Unprecedented news from Guatemala: A Guatemalan court has ordered La Procuraduría General de la Nación (PGN, or Attorney General’s Office) and the Ministry of External Relations to work with the US Embassy to “locate and retrieve” a child adopted to Timothy and Jennifer Monahan of Missouri in 2007 under the fraudulent name “Karen Abigail López García.” The court, Juzgado Constituido en Tribunal de Amparo, also ruled for the girl’s passport to be annulled and for her birth certificate to be cancelled, based on the fact that the identity of “Karen Abigail” seems to have been created for the sole purpose of facilitating an illegal adoption.
The judge, Angelica Noemi Tellez Hernández, also issued the following orders for the adoptive parents:
“… los señores Timothy James Monahan y Jennifer Lyn Vanhorn Monahan, para cual se les fija el plaze de dos meses, contados a partir de que se encuentre firme la presente sentencia y debiendo tomar en cuenta el interes superior de la niña, bajo apercibimiento de que en case de incumplimiento, se les impondra una multa de tres mil Q, sin perjucio de las demas responsabilidades en que pudieron incurrir; y se ordenara la localizacion de la nina por medio de la Policia Internacional- INTERPOL.”
Basically, she’s given the Monahans a deadline of two months to respond, counting down from the date of the ruling, July 29, 2011. If they don’t cooperate, a fine of 3,000 Quetzales (about $389) will be imposed, and the Guatemalan authorities will “order the location of the girl through the International Police, INTERPOL.”
Coincidentally, on one of my reporting trips to Guatemala, I was provided access to thousands of documents about the “Karen Abigail” case, including a copy of the child’s passport application. Here’s a photo I snapped of it:
The photo at the top of this post, in color, is of a child named Anyelí Rodríguez. It was taken roughly two years earlier than the passport photo above for “Karen Abigail.”
The Monahans originally accepted an adoption referral for “Karen Abigail” from the agency Celebrate Children International, and one of Guatemala’s most famous and outspoken lawyers, Susana Luarca, later helped finalize the adoption.
The young couple Loyda and Dayner Rodríguez believe that “Karen Abigail” is their missing daughter, Anyelí Liseth Hernández Rodríguez, who was abducted from their yard in Guatemala five years ago. “I think that they are going to ultimately return her,” Loyda told me hopefully last August, during an interview.
Here’s a brief and slightly modified excerpt from chapter eight of my upcoming book, “Finding Fernanda,” summarizing the case:
The daughter of Loyda Elizabeth Rodríguez and Dayner Orlando Hernández, both twenty-four years old, was kidnapped on November 3, 2006 from their home. They reported Anyelí’s kidnapping the same day. The couple had two other children together, and two-year-old Anyelí was their middle child and only daughter. After years of pleading with authorities to help find her missing daughter, Loyda finally found a photo she believed to be Anyelí in Guatemalan immigration records, in the adoption file of a child called “Karen Abigail López García.”
But the child had already been taken out of the country. “Karen Abigail” left Guatemala aboard Continental airlines flight #457 on December 9, 2008 with a new set of parents, Jennifer Vanhorn Monahan and Timothy Monahan of Liberty, Missouri. They were clients of the Florida-based adoption agency Celebrate Children International, a Christian nonprofit with a serious complaint history dating back to the company’s start in 2004. A “contact” for the agency, a young Guatemalan man in his 20′s named Marvin Bran had initially offered “Karen Abigail” to agency director Sue Hedberg for placement. When the Monahans accepted an adoption referral for “Karen Abigail,” the lawyer listed on their Guatemalan Power of Attorney form was none other than César Augosto Trujillo, the same man who handled many other “Marvin Bran babies,” including the little girl at the heart of my book: Fernanda Alvarado.
The Monahans’ adoption was a slow, tangled process that began in 2006. By July 2007, a failed DNA test revealed that a fake birth mother had relinquished “Karen Abigail.” According to emails the Monahans sent to Guatemalan private investigators, they were distressed and confused. They’d already waited seven months for the adoption to move forward, with almost no progress.[i] On August 1st, Jennifer Monahan wrote in her personal timeline of the adoption that agency head Sue Hedberg had planned to ask LabCorp, the primary DNA testing facility in the US used for adoptions, to “bury” the results of the mismatched test. But “LabCorp can’t do that anymore,” Monahan noted, because of newly tightened regulations. She’d grown suspicious about what was unfolding in the adoption, and took careful notes of everything that transpired, including, her notes say, recording conversations with Sue Hedberg. When Monahan asked Hedberg what could be done after the child’s failed DNA test, aparently seeking alternative ways to push the adoption through, Hedberg responded that Marvin might bring the child to an orphanage, where she might eventually become declared abandoned. Or, Hedberg said, Bran might dump the girl “somewhere where nobody could find her.” In subsequent emails, Monahan said she was “terrified.”
Guatemalan adoption attorney Susana Luarca became involved in the case, and the Monahans ultimately were able to adopt “Karen Abigail” through an abandonment process, meaning that the DNA test results- which were meant to prevent fraud in adoption- could be ignored. ”Karen Abigail” left Guatemala with the Monahans in December 2007.
It was exactly the kind of scenario Loyda Rodríguez feared: that her missing girl would leave Guatemala before the crawling judicial system could look into her case. A year had passed from the time she filed a missing child complaint on November 3, 2006, and the time “Karen Abigail” left Guatemala, in early December 2008.
For Rodríguez, getting anyone to pay attention to her family’s plight was an uphill battle. Rodriguez, along with four other women, had staged a 10-day hunger strike in the summer of 2009 in front of Guatemala’s Supreme Court of Justice to call attention to the cases. ”It was traumatizing,” Rodriguez told me in August 2010. “After eight days, I felt like my head was no longer my own. So hungry.But at about the fifth day we weren’t as hungry. We consumed only water.”
The other three women participating in the hunger strike were the director of Sobrevivientes, Norma Cruz, a young women whose stolen child had been recovered, Ana Escobar, and two others, Olga López and Raquel Par, who believed their missing children had been laundered with new identities and adopted to families in the middle America.
“On the fourth day, the doctor told me, m’am, I’m sorry, but you’re too old for this,” Cruz told me in one of my interviews with her. “I’m almost 50. I never fully recovered from it. By the time we went to the congress to sign the ‘convenio’ it was hard for us to walk…”
On August 29, 2009, another DNA test was administered, comparing a DNA sample from Loyda Rodriguez to one on fie from LabCorp for ”Karen Abigail.” It was a match (see images here). The Guatemalan press wrote about it, but American media outlets didn’t pick up the story.
Fundación Sobrevivientes helped the Rodríguez family file an amparo, a legal move in Guatemala sort of akin to a request for help or protection, in the court system. They expected the results to take up to six months.
Instead, the process took almost a year. The decision last week by Guatemalan judge Angelica Noemi Tellez Hernández to annul the passport and birth certificate for “Karen Abigail” is unprecedented, as is the request for the child’s return.
About two weeks ago, on July 20th, I called Jennifer Monahan. Lawyers for the Rodríguez family had granted me access to thousands of records about the ”Karen Abigail” case, and Monahan’s phone number was on on of them.
A woman answered the phone, and when I asked for Jennifer Monahan, she asked me who I was. I identified myself, saying I had just finished writing a book about adoption fraud that contained a lot of overlap with the people involved in her adoption of “Karen Abigail.” The woman sort of stumbled over her words, telling me she wasn’t Jennifer.
I told her that if Jennifer wanted to talk to me, it could be done confidentially. I explained that I already understood a lot about her experience, since Guatemalan sources had shared a trove of emails and documents related to the adoption. I offered to send her a few pages, to show the depth of what I was talking about. The woman told me to fax them to Jennifer Monahan by faxing them to the same number I’d called. I explained that I didn’t have a fax, and she told me, curtly, to find one.
I suggested that I could email them, instead, to an email address I had on file for Jennifer. She got quiet, and said that would be ok. I thanked her for her time and repeated that if Jennifer Monahan wanted to speak to me, it could be off the record. Later that day, I emailed an 11-page .pdf of documents to an email address I knew had been used by Jennifer Monahan. Here’s a small sample, excerpted from an adoption timeline Monahan sent via email to Susana Luarca. The “Sue” referenced here is Sue Hedberg, director of the adoption agency Celebrate Children International:
I haven’t heard back from Monahan, nor do I expect to. With this latest court development, I can’t offer her any kind of anonymity- the Monahans are named publicly in the ruling. If they don’t cooperate, Guatemalan authorities are threatening to get INTERPOL involved.
On Facebook, Fundación Sobrevivientes, the nonprofit providing pro-bono legal help to the Rodríguez family, expressed support for the court, saying they considered the resolution to be “historic and a light of hope for all Guatemalans, because justice in Guatemala, despite all of the obstacles, is changing, not with giant steps as we want, but case by case.”
On the morning of August 2nd, Sobrevivientes sent out a press release regarding the court ruling. On the last page, they included a little collage of those facing charges that vary from plain old human trafficking to fraud, conspiracy, and aggravated kidnapping in the “Karen Abigail” case. Those crooked yellow circles are my own– I’ve highlighted people involved that also played a role in the abduction of the daughters of Mildred Alvarado, one of the two main characters in my book Finding Fernanda.
Update 8/4/2011, 11:52 PST: After reading some of the comments on the new media reports about this case, I’ve added more info to the post from my files, including the section about the hunger strike and the DNA test.
Update 8/3/2011, 2:14 PST: Here’s what Norma Cruz from Sobrevivientes told me this morning about the case, and the Monahans’ cooperation (or lack thereof):
“Los Monahan[s], nunca se han comunicado, para que esclarezcamos los hechos o poder llegar a una conversacion que nos lleve a un acuerdo minimo.”
That translates, roughly, to “The Monahans have never communicated, either to clarify the facts or to arrive at a conversation that will lead us to a minimum agreement.”
Update 8/5/2011: I’ll post the court ruling in full tomorrow.
Update 8/23/2011, 5:29 p.m. PST: For more on the Organized Crime Unit of the Ministerio Público’s interest in the migratory movements of Jennifer Monahan, Timothy Monahan, “Karen Abigail” Monahan, and adoption agency director Sue Hedberg, click here for documents.
I’ve previously written on items and people related to this case on the Finding Fernanda blog here (“May 6th, 2011: Breaking: Susana Luarca In Custody”), here (“July 8th, 2011: Breaking: New Charges on Yajaira Noemí Muyus case”) and here (“May 19th, 2011: On GuatAdopt’s “On Susana, CICIG, and the Senator”).
[i] Email supplied to the Ministerio Publico by Marvin Bran’s former defense attorney Fernando Linares; access to “Karen Abigail” case file granted to me by Guatemalan lawyers for the Rodríguez family.