George Stevenson grew up in a family that cared for numerous foster children, and after mentoring and coaching boys in youth baseball for years, he decided to adopt a child of his own.
He became the father of an 8-year-old boy and named him Galen, after his brother. As the boy grew older, relatives say, it became apparent that he was troubled, and at one point he had to be sent away to a treatment facility.
George Stevenson's relatives continue to stress, even in the face of his death, that foster care and adoption are important and positive experiences, and they are speaking out to ensure that public perceptions of the institutions aren't tainted by this case. They also still want the best for Galen, calling the killing "an isolated incident."
"We don't want people to think it has anything to do with adoption or kids in the foster care system. That's not the case," said George Stevenson's sister, Rashelle Stevenson-Oliver, who has seven adopted children. "It's an isolated incident, and we hope things work out so that he can get the attention and the help that he needs."
Galen's defense attorney, Elizabeth Lopez, said the allegations were out of character for the teenager. Lopez said one of the boy's teachers told her that he played chess with her every day and was a "great student." Lopez declined to comment further.
Incidents of children killing their parents are rare, including those involving adopted children. A local case that gained national notoriety and was made into a TV movie occurred in Anne Arundel County, when 17-year-old Larry Swartz murdered his adoptive parents in Cape St. Claire in 1984. Investigators later determined that Swartz, who was abandoned by his birth mother and bounced from foster home to foster home, was verbally and psychologically abused by his adoptive parents, Bob and Kay Swartz.
Foster children frequently come from troubled homes, and children who experience child abuse and neglect are nearly 60 percent more likely to be arrested as a juvenile and 30 percent more likely to commit a violent crime, according to a study cited by the National Institute of Justice.
Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute in New York and author of the book "Adoption Nation," said adoptions of young children from foster care have been rising, but it remains harder to find homes for older children. Parents, he said, have to be prepared for a challenge.
"The problems the kids experience have nothing to do with adoption — they stem entirely from what happened before the adoption, and that's what the new family is trying to cope with and help resolve," Pertman said. "It doesn't mean people shouldn't give homes and family to these kids; it means you have to prepare yourself for a different kind of parenting."
George and Galen Stevenson moved to the Idlewood neighborhood, just south of the Baltimore County line, about three years ago so George could take a job as a dispatcher with a transportation company.
Before that, George Stevenson had spent most of his life in Harrisburg, Pa., raised in a home where foster kids were ever-present. According to relatives, his mother had a tough childhood and wanted to help kids in need, and his father had been an only child and enjoyed the full house.
George Stevenson had the same passion for helping others, and for years channeled that through work in the Harrisburg area as a youth baseball coach and mentor for his players. He often kept in touch with them after they moved on.
"He was more than a coach — he was a father figure, a best friend, a brother, an uncle, whatever you needed him to be," said Ryan Wellington, 19, who now attends Pennsylvania State University and had stayed in touch with George Stevenson since he coached him 10 years ago. "He just generally cared about us becoming better men."
Angie Smith, who owns a communications firm in Harrisburg and whose sons played on George Stevenson's teams, said he "commanded a level of respect that you just don't always see these days."
Smith, who remained in touch with George Stevenson, said that when he decided to adopt a child of his own, it was "the happiest he's ever been." Like his siblings — Rashelle and Galen adopted children, not infants — he sought to take on an older child less likely to find a placement.
"Those are the toughest kids when it comes to adoption, because everyone wants babies," said his brother, Galen, who has three adopted children. "The chances are low that they'll be adopted."
While older children are more likely to face difficulty in adoptive placements, most placements are successful, said Pertman.
But the consequences for children who can't find a steady home are severe: Those who grow up in foster care instead of being adopted often face serious problems, including poor education, low income, early parenthood, substance abuse, and physical and mental health problems.
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