Adopted boy 'threatened to burn family's house down'

Russia is furious at orphan's return, alone on a plane, but his US 'grandmother' talks of a reign of terror
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The Independent US

Torry Hansen was so eager to become a mother that she adopted an older child – a seven-year-old boy – from a foreign country, two factors that scare off many prospective parents. Her bigger fears came later. Torry's mother, Nancy Hansen, said the .child's violent episodes – which culminated in a threat to burn the family's home to the ground – terrified them into a shocking solution: the boy they renamed Justin was put on a plane, alone, and sent back to Russia.

Now, outraged Russian officials are calling for a halt to adoptions by Americans, and Tennessee authorities are investigating the family. However, Nancy Hansen said yesterday that the motives of her daughter – a 33-year-old unmarried nurse – were sincere. "The intent of my daughter was to have a family, and the intent of my whole family was to love that child," she said.

The family was told the boy, whose Russian name is Artyom Savelyev, was healthy in September when he was brought from the town of Partizansk in Russia's Far East to his new home in the heart of Tennessee horse country. The skinny boy seemed happy, but the behavioural problems began soon after, Ms Hansen said. She added: "The Russian orphanage officials completely lied to [Torry] because they wanted to get rid of him."

Ms Hansen chronicled a list of problems: hitting, screaming and spitting at his mother and threatening to kill family members. She said his eruptions were often sparked when he was denied something he wanted, such as toys or video games.

"He drew a picture of our house burning down and he'll tell anybody that he's going to burn our house down with us in it," she said. "It got to be where you feared for your safety. It was terrible." Ms Hansen said she thought that, with their love, they could help him. "I was wrong," she said.

Adoption experts say many families are blinded by their desire to adopt and don't always understand what the orphans have sometimes endured – especially older children who may have been neglected or abandoned. "They're not prepared to appreciate, psychologically, the kinds of conditions these kids have been exposed to and the effect it has had on them," said Joseph LaBarbera, a clinical psychologist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.

Ms Hansen said her daughter sought advice from psychologists but never arranged for her adoptive son to meet one. They chose an English-language home-study programme, hoping to enroll him in traditional school in the autumn. In February, Ms Hansen said, the boy flew into a rage, picked up a 3lb statue and tried to attack his aunt with it. Ms Hansen said he was apparently upset after his aunt asked him to correct maths problems on his school work.

The family bought the plane ticket, and arranged to pay a man in Russia $200 to take him from the airport and drop him off at the Russian education ministry. He arrived alone, on Thursday, on a United Airlines flight from Washington. With him was a note that read, in part: "After giving my best to this child, I am sorry to say that for the safety of my family, friends, and myself, I no longer wish to parent this child."

The family, meanwhile, has rejected the Kremlin's sharp criticism and any notion that the boy was simply abandoned.

The Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, has called the boy's return "the last straw", after a string of foreign adoption failures, and officials in Moscow have called for a suspension of all US adoptions in Russia. The Russian education ministry immediately suspended the licence of the group involved in the adoption – the World Association for Children and Parents – for the duration of an investigation. Experts and adoptive parents have reacted with similar shock, though they stress that the vast majority of adopted children are raised in happy, loving homes.

Bob Tuke, a Nashville attorney and member of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, said abandonment charges against the family could depend on whether the boy was a US citizen. It wasn't clear if the adoption had become final, but a Tennessee health department spokeswoman said there was no birth certificate issued for the boy, a step that would indicate he had become a US citizen.

There was no response to a knock at Torry Hansen's door, and a phone listing could not be found for her. The family has now retained an attorney.

Randall Boyce, the Bedford County Sheriff, said it was not clear whether any laws had been broken.

"This is extremely unusual," he said. "I don't think anyone has seen something like this before."