February 03, 1997 12:00 PM

ONLY TWO YEARS AGO HE WAS KNOWN TO the world as Baby Richard, the object of a painful public custody struggle between a Schaumburg, Ill., couple, who had adopted him at birth four years before, and the boy’s biological father. Finally reclaimed by his natural parents, Otakar Kirchner, a suburban Chicago restaurant manager, and his wife, Daniela, a beautician, little Danny Kirchner settled into a life that seemed, after a time, to offer the promise of an untroubled childhood. It may still, but on Jan. 19 it was disclosed that Otakar, 40, had separated from Daniela, 29, leaving 5-year-old Danny with her, and had moved into a suburban motel. “My son is living comfortably with his mother, grandmother and sister,” said Kirchner, now unemployed. “We all want his life to be as untroubled as we can make it.”

Inevitably, though, the question was raised once again whether the boy should have been taken, at age 4, from the only parents he had known, firefighter Jay Warburton and his wife, Kim, then a paralegal. At the time, the case hinged on the fact that Daniela, who had broken up with Otakar when she was seven months pregnant, had first told him that the baby had died. When Otakar, reconciled with Daniela soon afterward, learned the truth, he sued to get the boy back. The case attracted national attention, and Danny, sobbing as he was finally handed over to the Kirchners, became an indelible symbol of an adoption process gone tragically awry.

Yet Danny seemed to adjust, and Karen Moriarty, a clinical psychologist who sees him several times a month, reports that he is thriving. “Otakar loves his son very much,” she says. “Any problems the Kirchners have are their problems, not Danny’s.” The Warburtons offered no comment. “I’m sorry for Danny,” says Arthur Skinner, Kim Warburton’s father. “He’s going to be going through another trauma. God hopes that this will get itself straightened out.”

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