To Hug a Porcupine

Jorge needed some help, so for several thousand dollars, he hired two professional "transporters" — imposing men trained in a whole repertoire of negotiating skills and takedown maneuvers. One morning last November, they drove to a group home where Jorge's eldest son was being held.

Brian was just 15 years old then but already six feet tall. All cheekbones and muscles, with long hair and dark, serious eyes, he looked like a young Johnny Depp. He was deemed violent. A flight risk.

As the transporters stood in the background, Jorge tensely informed the boy that he was being moved across the country to a different, more secure psychiatric facility. Immediately. Would he like to get anything from his room?

Since there were few things he cared about in the world, Brian grabbed his sneakers and a couple of other possessions. Then off he went, sandwiched by his escorts, to catch their plane.

Days later, Jorge surprised 14-year-old Matthew. At home on the family ranch near Gainesville, Jorge told the straw-haired blond boy that he, like his brother, was being sent to a faraway residential facility for indefinite treatment. The boy surrendered peacefully. Considering the stunts he'd tried in the past — like trying to murder his mother — Jorge felt a huge relief.

Then there was James. Once his brothers disappeared, delivered to institutions in separate states, the 13-year-old with the thick blond hair and mischievous eyes knew what was coming. Because of scheduling issues, though, it wouldn't be until the next month.

During those quiet weeks, James busied himself by plotting a chilling revenge. What could he do that would have the maximum, spirit-crushing impact?

He gathered some supplies and headed into the horse stalls.

Jorge and his wife, Debbie (New Times is not using their last name in order to protect the identities of the children), say that if they'd known in 1998 what they know now, they never would have adopted the brothers. The Department of Children and Families hid reams of information about brutal sexual abuse the boys had suffered in their first years of life, and when that abuse caused a rare but severe psychological disorder, the agency wavered and stalled rather than provide proper care. DCF had barely recovered from disturbing news stories in recent years about foster parents molesting children in their care and young wards of the state disappearing into the system — here was another sad example of the historically troubled agency failing the very children it claimed to protect.

Now, even after a protracted, eight-year-long lawsuit has drawn to a close, Debbie and Jorge remain in legal/political limbo with $10 million at stake. The boys are finally in treatment — but no one's sure it will help at this stage.

In hindsight, experts say that the children should have been separated from their trauma bond and given intensive psychological care — ten years ago. "My youngest child entered foster care when he was one month old," Debbie says. "He's coming out the other side a sociopath."

1998 was a vastly more hopeful time for the family. They were a couple who wanted to have a positive impact on the world. They had already adopted one boy — 11-year-old David — and the plan now was to take in three brothers who'd arrived in the foster care system as the children of shockingly neglectful parents. Everyone was excited about the first meeting. Debbie, Jorge, and David would head over to John Prince Park, where, on the playground, they would "accidentally" bump into adoption workers and the three boys. No need to tell the kids this could become their "forever family." Best not to get anyone's hopes up.

It was a chilly February afternoon. Jorge and David tossed a ball with the three siblings as Debbie looked on. Brian, who at 6 was the oldest, was always the most serious of the children. Talkative 5-year-old Matthew was already a charmer. The baby, James, was 3.

Under normal circumstances, the adoption process includes a number of test visits to make sure kids and parents warm up to each other. But after their very first sleepover at Debbie and Jorge's Boynton Beach home, Brian, Matthew, and James cried and begged not to return to their foster home. So that was it; they moved in. DCF expedited the adoption, and it was finalized July 24. As part of the turnover, adoption counselor Myra Zuc­lich gave Debbie and Jorge some paperwork — birth certificates, Social Security cards. "The stack was a quarter-inch thick," Debbie says, pinching a forefinger and thumb.

The papers included one abuse report detailing an incident that had caused the children to be taken from their birth mother. It was possible the oldest boy had been sexually abused in her care, Debbie remembers Zuclich saying, but no one had ever been charged.

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Deirdra Funcheon