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After man's alleged killing by adopted son, family says it was an 'isolated incident'

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.

Still, they say, none of that could have foretold what happened in late April, when police say Galen stabbed his 43-year-old father repeatedly inside their North Baltimore apartment. George Stevenson died of his injuries, including a punctured lung and severed kidney, this month, and the boy has been charged as an adult in the attack. Galen is 16 now.

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.

Galen Stevenson declined to discuss the problems that caused George's son to be sent away, out of concern that it might influence court proceedings. But he said the younger Galen exhibited erratic, confounding behavior.

"He would do stuff that made you say, 'Why would do you something like that?'" he said.

Whatever it was, George "didn't perceive it to be as extreme as it might have been, because he was used to dealing with so much" through his work with other troubled kids, Smith said.

Facebook postings by George Stevenson include pictures of Galen on his first day of high school and the two of them at an Orioles game. Galen went by "Trey," his birth name. Relatives said the boy's name was changed upon adoption to signal a new beginning.

Galen said his brother's decision to name his son after him was "beautiful." But he said it also makes what happened to George tougher to handle.

According to police and court documents, George Stevenson and his son got into "an argument over money," and Galen attacked his father on April 24. The documents indicate that George was able to call 911 for help as Galen fled. Police describe Galen as a stepson, but relatives say officers had incorrect information.

Rashelle Stevenson, who spoke to George shortly before the incident, said that while her brother had planned to confront Galen about a problem, he never got the chance.

Galen had used George Stevenson's credit card to buy pizza with friends, something that had been a continuing problem, she said. The bank told George that he needed to press charges to recover the funds, a step he had resisted. But that night, he had determined that might be the only way to address the problem. she said.

According to Rashelle, George picked up his home phone not knowing Galen was home and overheard Galen telling someone that he was going to kill his father. George also was on his cellphone at the time with his girlfriend, who told Rashelle she then heard George cry out amid what sounded like a fight. The girlfriend called 911 and asked officers to go to the apartment.

Police say George Stevenson suffered more than 20 stab wounds and a stroke. He died at Johns Hopkins Hospital on May 18. Galen was arrested and has been charged with attempted first-degree murder, charges that could be upgraded in light of his father's death.

George Stevenson's brother Galen and sister Rashelle say they are unsure how to continue a relationship with their nephew.

"We're Christians, and we're taught to forgive. So I forgive him. But I'm going to let the law do what they have to do," the brother said. "I'm hoping later down the line that I can sit down and talk to him without being angry with him. He needs somebody to sit down and talk with him."

The Stevensons are adamant that foster care and adoption are fulfilling both for families and the children. Galen's adopted son is on the honor roll and is president of the student council, he says.

"Trey is not the norm," he said.

jfenton@baltsun.com


Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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