“We don t sleep much, we don t eat much, [but] strength for today will lead to bright hope for tomorrow,” Rusty Page told a crowd of supporters in front of his home Wednesday night.
More than 100 individuals and families gathered in the driveway of Rusty and his wife Summer’s Santa Clarita, California home to pray for the couple’s foster daughter of four years, 6-year-old Lexi, who was taken by Los Angeles County social workers on Monday under a court order that stated that the girl, who is 1/64th Choctaw, should be sent to live with extended family in Utah in accordance with the Indian Child Welfare Act.
“It was gut-wrenching,” Janet Smith, who has been a close friend of the family for 8 years, told PEOPLE of the child’s removal. “I was on the front lawn when it happened and it was the worst thing I’ve ever seen.”
Lexi is now living with non-blood relatives of her birth father, who also care for one of her half siblings. Another half-sibling lives down the street.
The National Indian Child Welfare Association and Lexi’s attorney both argue that the Pages knew that Lexi’s placement with their family was temporary but took issue with how she was removed Monday.
“It was regrettable and disturbing to observe the media spectacle witnessed [Monday], which stands in stark contrast to best practice that ensures a child s safe transition in such circumstances,” the Association said in a statement Tuesday.
“Transitioning a child from a foster care placement to family should be done in a manner that creates the least amount of unnecessary trauma for a child,” the group said.
Leslie Heimov, Executive Director of the Children’s Law Center of California, which has legally represented Lexi for 5 years, says that while the manner of Lexi’s removal was “not ideal,” relocating the child to live with her extended family was in accordance with the law and in Lexi’s best interest.
“ICWA was designed to ensure that the child welfare system was paying necessary attention to supporting Indian families and Indian heritage,” Heimov tells PEOPLE. “And in this particular case, ICWA or not, this child has a loving extended family and biological siblings that she’s with and that is what is in her best interest.”
Hundreds of community members gathered on Sunday and Monday to protest the girl’s removal from the Pages’ home. Many of those same supporters returned to the scene Wednesday night to support the family with songs and prayers
The Page family prayed together and cried throughout the vigil, with Rusty and Summer taking a break to speak to the half a dozen TV reporters eager to share their story
“At the end of the day, it’s more about who does Lexi view as her family,” Rusty said of the family’s nearly four-year legal battle to adopt the girl. “And that is incontestably us.”
The couple later asked the crowd to pray for Lexi and the extended family she has been placed with in Utah.
“Pray that they will care for Lexi right now and give her the comfort that she needs because we know she needs comfort,” Rusty, 32, said.
The Pages told PEOPLE they have not been able to have contact with Lexi since she was taken from their home on Monday and have not received word on her condition. Community members expressed their concern for the young girl who they said had come to know the Page family as her own.
“She is one of their family,” Smith, 46, said. “She is absolutely one of their family. She was about three when their youngest was born and she was so excited that she was getting a little sister. She thinks of these kids as her siblings.”
Other community members reported they had known the Pages for years and were unaware that Lexi was not their biological child until they learned she was going to be taken.
“We had no idea she was a foster child,” community member Saaedea Meilleur said. “I volunteered at their school and I always saw them and I had no idea.”
“She never said they were her foster family,” Meilleur’s 12-year-old daughter, a former schoolmate of Lexi’s, added. “If you asked her who her mom was, she would say ‘Summer.’ ”
The Meilleurs said that while they had been crushed by Monday’s events, they remained hopeful that the Pages’ appeal to have their case heard by the California Supreme Court would be successful.
“It’s really hard to see the pain, especially for her sisters and brother,” Saaedea said. “Love is just love. They love her and I believe this isn’t over yet. She’ll be back home, I truly believe that.”