Thursday, May 1, 2014

Unraveling Heather Elyse

We sat in the congregation wearing black, watching a slideshow memorializing the life of three small children in Haiti. “Heather’s children.” Our hearts were broken for the loss of these lives and as the slideshow and videos played we sat stunned and in pain mourning their loss.

I watched the faces of Heather Elyse’s seven American-born children. They were sitting perfectly still and proper in the front row of the sanctuary. Tears rolled down the cheeks of one of the older girls. We felt for them. And we were confused by how little comfort Heather offered.

We, and the rest of the families adopting from Heather’s crèche Giving Hope Rescue Mission, had been told by Heather that the children in Haiti (“her” children) were victims of a “brutal hate crime” but we still had no idea what had happened and why 2 young children and a baby were dead. There was no explanation; there were no bodies, nothing during the memorial that offered any details of what had happened or why.

After the service we stood with Heather and her children and asked for the story. What had happened and what was this brutal hate crime?

She told us that the older girl (age approximately 4?) was going to get a visa to come home to the U.S. with Heather as her adopted daughter. It was the day of her visa appointment at the U.S. embassy. She said that that day she, Heather, was at the airport in Port au Prince and had left the kids at the crèche. Before the little girl left for her visa appointment with the crèche director, Wesmin, her birthmother arrived. She described the birthmother as crazy, drug addicted, from the slums of Port au Prince. She said that the birthmother and a dangerous man who was with her in a car came and a tug of war ensued over the little girl and her young cousin. A large crowd grew around the crèche and “things became dangerous.” So the crèche director released Heather’s children to the birthmother and the man in the car.

According to Heather the police were called and they set up a roadblock in the small town of Montrouis (it has one main street approximately one mile long.) When the birthmother and the children stopped at the road block the woman pulled the children from the car and shot them point blank in the middle of the street while screaming that if she couldn’t have them, Heather could not be happy and have them.

I remember bursting into tears. I asked what had happened to the baby and Heather said “basically the same thing.”

My husband and I were in total shock. We felt for Heather and for her children. We offered her any help she might need. We hugged her and the children close. Heather told us that she’d never be able to get the bodies back because the little girl never did get her visa, etc.

Then things got weird. Heather wrote a blog post online about visiting the childrens’ blood stains on the street of Montrouis. She wrote about visiting the murderer in prison and writing “I forgive you” on her hands.

Missionaries living in and around Montrouis began researching and stated emphatically that this murder never happened there and that what Heather was describing was not true.

Stories began to conflict. Heather wrote on a child update for children living at the creche that the baby had died of a disease. She apparently forgot that she told us that the baby was murdered.

Heather told others that the children were murdered by machete, not shot with a gun.

We began to feel very nervous.

Three months later we were back in that same church. This time for Heather’s baby shower for another little girl she said she was adopting from Haiti.

Lovely pictures of the little girl and her big eyes and sweet smile were posted up front.

I sat there with another adoptive mom and watched this celebration of Heather, her work in Haiti and her supposed adoption of this child with some level of skepticism. She had not updated us on our adoption progress and children who were supposed to have gone home by then had not. We had begun to wonder if she was fabricating the dramatic stories coming out of her work in Haiti but were still hopeful that nobody working with children and claiming to be a Christian could be that deceptive.

And then the climax of the baby shower service arrived. I watched in mounting dismay as Heather played a video of her seven American-born children re-enacting the trauma surrounding their adoptions.

Heather had previously detailed for us that the children had the  “worst abuse stories in the history of social services” in their states. There were stories of her children’s mutilations, incest and a child locked in a dog cage. I was nervous as the video started and the children were shown crying and holding on to one another as they talked about their stories and details surrounding the reasons they were no longer in their birthparents’ care.

The two of us sitting together were sick and in shock. Not for Heather and not for the children’s stories. We cried because what we were watching seemed like such an obvious exploitation of the children in Heather’s home. No child should ever been shown in such a compromising way.

Shortly after it ended we got up and walked out.

We agreed that something seemed terribly off about Heather Elyse’s judgment and parenting choices.

We went out for lunch the following week and made a list of things we had been told by Heather, things other adoptive parents had been told, and what we actually knew was true. We began reaching out to people who might be able to confirm or deny some of the stories.

Nothing added up.

- Heather claimed to be adopted but no online records supported this. She has several siblings, including a twin, and was raised in her family of origin.

- Heather claimed that she was sick and dying of cancer but this seemed to be ongoing without any progression or treatment.

- Heather claimed that each of her children had extreme problems – from mental health to behavior to diseases. But she traveled all over the U.S. and Haiti with these children and the people we talked to who had lived with her had not seen her administer any medication. We called her church as well as a missionary in Haiti that had lived with her and nobody had seen her educating her children by sending them to school or homeschooling them. We also found a record online of charges brought against her for not educating the children.

- Heather told us that she was a very successful professional photographer who worked for Target and that she had to fly around the US doing photo shoots but we could not find any evidence of any career. The only jobs from her past that people have confirmed are a short stint working for a gift shop and some time as an assistant to a photographer. Prior to moving to Haiti she was the Children’s minister at Olive Branch Church of God. They let her go after one year.

- Heather told us and others that she was involved in lawsuits. Specifically she was suing her former church/employer and that she was being sued by a missionary family in Haiti. When we looked into this by contacting the parties involved nobody was aware of any lawsuits whether from her or against her.

- Heather told us (and also told a newspaper in Indiana, click here.) that the first child she foster/adopted “Victoria” was murdered by her birthmother. Two witnesses have come forward stating that Victoria is alive and well and was not murdered.

- Heather claimed to be adopting 10 children in Haiti. My husband and I met those Haitian children. They lived with her in a 2 bedroom apartment along with her 7 adopted children and her husband at the time. She never brought any of those children home to the U.S.

- Heather told so many conflicting stories about whether she had been married, was married or was never married that she lost control over the stories. We had a firsthand experience of arriving in Haiti in March of 2012 and meeting her then husband S. Kelly with whom she was living in a small apartment with 17 children. She wore a large wedding ring. She introduced S as her husband and S was with us the entire week we were at the crèche. Only to be completely out of her life just a couple of months later when we attended the memorial for the “murdered” children in Colorado.

Heather is now charged with child neglect in the state of Indiana.
This is the least of the charges we believe she should be faced with.

Families from all over the United States, many whom have never even met in person, have had the same experience with Heather. Loss of thousands of dollars to Heather when she could or would not complete their adoptions of children from Haiti. Conflicting and inappropriate stories shared by Heather with adoptive families related to sex/marriage/porn/rape. Conflicting stories of deaths and murder of children in her care in Haiti. Conflicting stories of where she gets her income and how she came to parent her seven adopted children.

The link between these families is that we each met Heather Elyse as the founder of Giving Hope Rescue Mission. She told us that she does adoptions differently, more ethically, and that we could trust her with our hearts and our adoptions. She took thousands of dollars – from some of us through her organization, for projects that were never reported on in Haiti, for several non-profits she started that have not produced financial reports and directly to her home address from families that were told they had to pay or their adoption would not be done.

She then bullied families, lied to them, punished when asked questions, and concocted increasingly bizarre and concerning stories that kept a large group of adoptive families emotionally bound to her and concerned for her – her children, her finances, her marriages, her future. She processed only a few adoptions and then claimed to have facilitated 80+ adoptions from Haiti.

Standing at the distance that most of us can stand now – with our children moved to different organizations or brought home through our own hard work and legally moving our children to other agencies – we can see the deception and manipulation.

We believe collectively that something is wrong with Heather Elyse Savage. Something is seriously wrong. And if her actions did not impact children we would probably never choose to continue to be involved in this situation. We would not spend our time writing, making phone calls, begging to be heard and for something to be done.

Several families contacted the agency, Embraced by Grace, in Florida. We believe that this is the agency that placed 2 additional children with Heather Elyse this year. We believe they chose to place the children in her care despite our concerns.

And now we watch this story play out in Indiana related to the neglect of one of those recently placed children. He claims that Heather locked him in his room and withheld food.

And We. Are. Not. Surprised.

She left dozens of children, including 10 of her “own” behind in Haiti when she abandoned her crèche. Children were brought out of that crèche starving to death. 12 pounds at age 2 is not acceptable.

As Christians it is not our duty to stand by Heather Elyse. God uses His people as His hands and feet on earth.  Children are her victims and the Bible is clear that we are to stand for the poor, the orphan, and the widow. The defenseless.

Heather uses the threat of lawsuit to keep people scared and quiet. But we are not concerned. A courtroom could not contain the number of families and individuals who have been financially and emotionally hurt by Heather Elyse.

God did not give us a spirit of fear but of power, of love and of a sound mind.