David Guterson is the prize-winning author of Snow Falling on Cedars and other books, and is also an adoptive parent of an Ethiopian child. I met him while attending the Hanna Williams’ trial here in Washington state in the summer of 2013.
Guterson has recently published a novel, The Final Case, based on Hanna’s death and the trial. I have placed a hold on it at my local library, and will post my comments here after I have read the novel.
Having attended almost every day of the trial, I have vivid memories of the people involved: the defendants Larry and Carri Williams, their children (some of whom testified at the trial), the prosecuting and the defense lawyers, the many witnesses. I have written about the trial extensively here on my blog. It will be interesting to see how much adoption as such (trauma, fraud, oversight, etc) is a part of the novel.
It is also interesting to consider the decision to write a novel as opposed to a nonfiction book about Hanna’s story. I am guessing that could be to avoid potential litigation. Beyond that, perhaps a work of fiction will bring more readers? I don’t know. The fictionalization of Hanna’s life and death gives me pause, and I am not sure just why. I look forward to reading the book. I hope Hanna is never forgotten. Maybe that is part of the book as well. May she rest in peace and in power.
Today is the 9th anniversary of the death of 13-year-old Hanna Williams, whose name was also Hana Alemu. Two years after her death, her adoptive parents were jailed for decades in 2013 for homicide by abuse (the charge against Carri Williams, the adoptive mother) and for manslaughter (the charge against Larry Williams, the adoptive father).
Every May 12, and on many other days as well, my thoughts turn to Hana. On May 12, 2011, Hana died outside her adoptive family’s home, due to hypothermia and malnutrition. She’d arrived in the U.S. from Ethiopia in 2008, and died weighing less than she had upon arrival. Her time in America began with a semblance of love, and devolved into cruelty, torture (the use of torture was part of the homicide by abuse charge), physical and emotional abuse, and ultimately death.
She would have turned 22 this year, had she lived.
Larry and Carri also had 7 biological children, who all, I am guessing, are legal adults now. They witnessed all the things that happened to Hana, as well as to the Williamses’ other adopted Ethiopian child, Immanuel. He was abused also, and Larry and Carri were charged and convicted for their abuse of Immanuel. I don’t know how any of the children are doing now. The testimony of the siblings who testified in court, who were also ultimately victims here, played an important role in the conviction of Larry and Carri.
In 2018, Ethiopia ended international adoptions. Hana’s death played a large part in that decision. as many Ethiopians worried about the fate of their children sent away for adoption. Most Ethiopian adoptees do well, of course, though some struggle with the trauma and grief that can be part of adoption. I know some adoptees who are placed for adoption due to medical conditions that are essentially untreatable in Ethiopia, and am happy to say that the American and the Ethiopian families have stayed in contact, which is wonderful. Increasing numbers of adoptees are searching for and reuniting with their Ethiopian families, a complicated journey. For adoptees and for Ethiopian families who want to search, consider contacting Beteseb Felega/Ethiopian Adoption Connection, a wonderful resource. Others, please consider donating to their work.
Many Ethiopian adoptees have searched and reunited with their Ethiopian families, including my twin daughters. My daughters are both mothers now themselves—what a blessing. My older granddaughter met her grandmother, aunts, uncles, and cousins in Ethiopia. My younger granddaughter is 8 months old now, and I hope she has a chance to meet all her Ethiopian relatives as well.
While some international adoptees are genuine orphans, with no living parents or other relatives, the vast majority are not orphans. Hana had relatives in Ethiopia. I think of them today as well, of course. May Hana rest in power, justice, and peace. We have not forgotten you.
May all children be safe and loved.
There are many ways to support vulnerable children and families in Ethiopia, and I encourage you to do so. Adoption is by no means the only way to ensure that children grow up safely and happily. Organizations that support HIV+ children, that empower women and literacy for girls, that train midwives and provide maternal care, that bring electricity to rural regions, that build schools and libraries: there are many wonderful, transparent, and effective nonprofits/non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) working with Ethiopians in the community to help children.