The Arkansas Times continues to do a stellar job unraveling the incredibly disturbing story of Arkansas State Representative Justin Harris, who gave away the little girls he'd adopted to a man who sexually abused one of them. The Times' newest story reveals there were three children, not two, and that Harris and his wife believed they were possessed by demons.
Benjamin Hardy reports that at a news conference last week, Harris and his wife Marsha said they only wanted to adopt a four-year-old and a two-year-old set of siblings, but were "pressured" by the state's Department of Human Services (DHS) into adopting their older sibling as well, a six-year-old girl.
"Marsha and I always planned to have five children," Harris told reporters. The couple already had three teenage sons. "We decided to adopt two girls. After initiating a private adoption, we were informed in a meeting with DHS, CASA, the attorney ad litem, and Ozark Guidance that we could not adopt the two children unless we also took their older sibling."
Hardy's story also reveals that the Harts, an experienced foster family who were taking care of the girls before the Harrises adopted them, warned the representative and his wife that they weren't prepared to deal with the girls' particular challenges. The sisters had suffered neglect and sexual abuse, and the foster family didn't believe the Harrises were prepared. But the adoption went forward anyway because of political pressure. From Hardy's story:
The Harts also said the adoption was allowed to proceed despite their objections because of the direct intervention of Cecile Blucker, head of the Division of Children and Family Services, the arm of DHS responsible for child welfare. They say Blucker exerted pressure on the Washington County DHS office on behalf of Justin Harris to facilitate the adoption. The former DHS employee confirmed this information as well.
And here is where things get far, far more fucked up: the Harrises evidently believed that the middle child, who Hardy refers to by the pseudonym "Mary," who was four years old, was possessed by demons and capable of communicating telepathically:
Chelsey Goldsborough, who regularly babysat for the Harrises, said Mary was kept isolated from Annie and from the rest of the family. She was often confined for hours to her room, where she was monitored by a video camera. The reason: The Harrises believed the girls were possessed by demons and could communicate telepathically, Goldsborough said. Harris and his wife once hired specialists to perform an "exorcism" on the two sisters while she waited outside the house with the boys, she said.
The babysitter said she was only allowed to enter the room to provide the little girl with food and water. Her toys were also taken from her. The Harrises denied the claims in a statement through their attorney, saying exorcism and demonic possession "are not part of the Harrises' religious practice."
The two-year-old and four-year-old were also allegedly prevented from being around each other because of the Harrises' conviction that they were communicating telepathically. They were supposedly kept in separate rooms "outfitted with locks, alarms and video cameras," according to Hardy's sources. A source also told Hardy that a guinea pig was crushed to death by the oldest girl, 6. She left the Harris home and was not re-homed with Eric Cameron Francis, the man who sexually abused one of the other children. (She appears to have been adopted by a different family.)
The girls' biological mother, Sarah Young, was also interviewed by Hardy; she gave the children up for adoption after a slew of horrible events: her husband sexually abused the oldest girl and was sent to prison; she then became romantically involved with a methamphetamine manufacturer, whose meth lab soon caught fire. The children came to the attention of social services after an anonymous call to a child welfare hotline. Young told Hardy that she had been adopted as a child and then "returned" by her adoptive mother.
The family who ultimately adopted the two younger children also released a statement to the Times, saying the Harrises' representation of the girls as violent and demonically possessed is untrue. It reads, in part:
We are deeply grieved over Justin Harris' accusations toward our daughters in order to self-protect; it is inexcusable. Like the Harts, we also have two small dogs and the girls have only been gentle towards them. These girls are happy, healthy children who have gone through things no child should ever have to endure. Since they have been home with us, they have adjusted beautifully and are thriving in our home with unconditional love and patience.
There are currently no laws in Arkansas against "re-homing" children. In a statement several days ago, Governor Asa Hutchinson said he is personally reviewing " the practices and policies of DHS when it comes to adoption of children within DHS custody."
Photo via AP