Monday, August 18, 2014

When Love Isn't Enough - The Musser Family Tragedy - Part Four


The adage "the road to Hell is paved with good intentions" has been repeating in my mind since I started looking into Tommy Musser's death.  Susanna and Joe Musser had the best of intentions when they started down the road of adopting Tommy.  Their intentions, while good, have landed their entire family in hell.

Tommy Musser died.

 His mother made a mistake.  Not a malicious mistake or egregious neglect like Tommy had known in the past, but still a mistake that lead to his death.

Joseph, Daniel, Joshua, Laura, Jane, Katie, John Michael, Peter, James,  Stephen, Verity and Benjamin Musser lost a brother.

I feel a great deal of empathy and sadness for Tommy's twelve surviving siblings because I know what a sudden, unexpected death of a child can do to a family.

One example to start with:

When you are a kid, a common question people ask you is "How many siblings do you have?"  Seems like a harmless question, doesn't it?

I hated that question.  I still hate that question.

Should I tell them the truth: "I'm one of four kids, but my brother David died when he was almost a year old."?

From personal experience, I'll let you in on a secret: most people do NOT respond well to that answer.  Between asking detailed questions about how he died to looking shell-shocked and frantically changing the subject, I've received a whole slew of responses that make me want to hide under a bed until the person leaves.

Should I lie: "I'm one of three kids."?  Bluntly, I've found the lie gets easier over time.  Most people don't really want to know the truth during small talk and the people who really matter will find out when the time is right.

A wonderful therapist pointed out to me that when I spoke of grieving for David, I was actually mourning two losses: the loss of my brother and the loss of what my family was like before David died. Because when David died, my entire family changed over night.

Youth is not a protection.  I was four when David died - right between Stephen and Verity.  Young children grieve and lack some of the coping skills that older people have.

Being unborn or not adopted yet isn't a protection.  My youngest brother, Mike, was born a few months after David died.  He grew up in a family who was grieving for a person he had never met and that did have an effect on him.

Each of the Musser children will be affected by Tommy's death in a real, life-changing and personal way.

Susanna and Joe Musser will spend the rest of their lives knowing their choices lead to their son's death.

To quote my mom: "They've started on a journey that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy."  I can't imagine the amount of guilt, remorse, pain and anger that Susanna and Joe are facing.

The part I have the hardest time wrapping my head around is that they had other options available besides adopting Tommy right now.  The Mussers had brought a lot of attention to Pleven when they showed people in Bulgaria how much Katie had grown in the year after she was adopted.  She went from being the size of a badly underfed toddler to about the size of a 3 or 4 year old.  That's a huge developmental leap - and brought a lot of needed attention to the neglect going on at the orphanage.

Susanna mentioned how horrified the local doctors were when they saw Katie.  Why not contact those doctors again?  Set up an oversight committee of local health professionals and other interested community members.  Since they are in the country, they would be much more able to wield effective pressure for change.

Where do we go from here? (Mel's Two-Cents)

  • Starting on July 14th of 2014, agencies who are involved with international adoptions will need to be accredited through the Council of Accreditation (good!) or supervised by an agency that is accredited (that worries me...) to get in compliance with the Hague Adoption Convention.

  • A huge hole that I see is there seems to be no required accreditation for home study providers.  This is what allowed the Musser family to shop around to find a home study provider who didn't see a problem adding a third special-needs child into a family that would have 12 children.

  • I think the minimum requirement of a yearly income of at least 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines is a good starting place for non-relative adoptions.  However:
    • the income should be demonstrated over a time period of at least 3 years.  
    • primary residences and vehicles should NOT be counted as income.  (Ok, did I really have to write that sentence? It seems so obvious that my house is NOT income.  And yet, I've been proven wrong....)
    • if a family owns their primary residence outright without any liens or mortgages., then a waiver could be written to increase their income by the amount of a similar rental in their neighborhood minus the property taxes if needed.  (In plain English, pretend my husband and I own our house outright.  The agency could document our ownership of the house, determine market rental for a similar house (say $700 per month or $8,400 per year) and subtract property taxes ($500 per year).  In this case, since we don't pay a mortgage or rent, our income should be increased by $7,900 per year.)
  • I'm still curious what - exactly - the Musser's church community did to determine the family was ready to take on Tommy on top of 11 other children.  Did someone sit at their house for 24 hours a day for a week?  Did they arrange to bring over another special needs child - similar to Tommy's projected needs - for a week or so to see how the family coped?  Did any of the people making the recommendation have experience with special-needs children, adoptions, or both?  If you need to ask your church if adopting another kid is a good idea, the answer is no. 


  1. Susanna Musser has been approved to take in another "rehomed" child:

    1. I saw that. I was hoping it would fall though. It hasn't.