Shawn just wants to be a normal little boy,” says Lizabeth Russ of her recently adopted son. “That’s all he’s ever wanted.” And exactly what, in some ways, he will never be. For however well he adjusts to his new family and surroundings, 12-year-old Shawn Russ, who made headlines this year under his given name Gregory K. (for Kingsley), is destined to be known as the first youngster ever to sue successfully for separation from a biological parent. He is, in a sense, the Rosa Parks of the children’s rights movement.
A little over a year ago, Shawn was just another miserable kid in Florida’s child welfare system. At least four times he had been packed off to foster homes, and he had spent only seven months out of the last eight years with his mother, Rachel Kingsley, 31, who was separated and who often left him unattended. Then he was placed in foster care with Lizabeth and George Russ and their eight children, who lived in serene Leesburg, Fla. Within months, Gregory asked if he could stay permanently, and George, a lawyer, began helping him mount the lawsuit that in September would unfold before a national audience and end in a judge’s controversial ruling that Rachel had forfeited her rights to her son. “I wanted a family,” says Shawn, who legally changed his name and who hasn’t spoken to his mother or brothers Jeremiah, 11, and Zachary, 9, since the decision.
Nonetheless, Shawn can’t shake memories of his past life. Lizabeth recounts an incident in which George told his adopted son somewhat sternly, “I need to talk to you, Shawn.” What he wanted to discuss was Shawn’s schoolwork, but the youngster jumped to other conclusions. “My mom’s getting me back, isn’t she,” he asked fearfully. Indeed, if he has any second thoughts or guilt about cutting himself loose from Rachel, he keeps such emotions very well hidden. Asked how he feels to get the family he wanted, he thinks for a moment and responds, “Happy…and happy.”