Debbie said she called Adam to share the news. When Adam asked to speak to Owen, he declined.
“He was too busy playing,” she said. “And then Owen ran to his aunt and said, ‘Mommy says we’re going to Kansas tomorrow—if I take a bath, today!’”
Approximately 12 hours after receiving the news, Debbie and Owen arrived in Hillsboro from Denver Thursday night at the home of Owen’s paternal grandparents, Doug Miller and Holly Swartzendruber.
Adam, who now lives in Hesston, drove to Hillsboro to see Owen the following day.
“Within a few minutes of him coming in the door, Owen was like, ‘I’m going to give you a tour of the house,’” Debbie said. “And he dragged (Adam) around from top to bottom.”
It had been more than four years since the no-contact order was issued.
Owen’s head injury
Owen had fallen and hit his head on a cement step Sept. 25, 2008.
“I was at home, Debbie was at work, driving school bus in McPherson, and I was watching Owen,” Adam said about that day.
Adam had taken their dog outside.
“I took Owen out with me,” he said. “I turned my attention to our dog and heard him scream. It was a bloodcurdling scream. But then it was kind of quiet and just kind of moaning. And I turned around and he was—I don’t know if he had fallen off the stairs or gone down and fallen into the stairs—concrete steps. He was laying at the bottom.”
After seeing Owen had a mark on his forehead, Adam called Debbie at work to let her know about the incident and then took him to the doctor’s office in Hillsboro where Debbie met them about 45 minutes after receiving the call.
“Owen had a goose egg that was an inch out from his head and about 2 inches across,” Debbie said.
Adam added, “So they did typical vital stuff and kept an eye on him for a little bit.”
Owen was given a CT scan.
“Nothing showed right at first,” Adam said.
Owen’s parents found out later at the trial that CT scans done within four hours of an injury often don’t show signs of the injury that come later.
“But we didn’t know that at the time,” Debbie said. “We just thought, ‘OK.’”
They took Owen home with orders to watch him for warning signs such as being lethargic, vomiting or having a fever. Both Adam and Debbie did notice 1-year-old Owen didn’t seem himself.
“There was something ‘flat’ about him, like he wasn’t really himself,” she said. “And there were times we went back to the doctor.”
Then Owen began to show symptoms that caused more concern.
On Oct. 9, two days after Owen’s first birthday, Debbie said Adam called her at work and asked, “Have you noticed Owen’s been twitching?”
Adam said they found out later Owen was having seizures, so they took him to the emergency room at Hillsboro where they were told to take him to Via Christi/St. Francis in Wichita.
As they drove to Wichita, Owen started having more and more seizures, Debbie said.
“He was having one probably every three minutes,” she said. “We get to the hospital and he has an extremely high fever, even though he had been given Tylenol an hour before at the Hillsboro hospital.”
They sat in the waiting room for about an hour before Owen was seen.
“When they finally got us in, they took him away for a CT scan,” Debbie said. “Only one of us could go with him. And then Adam went with him.
“And the next thing we knew, we were shut in a room, there were Wichita police officers and they were questioning us.”
They were told Owen had been put in police protective custody.
Adam said they found out later the Wichita police wanted to put him in jail.
“But the Hillsboro police said, ‘It’s our jurisdiction, and let him go home,’” he said, adding he was allowed to go home to Hillsboro and Owen was admitted to pediatric ICU where he stayed for five or six days.
Adam and Debbie’s contact with Owen was limited.
“We were only allowed to see him once during that time with a social worker,” Debbie said. “I was allowed to make phone calls to the hospital to check on his status but Adam was not.
Owen was released from the hospital into foster care in the Wichita area, she said.
“And then after four to six weeks, his grandparents—Adam’s parents, Doug and his wife, Holly—were approved to be a kinship foster placement for Owen. And he was moved there.”
In December 2008, the Miller family had planned a trip to Phoenix, Ariz., for Christmas. About a day before they were to leave, the police came to Adam and Debbie’s home with a warrant to arrest Adam on the charge of felony child abuse.
While the family was able to bail Adam from jail, he was ordered not to leave the state.
So Owen’s grandparents went ahead and took him to Phoenix while Debbie stayed home with Adam.
“The most disappointing thing about that, then, was LeAnna, Doug’s mother, passed away in May, and we had never gotten to see her that last time,” Debbie said.
Adam added, “I am glad, though, that Owen got to see Grandma, even if he never remembers it.”
In December 2009, the trial was held in 8th District Court with Judge Michael Powers presiding. The jury trial resulted in a guilty verdict with Adam being sentenced to a jail term of one year, plus a no-contact order being issued.
Adam was released on bond while they waited to appeal the verdict to the Kansas Appellate Court.
In the time following the trial, Debbie’s custody of Owen became jeopardized.
“I filed for divorce largely because my lawyer said that was the only chance I would have of possibly getting Owen back,” Debbie said. “And two weeks after the divorce was made final, SRS and the social workers reversed what they were working toward—terminating our parental rights.”
Progressively the number of contact hours for Debbie with her son were increased until Aug. 15, 2011, when Owen was released into her custody.
Debbie said a Wichita attorney was hired to represent Adam’s appeal to the Kansas Appellate Court, which reversed and remanded the case back to the lower court, which invalidated the initial trial.
The Marion County attorney asked the Kansas Supreme Court to review that decision, Debbie said, but the state supreme court declined reviewing the case.
As a result, Adam said, the child abuse felony is now off his record.
“It’s gone,” he said.
The official letter stating the county attorney was dropping the charges was received June 6, Adam’s birthday.
“I had heard that (the no-contact order) was mixed in with the charge, and I had also heard that SRS was involved,” Adam said, “So I needed to get that straightened out.”
After contacting an attorney for advice, he went to the Marion County attorney’s office.
“The county attorney happened to be out of the office,” he said. “Her secretary was there, and she wasn’t 100 percent sure but she was looking through the documents on the computer and it looked like it was just with the case file.”
That’s when Debbie asked for written confirmation.
“I didn’t want to risk anything,” she said.
Adam said he wanted to go on the record about how he views the past four years.
“I think this is my chance to show God’s love and forgiveness. I just want to say I forgive the state, the county and the attorneys. I trust they were just doing their job. That’s one thing that has made it a lot easier to get through this—just trusting God’s plan.”
Looking to the future, Adam said he has some longterm plans he’d like to do with Owen.
“I really, really, really want to take him to Disney World,” he said. “And I want to take him to as many national parks as I can. That’s kind of been Dad’s tradition with us.
Debbie said she plans to stay in the area with Owen for a few weeks—until the Fourth of July—and then return to Denver. In fall, Owen will start kindergarten.
At the end of July, Adam said he intends to take a trip north, detouring through Denver on his way there and back.
“I have a lot of catching up to do,” he said.