“EVERYTHING’S normal.” Coming from a teenager, those words ought to drip with disgust, but when Shawn Russ utters them, his pride is palpable. Normalcy is a novelty for 14-year-old Shawn: Two years ago he thrilled kids, alarmed grown-ups and inspired two TV movies as Gregory K., the articulate boy from Leesburg, Fla., who successfully sued to divorce his mother, Rachel Kingsley. His father, Ralph (who died of an accidentally self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1993), was separated from his wife and did not oppose their son’s bid to free himself and be adopted by his foster parents, George Russ, now 51, a children’s advocate and an attorney who helped with the case, and his wife, Lizabeth, 46.
Having spent three years of his neglected childhood in state custody, Shawn (he picked the new name) enjoyed fame’s perks, which included two European trips with George. But now the eighth grader relishes the chance just to take guitar lessons, study science and hang out with his boisterous new family (there are eight Russ kids, ranging in age from 6 to 23, plus Shawn and Paul, a 10-year-old foster child). Shawn’s biological mother has reached out to him with letters on his birthday and at Christmas, which doesn’t bother the Russes—”I would do the same if I was in her situation,” says homemaker Lizabeth—but so far he has not answered. “Right now, I don’t want to see her,” he says. “I just want to live my normal life.” There’s that n word again.