updated 12/28/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST
•originally published 12/28/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST
A little over a year ago, Shawn was just another miserable kid in Florida's child welfare system. At least four times he had been packed off to foster homes, and he had spent only seven months out of the last eight years with his mother, Rachel Kingsley, 31, who was separated and who often left him unattended. Then he was placed in foster care with Lizabeth and George Russ and their eight children, who lived in serene Leesburg, Fla. Within months, Gregory asked if he could stay permanently, and George, a lawyer, began helping him mount the lawsuit that in September would unfold before a national audience and end in a judge's controversial ruling that Rachel had forfeited her rights to her son. "I wanted a family," says Shawn, who legally changed his name and who hasn't spoken to his mother or brothers Jeremiah, 11, and Zachary, 9, since the decision.
Nonetheless, Shawn can't shake memories of his past life. Lizabeth recounts an incident in which George told his adopted son somewhat sternly, "I need to talk to you, Shawn." What he wanted to discuss was Shawn's schoolwork, but the youngster jumped to other conclusions. "My mom's getting me back, isn't she," he asked fearfully. Indeed, if he has any second thoughts or guilt about cutting himself loose from Rachel, he keeps such emotions very well hidden. Asked how he feels to get the family he wanted, he thinks for a moment and responds, "Happy...and happy."