Home For The Holidays…And Beyond

Posted on September 21, 2017


NOTE: The names of the parties involved have been changed to protect their identity.

It had been a few weeks since Tonya was released from the hospital.  Although things would still get a little tense at times, her father Jack Murrow and his wife Nancy were hopeful that Tonya was on the road to recovery.  Tonya and her four children had been living with Jack and Nancy since March of that year.  Now, Halloween was two days away.  The kids were excited and growing impatient.  Tonya asked to borrow Jack’s car.  She wanted to take her 11-year-old to Dollar General to buy some supplies and costumes.  Because of Tonya’s history of mental illness, Jack was cautious about letting her drive, but since she came from the hospital, he felt he could trust her.

Near dusk on an evening in late October, Jack was expecting them back when the 11-year-old walked into the home alone, visibly scared and crying.  On the way home, her mother had driven down the road some, stopped the car, and told the child to get out.  The little girl walked the country road all by herself.  Dark.  No lights.  Her mom took off in unknown direction.

It wasn’t the first time Tonya had abandoned her children.  Prior to their moving in with Jack, she and the kids had been living in Pennsylvania where she would make a disappearing act quite regularly – abandoning the children, whereabouts unknown.  But this time it was supposed to be different.  She was finally getting help for her mental illness, and she had a home for herself and her children.  Instead, the children were left trying to understand why their mother had abandoned them again.

Jack did the only thing he knew to do at that time – call the police.  The Department of Social Services (DSS) got involved.  Nobody knew where Tonya was or how to find her.  Jack and Nancy had to face the facts – Tonya was not fit to be a mother.  They had to be the parents to four children ages 11, 7, 6 and 3.

Tonya was later found in North Carolina, living with a man she had met online.  She was abusing drugs.  Multiple attempts by DSS to get her treatment and back in her children’s lives led to excuses and broken promises.

In early December, the youngest child was hospitalized for a condition called immune thrombocytopenia, which leads to excessive bruising and bleeding.  A few days later, another child was hospitalized with health complications.  Not having any legal rights to the children, Jack and Nancy could not sign the paperwork for medical treatment.  Tonya promised the DSS worker that she would come back to South Carolina to do it, but she never did.  The children had to be placed in foster care so the State of South Carolina could authorize their medical treatment.  Later, at the final hearing, Nancy would testify about the heaviness she had on her heart when she had to pack the little boys’ clothing and other belongings.  Nobody knew where the children were going, how long they would be there, and who would take care of them.

Here is where, Jack says, for the first time, things went right for them.  He and Nancy were referred to South Carolina Legal Services.  He was skeptical about the legal system.  After he and Tonya’s mother divorced in 1989, Jack felt he never got a fair deal as the father to gain custody of his children.  “All the years that I’ve been through the system with [Tonya] and her brother, I never saw anyone put in this much time and effort.”  Krystal Watson, an attorney at the SCLS Spartanburg office, took on the case and quickly started working on getting these children into a stable situation.  Through DSS involvement, the Murrows had custody of all four children.  The two older children had been receiving some support from their father, and had a good relationship with their father’s family.  The Murrows felt it was important to keep that bond intact.  The two younger children had nobody else.  Jack and Nancy wanted to adopt them.

Tonya didn’t consent to the adoption.  At the same time, she refused to undergo further medical treatment.  She continued to abuse drugs.  She still didn’t have a stable home or employment, and she showed very little interest in supporting or visiting with the children.

Krystal filed a case asking the court to terminate Tonya’s parental rights on the grounds of abandonment.  The whereabouts of the father of the two younger children were unknown, and he never showed any interest in the children.  Krystal asked that the father’s parental rights be terminated for failure to visit with or support the children.

With so many moving parts, the time leading up to the final hearing was stressful for all.  Jack recalls “Ms. Watson was constantly working with us to prepare to go to court.  In a good way, it was exhausting.  Every couple weeks, she’d bring us in and go over what was going to happen.  When the day finally came for the hearing, we were in a good position.”

At the final hearing on August 2nd, the judge granted the Murrows their request for adoption.  The children have now been living with them for nearly two years.  They’re in therapy and getting the help they need.  Jack says that while they’ve had their ups and downs, the kids are doing better.  For the first time in their lives, they have a stable home and parents who love and care for them.

In 2015, after Tonya abandoned them and took off in Jack’s car two days before Halloween, the children went trick or treating in a police cruiser.  This year, they look forward to trick or treating with their mom and dad in their own car.