Last fall Torry Hansen flew all the way to an orphanage in Russia’s Far East so she could give 7-year-old Artem Saveliev-and herself-a new life. Thrilled to bring the boy to her home in rural Shelbyville, Tenn., the single 32-year-old registered nurse renamed him Justin and homeschooled him in her ranch home, where he could play on the swing set and admire the horses grazing nearby. “The intent of my daughter was to have a family, and the intent of my whole family was to love that child,” Hansen’s mother, Nancy, told the Associated Press.
Just seven months later, that idyllic new life has come to a shattering end. Last week Hansen loaded the boy onto a plane and sent him back to Russia on a one-way ticket with a letter pinned inside his jacket telling Russian authorities, “I no longer wish to parent this child.” Hansen described the boy as “violent” and “mentally unstable.” For a fee of $200, her family arranged in advance for a man in Moscow to meet Artem at the airport and drop him off at the Russian education ministry.
The incident sparked outrage throughout Russia. President Dmitry Medvedev called the abrupt return a “monstrous deed,” and officials called for an immediate halt to U.S. adoptions. Experts were equally worried about the child himself. Says Lillian Thogersen, head of the World Association for Children and Parents, which arranged Artem’s adoption: “We’re concerned about how this is going to impact him in the long run.”
What exactly happened in Hansen’s home remains unclear. Her mother, Nancy, said the child threatened her daughter. “He drew a picture of our house burning down,” she told the AP, “and he’ll tell anybody that he’s going to burn our house down with us in it.” Meanwhile, Russian investigators insist the boy shows no violent tendencies, and U.S. authorities are looking into possible charges ranging from child abandonment to abuse.
Though nearly 1,600 Russian children were successfully adopted in the U.S. last year, experts think Hansen’s case underscores how ill-prepared many parents are for international adoption. Says Linda Hageman, of the adoption agency the Cradle: “When you adopt a child, you are legally-and emotionally-claiming that child.” Adds Hansen’s neighbor Curtis Stacy: “I don’t think she should have turned him loose. That kid needs help.”