Jan and Roberta DeBoer, of Ann Arbor, Michigan, yielded yesterday afternoon and handed Jessica to lawyers. She was to be reunited with her biological parents, Cara and Daniel Schmidt, who have been fighting almost all her life to reclaim her.
The transfer marked the end of a heart-wrenching legal struggle that started soon after Cara - then Cara Clausen - gave birth to a daughter in February 1991 and gave her away for private adoption - to the DeBoers. Within days she revealed she had failed to identify Daniel Schmidt as the real father and, with him, began fighting in the courts to take Jessica back.
Midnight yesterday was the deadline imposed on the DeBoers to relinquish the child after fruitless legal manoeuvres and appeals to keep hold of her. Even yesterday morning Mr DeBoer, a printer, had displayed a handwritten sign on the front of his house declaring: 'Dan and Cara, please don't take our little Jessica away.' It was accompanied by a large red heart, broken in two.
All through their battle the DeBoers argued that to remove Jessica from the only home and parents she knew would cause her irreparable psychological damage. It was a line of reasoning that won sympathy with the American public, but which ultimately failed to sway the courts.
The handover, caught in the lenses of waiting television cameras, was as traumatic as everyone knew it had to be. In the arms of an unidentified woman, Jessica was put, crying, into a minivan. The DeBoers were equally distraught.
The Schmidts, who had visited Jessica several times in recent weeks, were expected to take her away to a secret location for several days before going on to their home, in Blairstown, Iowa.
They had promised to take a psychotherapist with them, to help look after the child.