By Michelle Boudin
August 26, 2013 12:00 PM

There are cases of hellish abuse – and then there was Jed. Born to severely mentally ill parents, he was found in rural Robeson County, N.C., at age 3, emaciated and chained to a bed, eating from a dog bowl on the floor. Social services tried to place him in foster homes – some good and others troubled – but the traumatized youngster stole, attacked his foster parents and ran away. By the time he was 13, he had cycled through 29 families, including four who had initially wanted to adopt him. After his 14th birthday, therapists at the Alexander Youth Network (AYN) – the Charlotte, N.C., treatment center where Jed had stayed on and off since he was 8 – reluctantly concluded there was no more they could do for him, and he was transferred to a mental institution. His story might have ended there but for Billy Maddalon, 46, a businessman who had spent two years at AYN during his own troubled youth, and his partner, Brooks Shelley.

DENISE LITTLE, social worker, Alexander Youth Network: He looked like an attractive, typical boy. But he’d say, “I’m bad, I’m stupid, I can’t trust anyone.” One time he came to my office crying and said, “Won’t I ever have a family? Won’t anybody ever love me?”

JED: It was hard. I kept switching homes and schools. If I was afraid, I would run. Billy, a member of the Charlotte City Council, and Brooks, 46, a Realtor, had been a couple since 2000 and were both volunteers at AYN.

BILLY: My dad shot a man and went to prison. When I was about 9, I started acting out, setting fires, starting fights. Fortunately my mom found out about AYN. It saved my life. One day [while volunteering at AYN] I saw Jed running for the woods. I screamed, “Hey,” and he stopped in his tracks. The staff person said he’d never done that. I taught him how to catch a ball that day. I saw a lot of myself in him.

BROOKS: He was so lost and defeated. But you could tell by the look in his eye deep down he was a really good person.

BILLY: We’d wanted a family and had kicked around surrogacy or adopting. Then, one afternoon, Denise Little came to me in tears and said Jed was being sent to a mental hospital. It just felt like somebody had to save him. I said, “We’re the right people.” Even if 29 families thought the same thing. Billy and I are naive and optimistic. We believe in happy endings.

They took Jed, who had been diagnosed with PTSD, a mood disorder and oppositional defiant disorder, on outings during the six months he was hospitalized.

BILLY: It was surreal, like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

JED: I didn’t like it. I pretty much slept the whole time I was there. They took me to a football game. It was fun. We had a great time.

In October 2008 social service workers brought Jed to live with Billy and Brooks in their bungalow home.

BILLY: We threw a party and had a banner that said “Welcome Home, Jed.” That first night we made spaghetti. He sat underneath the table and ate with his fingers. He didn’t know how to bathe, couldn’t write his name.

JED: I was nervous. I didn’t trust anyone. I didn’t think anyone would ever want me. Everybody had been saying I was a lost cause, and I believed it. I tested them for the longest time. I would run away and shoplift and stuff.

BROOKS: One time he jumped on a train, and we tracked him on the computer using the GPS on his phone. But when he ran away he would call around dinnertime and ask to come home.

BILLY: We had told him this wasn’t a trial run, that we wanted him. But I kept thinking, What if the damage was just too bad, what if all the effort and love weren’t enough?

One day, Jed was caught by a store manager after stealing a video game.

JED: They handcuffed me to a desk. I freaked out, started crying and kicking the desk to get out of the handcuffs. I tore up the guy’s desk.

BROOKS: It was terrible, one of those off the deep end things.

BILLY: I got there, saw him sitting on the floor, handcuffed. The policeman said, ‘I’ll go in with you, it’s not safe.’ I said, ‘I’ll be fine.’ Jed looked at me and said, ‘Pop, I screwed up.’ I said it’s okay. He said, ‘I just want to go home.’ I told the manager his story; he burst into tears and said Jed could go. We knew there was something good in Jed and, by God, we weren’t turning back.

JED: No matter how much I acted up, they said I wasn’t going anywhere. I mellowed down. They gave me my first birthday party. They made me feel special and like I’m an awesome person.

BILLY: From the first day he came to live with us, we’d tuck him in at night. Nobody had ever done that for him.

BROOKS: They told us he’d have problems attaching to people. So after a few months, when he first said “I love you,” it was a big deal.

They hired tutors and found Jed a psychiatrist, who put him on proper medication, which he is still on today, for his mood disorder and PTSD. Two years after they brought him home, the adoption went through. Today Jed, a high school junior at 19, hopes to attend North Carolina State University, Billy’s alma mater.

BILLY: I’m happiest when I see him achieve something, like participating in rugby. He’s good-looking and smart and sweet. He made us a family.

JED: It’s pretty straightforward. They care about me. I’m not going anywhere. This is my forever home.