adoptive families.

By December 31, 2014, if the bill passes as it is currently written, the list will be posted on the Washington Office of Family and Children’s Ombudsman’s site and disseminated to agencies and others.

I see this legislation as a legacy of Hana. There are some folks, especially those who have kept her story alive and honored on her Facebook page, who would like to see the legislation called “Hana’s Law.” My understanding is that legislators see this law as having a wider focus, covering other children as well. In any case, the unanimous passage of HB 1675 is a positive development. Here’s hoping it moves quickly and successfully on the Senate side.

Hana Alemu (Williams)

Hana Alemu (Williams)

Hana’s Story On a “Harrowing” List: But What About Other Adoptees?

Buzzfeed.com has compiled a list of the most compelling, troubling, and controversial stories from 2013. Kathryn Joyce’s article on Slate. com about the tragedy of Hana Alemu (Williams) is on this list of “17 Most Harrowing Feature Stories.”

You can read Kathryn’s powerful article “Hana’s Story: An adoptee’s tragic fate, and how it could happen again” here.

I’ve written dozens of posts about Hana here on my blog, and have extensively covered the murder trial of her adoptive parents. Many people learning about Hana’s story for the first time, such as through Kathryn’s article, are deeply saddened and horrified by what Hana went through. It is a wrenching story, and we need to continue to honor Hana’s memory and to work toward eliminating abuse of children.

Kathryn’s article, though, is not just about Hana. There are many now-young adult Ethiopian adoptees–survivors–who deserve our attention too, as they have lost not only their homeland but also their adoptive families. These young people are adrift, and they are worthy of our time and concern as well, as they struggle to make their way, often alone, far from all they once knew.

Internationally adopted children grow up. Adoption agencies, have, I believe, an important obligation to adoptees. It’s not enough to talk about the notion of “forever families,” when that myth shatters all too often, or to be content with fulfilling legal responsibilities only. Agencies hold a unique, extremely important obligation to speak out on behalf of these adoptees, and to help them locate the services they need to survive.

I’d love to write here about how adoption agencies are doing that, and would welcome hearing those stories.

Kathryn Joyce: Aftermath of Hana Williams’ Death, and of Ethiopian Adoptions

During the course of the 7 week trial of Larry and Carri Williams in Skagit County, Washington, I had the pleasure of meeting and spending time with Kathryn Joyce, the author of The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption. Having worked years ago with international adoption agencies, I knew some of the people mentioned in the book, and was familiar with some of the issues raised. Kathryn is a thoughtful, intelligent, warm person, and a talented, insightful writer.

She covered the trial of the parents of Ethiopian adoptees Hana Alemu and Immanuel Williams, and talked with many members of the Ethiopian community as well, including adoptees. She has written a powerful, challenging piece published today on Slate. Click on the title to read it: Hana’s Story: An adoptee’s tragic fate, and how it could happen again.

The article discusses Hana’s life and death, and the subsequent trial of Larry and Carri Williams, now serving long sentences in jail. It also tells the stories of several other Ethiopian adoptees, placed primarily by Adoption Advocates International, the same adoption agency that the Williamses used. These now-young adults were adopted into very large, Christian fundamentalist families, and many were subjected to the same treatment as Hana and her adopted brother Immanuel. Some of these Ethiopian adoptees have been thrown out of their families, have struggled mightily fitting into American society, and are now desperately alone, far from the land of their birth.

As an adoptive parent of twin Ethiopian daughters, I read the story of the Ethiopian adoptees with a heavy heart. I’ve expressed my concerns about adoption practices related to Hana and Immanuel in several posts, such as Case Study, Part 1: The Williamses’ Adoption Agency, and Case Study, Part 2.

While Hana’s death was an extreme example of what can go tragically wrong in adoption, we cannot dismiss it as “isolated” and turn our eyes. We need to reflect very seriously on how to make things better for adopted children. The children (we hope) grow up to be adults. They continue to need services and support, especially if the placements were not appropriate for them and they have been exiled from their adoptive families–and now cannot return to their homeland either.

I encourage you to read The Child Catchers, and to read Kathryn’s article on Slate. Yes, it’s tough reading, and the temptation is to shake our heads, to throw up our hands. But that’s not enough.

Hana Alemu (Williams)

Hana Alemu (Williams)

May Hana rest in peace, and may no child suffer as she did. May her legacy be one of hope and strength for Ethiopian adoptees.

Update: KUOW, NPR’s Seattle station, did an interview with Kathryn Joyce on November 13. Listen to it here.

After the Sentencing: Larry and Carri Williams, the Adoption Agency, the Children

I’ve written a lot about Larry and Carri Williams, about the murder and assault charges against them, about the 7 week trial, and about their sentencing hearing October 29. This may well be my last post about them, though I will continue to write about adoption reform.

Gina Cole, a reporter for the Skagit Valley Herald, covered the trial from the first day of jury selection. She’s done a great job. Follow her on Facebook. Her most recent article, “Decades in Prison for Williams Couple,” is available here.

Here’s an excerpt from Gina’s article:

Tuesday’s (October 29, 2013) sentencing hearing was a chance for the public to help argue for a harsher or lighter sentence. A few people addressed Cook in person; others, including the two oldest Williams sons, submitted letters.

“This incident regarding (the adopted children) was the result of the total unpreparedness of my parents to take in two children who were entirely unfamiliar with our nation, culture and way of life,” wrote Joshua Williams, who is stationed in Korea with the U.S. Army. He pleaded with the court to reunite his family. “… Is it not punishment enough to watch helplessly as your entire life crashes down around you?”

Joshua’s plea, arguing that his parents were totally unprepared, is haunting. (Referring to the abuse, torture, assault of Immanuel and death of Hana–Joshua’s siblings–as “this incident” startling as well.) Did the adoption agency, Adoption Advocates International of Port Angeles, WA, fail to educate Larry and Carri fully about the possible challenges of international adoption? AAI is licensed in Washington state, is a member of the Joint Council on International Children’s Services, and is accredited by the Council on Accreditation for Hague Convention adoption. That COA accreditation is time-consuming and expensive; it is supposed to be rigorous and thorough. There is a place for public comment on the COA link above.

A lot of people have asked if the adoption agency was punished as well in this case. My understanding is that there is no legal reason or process for that. Hana and Immanuel’s adoptions were finalized–they were the full legal children of Larry and Carri Williams. As such, the adoption agency no longer had any legal responsibility for them. Larry and Carri, like any other adoptive family, did not have to talk with or answer to the agency after finalization.

Once the adoption is finalized, and the long process is over with, most families want to be treated like other families, without intrusive oversight or invasions of their privacy. For most families, that works, because they aren’t abusive.

In the case of Larry and Carri Williams, we may never know why they did not seek help when things started going so badly. Did the agency not make the case effectively for parents to call on them for post-adoption services? Did the Williamses make a conscious decision not to interact with other adoptive families or with the Ethiopian community, who might have been resources for them, Hana, and Immanuel? Was the AAI preparation process rigorous enough? Did the Williamses’ isolation as a home-schooling family mean they did not want to reach out for help?

So many questions. My hope is that, while the adoption agency does not face legal recriminations for the placement, that all international agencies will look long and hard at their screening of prospective adoptive parents, at having a rigorous pre-adoption education program, and at working as diligently as possible to encourage parents to get post-adoption help without shame or difficulty.

In response to Joshua Williams’ plea, Gina Cole notes, in her article, the judge’s response:

Judge Susan Cook saw it differently.

The Williamses’ track record, she said, was this: one child dead, one with PTSD, and seven who thought the kind of degrading treatment the other two endured was acceptable.

A tragedy all around.

Carri Williams is now in the Washington Corrections Center for Women, in Gig Harbor, Washington, about 115 miles from her Sedro-Woolley home. She is Department of Corrections Inmate 370021. Larry Williams is in the Washington Corrections Center in Shelton, Washington, about 150 miles from Sedro-Woolley. He is DOC Inmate 370101. Both have indicated intent to file appeals. Unless they can make bail, both will remain in jail as their appeals go through the legal process. Carri’s bail is set at $1.5 million; Larry’s at $750,000.

I have heard via the Facebook page Remembrance of Hana Williams that the parental rights of Larry and Carri Williams were terminated for Immanuel. I haven’t seen it verified anywhere else, but I believe it to be accurate. I wish Immanuel good things in his future: healing, strength, safety. He struck me during the trial as a remarkably resilient young man.

I posted yesterday about Hana’s Fund, Hana’s Grave Marker. May we keep Hana and Immanuel always in our hearts.

Hana’s Fund, Hana’s Grave Marker

Update: Here is the final paragraph of Kathryn Joyce’s Slate.com article (November 11, 2013) about Hana and other Ethiopian adoptees:

“After the Williamses’ sentencing, the Ethiopian community center had hoped to install a headstone for Hana where only a temporary marker had been. But in October, community members, who had spent months following the trial and years grappling with what had gone wrong, learned that they couldn’t. Two years after Hana’s death, the Williamses’ extended family suddenly ordered a headstone themselves. The birthdate on the stone, the local funeral home told me, will read 1994—three years earlier than the year listed on Hana’s death certificate. As the Williamses head into appeal, the engraving is an attempt to posthumously change Hana’s age from 13 to 16, just as the Williamses’ defense attorneys had argued in seeking to invalidate the trial’s most serious charge, to cast Hana not as a youthful victim but a troubled older teen. If only on a symbolic level, it gives the parents who abused, shunned, and ultimately killed Hana the last word on her life.”

The sorrow continues.

Among those most devastated by the tragedy of Hana Alemu’s death were members of the Ethiopian community in Washington state. (For posts about Hana, her life and death, the trial of her adoptive parents Larry and Carri Williams, please feel free to search my blog. The most recent post is here.) Members of the Ethiopian Community Center in Seattle established a fund in Hana’s honor, drove in a van to attend the trial as often as possible, went to her grave to sing and pray, and have reached out to adoptive families to ensure that what happened to Hana would never happen again to an Ethiopian adoptee.

Here’s information from the ECS website about Hana’s Fund:

The Ethiopian Community Mutual Association (ECMA) of Greater Puget Sound now announces the advent of its Hana Fund.  The purpose of the fund is prevent cases of abuse and assault in adoptive families via a program of outreach and crisis intervention, and via cultural awareness, education and counseling.

Costs associated with ECMA’s Hana Program will include:

  • legal research
  • compiling a data base of adoptive children in its service area
  • establishing and maintaining a hotline
  • fees and expenses for social workers and counselors
  • establishing and maintaining cultural programming
  • website and social media presence
  • production of educational materials
  • outreach

If you would like to contribute to the Hana Fund, write a check to “ECMA Hana Fund” and send it to ECMA, 8323 Rainier Avenue South, Seattle, WA  98118, or visit ecseattle.org, click on DONATE NOW, and make your donation with a credit card via PayPal.

Like many others, the members of the Ethiopian Community Center have been concerned by the lack of a marker or stone on Hana’s grave site in Sedro-Woolley cemetery. From what I understand, the grave is owned by either Larry or Carri’s parents, who have not (for whatever reasons), in the more than two years since Hana died (May 12, 2011) put up a marker beyond one that is flat on the ground, with a photocopy of Hana’s name and dates of birth and death.

Marker at Hana's grave

Marker at Hana’s grave

There are still unresolved legal issues around whether there can be a marker placed on the grave site by people who do not own the grave site. My understanding is that folks with the Ethiopian Community Center are working on this.

Another possibility is that there will be a memorial of some sort, perhaps at the ECS in Seattle, or elsewhere.

The Ethiopian Community has worked hard and thoughtfully on the grave site marker, and are hopeful that it will be possible to place one in the Sedro-Woolley cemetery. Here’s the design they have created:


I think it’s lovely. The Amharic written on it means “We love you.”

There have been questions about including the last name Williams on the grave marker, and some folks would like the name to be eliminated, or set in quotes or parentheses. The consensus was, though, that Hana Williams was her legal name, and that people searching for her would likely use that name. We want people to be able to find and remember her easily.

Information is available on the Facebook page, In Remembrance of Hanna.

Larry and Carri Williams: Sentenced to Long Jail Times

This morning (October 29, 2013) at 9:30 am pdt, at the Skagit County Courthouse in Mount Vernon, WA, Judge Susan Cook presided over the sentencing hearing of Larry Williams, convicted of manslaughter (of adopted Ethiopian daughter Hana) and assault of a child (of adopted Ethiopian son Immanuel), and of Carri Williams, convicted of homicide by abuse (of Hana), manslaughter (of Hana), and assault of a child (Immanuel).

Larry and Carri both were in the Skagit County red prison uniforms. As would be expected, the attorneys for both defense and prosecution had various arguments and motions. Larry’s attorneys began by arguing for a new trial; the judge denied the motions. The judge vacated (dropped) Carri’s manslaughter conviction, because she was also convicted of a more serious offense, homicide by abuse, for the same conduct.

The prosecution asked for 333 months, or 27 3/4 years, of jail time for Larry Williams. The defense attorneys asked for 5 years, saying that Larry is ashamed for what he did, and that he has been punished enough.

The prosecution asked for 443 months (about 37 years) of jail time for Carri Williams.  The defense recommended 333 months (about 28 years) for Carri, saying she is not a danger to the community.

Larry Williams wanted to speak on his own behalf, but the motion was denied.

As she was about to hand down the sentences, Judge Cook said, “I am at a complete loss as to why this happened.”

The judge sentenced Larry to a sentence of 333 months. That is a surprisingly long sentence. The judge signed the judgment and sentence documents in regards to Larry, who was then led away to jail.

The Judge sentenced Carri to a sentence of 443 months, the full amount requested by the prosecution. Judge Cook said Carri probably deserved more. Carri was taken away immediately in handcuffs and chains.

Carri’s attorneys plan to file an appeal. They asked for bail during the appeal to be lowered to $600,000. The judge denied the motion, and set bail at $1.5 million.

Judge Cook had presided over the trial of Larry and Carri Williams, the longest in the history of Skagit County, Washington state. I have written dozens of posts about the death of Ethiopian adoptee Hana Alemu (Williams) and the assault of Ethiopian adoptee Immanuel, both of whom were placed for adoption with the Williams’ family in 2008.

The courtroom was, not surprisingly, packed to overflowing. Gina Cole of the Skagit Valley herald reported that trial jurors were there, as well as Carri Williams’s sister, Immanuel’s foster mother, and some witnesses from the trial. Lee Stoll, a reporter with KIRO7, said that 10 of the 14 jurors were in the jury box to watch the sentencing.

Many representatives from the Ethiopian community attended the trial, and many were again present today at the sentencing. The Ethiopian Community Center in Seattle sent an email out saying that they planned to place flowers and candles on Hana’s grave in the Sedro-Woolley cemetery following the sentencing hearing. There will also be a celebration of Hana’s life at the Ethiopian Community Center in Seattle tonight, at 6pm pdt. The address is 8323 Rainier Ave South, Seattle, WA 98118. Phone: 206-325-0304.

May Hana rest in peace, never forgotten.

Note: Many thanks to Skagit Valley Herald reporter Gina Cole, KING-TV reporter Erik Wilkinson, and KIRO7 TV reporter Lee Stoll for their “real-time” Twitter feeds.

KING-TV Photo from Erik WIlkinson's Twitter feed

KING-TV Photo from Erik WIlkinson’s Twitter feed

Update on October 29 Sentencing of Larry and Carri Williams

Note: My blog post about the sentencing and jail terms is available here at Larry and Carri Williams: Sentenced to Long Jail Times.

Larry and Carri Williams are expected to appear in Skagit County Court tomorrow, October 29, at 9:30am Pacific Daylight Time, for sentencing following their convictions in the murder of their Ethiopian adopted daughter Hana, and for the assault of their Ethiopian adopted son Immanuel. The courthouse is expected to be packed, following the longest trial ever in Skagit County, Washington.

The jury announced their decision on September 9. Both Larry and Carri were taken immediately to jail that day. Sentencing was originally scheduled for October 8. My guess is that decisions regarding the placements of the Williams’ children needed to be settled prior to sentencing. I believe that their minor children will be placed with relatives. I have heard that parental rights for Immanuel have been terminated, which would mean he could be adopted by another family, but I have no confirmation of that yet.

The decision on sentencing is in the hands of Judge Susan Cook, who presided over the trial. The lawyers have been busy preparing documents for the judge to consider in making her decision.

Carri Williams was found guilty of homicide by abuse and of manslaughter of Hana. She was also found guilty of first degree assault of Immanuel. Here is a recent Skagit Valley Herald article on Carri Williams’ motion to drop manslaughter charge. My understanding is that the prosecutors will recommend 27 to 37 years in jail for Carri Williams.

Here is a Skagit Valley Herald article on Carri Williams’ treatment in jail.

Larry Williams was found guilty of manslaughter of Hana and of first degree assault of Immanuel. He has already spent about two years in jail while the case was pending and could get credit for that time. My understanding is that the prosecutors will recommend 14 to 18 years in jail for Larry Williams.

Here is a recent Skagit Valley Herald article on Larry Williams’ attorneys motion to dismiss the conviction.

Rachel Forde, one of Larry’s Snohomish County public defenders, has been consistent in her strategy for her client. In the course of Larry’s testimony during the trial, he blamed Carri for almost all that happened. The idea: his work schedule (noon to midnight, plus overtime) prevented him from knowing what was going on. The defense motion asks the judge to dismiss the conviction, but my sense is that this is simply an aggressive defense argument, and a very unlikely outcome. Ms. Forde also argues that Larry should receive a sentence of 5 years at most, which is also unlikely. Many folks felt Larry threw Carri under the bus during this trial, and that perspective is in place for sentencing as well. A hefty part of this defense motion included a study of adjustment issues for international adoptees, suggesting that Hana and Immanuel were responsible for the crimes committed against them. A lot of room under that bus, it seems. The tragedy continues.

The Skagit Valley Herald articles were all written by reporter Gina Cole, who has covered the trial since the first day of jury selection in July. You can access Gina’s articles on her Facebook page.

If you have trouble accessing the Skagit Valley Herald articles because of their limitations, try going to the links through a different browser (Safari, Chrome, etc.).

If you use Twitter, good sources for real-time updates during tomorrow’s sentencing are likely the following:

@Gina_SVH    This is Gina Cole, the reporter mentioned above.

@EricWilkinson    He’s a reporter for KING 5 news in Seattle.

@LeeStoll     She is a reporter for KIRO-TV in Seattle.

Follow updates on Twitter at #WilliamsTrial.

I have written extensively about this case over the past year, and I wrote about the trial every day that I attended. It’s hard to feel anything but sorrow, even as I believe justice was the outcome of the trial. Folks will be visiting Hana’s grave in the Sedro-Woolley cemetery after the sentencing hearing Tuesday morning, and I hope to get further word about a grave marker/headstone.

I will continue to write about Hana’s legacy.

May Hana never be forgotten. May Immanuel grow strong and unafraid.  May this horror never happen to another child.


Hana Alemu (Williams)

Hana Alemu (Williams)

Hana, the Ethiopian Community, and Ethiopia Reads

Sometimes we American adoptive parents can forget the feelings of our children’s fellow citizens about the loss of their children.

I’ve known many Ethiopians who are grateful to be in the United States, because there are truly far more economic and educational options here for them. I know many Ethiopians here in the US who are working hard to bring their relatives to the US, and who send money back to their families in Ethiopia, hoping to help them in small and large ways. I’ve had many Ethiopians express gratitude to me for adopting my girls. And I believe that when Ethiopians express gratitude to me for having adopted two girls, their thanks are tinged with wistfulness and sorrow that the girls had to lose their culture, their family, their language, their heritage, their people to be here.

The trial of Larry and Carri Williams in Washington state captured attention around the world, as people shared sorrow and outrage, hearing what happened to young Hana Alemu, an Ethiopian adoptee, and to Immanuel, both of whom were adopted by the Williamses. The Williamses were convicted on August  of homicide by abuse, manslaughter, and first degree assault of a child; their sentencing is now scheduled for October 29.

As an adoptive parent of Ethiopian twin daughters, my heart ached for Hana and Immanuel. In the course of watching the trial unfold, I shared a number of conversations with adult international adoptees, as we sought to understand, grieve, and listen together. I also talked often with members of the Ethiopian community in Seattle and in Skagit County. Their grief was especially poignant.

In some ways, there is no understanding what happened in the Williams family. It is a tragedy for everyone involved. And it may seem simplistic or fatuous to suggest that any good can come from this harrowing case.

Yet I believe that good is indeed possible. I wrote about Hana’s Legacy here, and that gives some ideas for change and hope.

I have had a long-standing connection with the beautiful, complex, ancient country of Ethiopia for nearly 2 decades, as a result of adoption. I’ve long been interested in literacy and I love libraries, so my connection with Ethiopia Reads makes sense. Ethiopia Reads promotes literacy in Ethiopia, provides books in local languages, and has planted libraries in every region of that large country. I’ve been on the Ethiopia Reads Board, I’ve visited the Awassa Reading Center and other libraries, and I remain committed to the idea that with literacy can come empowerment and possibilities, especially for children, especially for girls.

Two talented Ethiopian artists, both of whom now live in the Seattle area, have also been wonderful, powerful friends of Ethiopia Reads. Both have also, like so many members of the Ethiopian community in Washington state and around the globe, grieved for Hana and Immanuel. Yadesa Bojia is an amazing artist and musician. Please take time to learn about him here. Sultan Mohamed is also an accomplished artist. You can read more about him here.

Both of these men have supported the work of Ethiopia Reads (and other important Ethiopian causes), through their time, their good hearts, and their incredible art.

Here is one of Yadi’s newest paintings:

Original artwork by Yadesa Bojia

Original artwork by Yadesa Bojia

To me, the painting shows the fire, the power, the light that can be created through reading. It’s a shared joy and gift between mother and child. It’s the mother’s knowledge of what reading and education can mean for her children, who have so much potential, given the opportunities.

Here is one of Sultan’s:

Original painting by Sultan Mohamed

Original painting by Sultan Mohamed

Note the photo of Hana, surrounded by Ethiopian faces, perhaps angels, but certainly reminding us she is neither alone nor forgotten. Amharic writing engulfs her as well, ensuring us that she remains connected with her roots, her language, the sounds and words of those who loved her in Ethiopia and beyond.

These talented artists, these good men, have donated their paintings to an upcoming event (December 14, in Seattle, information provided below) to raise funds for Ethiopia Reads. I am in awe of their generous hearts, and of their deep commitment to children whose lives can change through literacy.

It may seem paradoxical that adoptive parents should work to ensure that fewer children need to be adopted, but it’s true. May we continue to move toward a world where all children can read, and thus be empowered in this world. May all children have safe, loving families, who can keep them and provide for them all that they dream of.

Information about Ethiopia Reads and the December event is available here. If you are looking for a small, effective organization that has opened libraries across Ethiopia where there were none, that has trained and employed Ethiopian teachers and librarians to sustain the libraries, that has worked with the local community in a respectful, transparent way, please look into Ethiopia Reads.