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Haitian children arrive in Utah — finally

SALT LAKE CITY — Ten Haitian children arrived at Salt Lake City International Airport's Terminal 1 early Monday afternoon, greeted by anxious, sobbing siblings and extended family members they had never before met.

The children were the first to arrive here after a long saga that included intense negotiations between a U.S. senator, the president and prime minister of Haiti, Air Force officials, immigration officials, a pilot and his crew and numerous Utahns here and in Haiti.

Until only a couple of days ago, the 10 who arrived here Monday had remained in Haiti, mired in adoptive processes that had dragged on for many months and even years.

It took the movement of the earth — more specifically, the massive 7.0-magnitude earthquake that hit Haiti on Jan. 12 — to shake loose the red-tape shackles and get the 10 boys and girls en route to the United States and their adoptive families.

In the wake of the quake came fluctuations in adoption restrictions and the release of adoptees out of the impoverished Caribbean island nation. These 10 children were among some 50 from the Foyer de Sion orphanage who were allowed to fly out of Haiti Friday.

"It's a tragedy for people in Haiti," said Sheree Evans of Eden, who with her husband, Eric, accompanied 9-year-old Jean Tony and 7-year-old Darline to Salt Lake City Monday. "But for us to get these children here, it's a miracle."

It was a double delight twice over for Evans and her sister, Michelle Gordon of Bellingham, Wash., as each brought back two Haitian children on Monday's Miami-to-Houston-to-Salt Lake City flight.

The Evanses' adoption process was less than a year in the making before being realized Monday. By comparison, Michelle and Scott Gordon had been waiting for 2 1/2 years to bring home their two girls, 6-year-old Destina and 2-year-old Avrie.

The Evanses' adoptions began last May, when Sheree tagged along to Haiti with her sister as the latter made a visit to her two children.

Elsewhere near the Terminal 1 baggage claim area, Roger and Carol Carroll of West Bountiful were introducing 8-year-old Mia at the end of a journey that began nearly five years ago.

It had taken so long that the Carrolls had adopted and brought home another Haitian daughter, 4-year-old Taciana, a little more than a year ago. Mia and Taci, as she is now called, already got acquainted over a couple of weeks when Taci's adoption was being finalized by the Carrolls in Haiti.

Mia's adoption was an on-and-off affair, as her natural parents — both dying of tuberculosis, Carol Carroll said — wavered about giving her up. Her adoption decree was finalized 1 1/2 years ago, but Mia was still in Haiti on the day of the earthquake — the day she turned 8. The Carrolls had no word on her for nearly two days.

But the disaster and the resulting scare that fostered devastation throughout Haiti helped hasten Mia's departure and catapulted her into the Carrolls' waiting arms last weekend in Miami and then on to her introduction to the rest of her five siblings Monday.

"I was just bawling as soon as I came out and saw everyone there," said Carol Carroll, adding that her family has been praying for nearly five years to be joined by Mia. "We'll probably keep praying for another five years, just out of habit."

Lindsay Crapo of Pocatello, Idaho, sat nearby, surrounded by her five Haitian children — 16-year-old Madeline, 6-year-old Sophie, 4-year-olds Sawyer and Gracie and 14-month-old Kenyon.

They'll soon join Trevor and Lindsay Crapo's three children at home for a family that instantly doubles in size — from five to 10. The arrival of Madeline and Kenyon was a bonus blessing.

Infants like Kenyon generally are not released until they are older. And once children turn 16 — as had Madeline — they are usually retained in Haiti until they turn 18 before being released.

Their release last weekend and arrival in Utah Monday began to bring closure to the stories of 50 of the children at Foyer de Sion. Others remain behind. But these 50 got some help from Sen. Orrin Hatch, who made calls on their behalf; Sun Country Airlines, which allowed pilot Jake Yonckers and his crew to keep their 737 overnight in Haiti while numerous officials finished their paperwork; and many others.

And then 10 children and four families arrived home Monday. Lots of smiles and tears of relief. And looks of daze and disbelief that lengthy adoption ordeals were over, bridging thousands of miles in distance and years of waiting.

"I know it's real because she's here and I'm holding her," said Carroll, lovingly clutching Mia. "But I'm still having a hard time really believing it."

e-mail: taylor@desnews.com