Cook column: Who’ll determine this baby’s fate?
Kellie Corl talks with urgency and determination, despite the sleeping baby in her arms.
Or, actually, because of the sleeping baby in her arms.
For almost two weeks, Kellie and fiancee Jeff Luttrell have been taking care of his tiny niece, Kianna, born July 27. And they want to keep the baby.
“I don’t want to take her away from her mom,” she says, “but she’s not being a mom.”
They need a lawyer. And that takes money.
It would be good to start at the beginning of this story, but the beginning is hard to find. Was it when the baby’s mother called and asked them to come get the newborn? Or was it when the mother lost custody of her two older children and left another child to be raised by a friend?
All Kellie and Jeff know for sure is that they responded when the mother (his half sister) called in tears about two weeks ago. Her boyfriend had beaten her up and was in jail.
“He doesn’t want the baby,” Kellie says. “He told her not to have it.”
The mother begged them to come to Kentucky and get the baby.
They drove through the night on Aug. 15-16 to pick up Kianna in Louisville and turned right around to bring her to their Rowan County home. All her clothes fit in one diaper bag.
Now, according to Kellie, the mother says the boyfriend is out of jail and demanding to have the baby. He has talked about taking Kianna home with him to Guatemala and giving her to a family there.
It’s a complicated situation ó much more so than can be explained here.
“Long story short,” Kellie says, “we have to have $1,250 today.” That would be enough to pay half the retainer fee for a lawyer to help them protect Kianna, she says.
They say child protection workers in Kentucky and North Carolina have recommended they get a lawyer.
And, when the situation was explained as a hypothetical, that’s what Sandra Wilkes, director of the Rowan County Department of Social Services, recommended, too.
Kellie and Jeff have set up the Baby Kianna Fund at Wachovia Bank in downtown Salisbury to collect donations for the legal fees. They have been talking to attorney Trippe McKenny and an attorney in Kentucky.
They are not asking for help for themselves; they say this fund would go only toward keeping Kianna.
Kellie recently moved her business, Kellie’s Consignments, from Innes Street to Ellis Crossroads. Jeff, once a supervisor for KMD construction, is working construction on his own. But work is scarce.
Both 38, they have been together for two years and have seven children between them, including two who live with them full time and another who spends half the week at their home, the other half with his mother.
It sounds as though their hands are full enough, but everything is relative. They believe they can provide a better home than what awaits Kianna in Kentucky.
“I’d like to have this baby and make sure it has a good life,” Jeff says. “It’s my niece, you know.”
Two business people have promised their support to Kellie. Another is waiting for verification of the story.
That’s a problem.
An official with the Louisville Metro Jail confirms that a man by the boyfriend’s name was released on bail in mid-August, facing charges of domestic assault and probation violation.
Otherwise, I have no proof of any aspect of this story beyond having seen petite Kelly walk into my office with the baby in her arms, sounding desperate for help.
She looked the same size and age as the 16-year-old daughter with her. But she spoke as a concerned mother, someone who doesn’t want to see a child treated like a piece of furniture that can be sold. Or neglected to the point that the child might end up in foster care.
Kellie returned on Tuesday with Jeff to bring me up to date and pose for a photo.
Little Kianna blinked and yawned ó and smiled in that fleeting way infants have. She has a full head of black hair and round, red cheeks ó a healthy looking baby.
But Kianna’s fate is a question mark. I’ll take a chance on telling the story. I’d rather risk trusting someone too much than miss an opportunity to help this child.
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Elizabeth Cook is editor of the Salisbury Post.