Baby Jessica couple to remarry
February 4, 2001
Detroit Free Press
The Ann Arbor couple that gained national attention over the adoption of Baby Jessica say they plan to remarry, more than a year after they divorced.
Jan and Roberta DeBoer said in a statement released Friday by Hear My Voice, a child-advocacy group founded by the couple, that their love and commitment to each carried them through a hard time.
"We are happy to be all together again," they said.
In October 1999, the couple divorced, saying the strain of a 2 1/2-year custody battle was too much for their 17-year-marriage.
In August 1993, the little girl they had called Jessica was returned to her Iowa birth parents, Dan and Cara Schmidt.
Jessica, who turns 10 this month, was renamed Anna.
Roberta DeBoer wrote a book about the drama.
The Schmidts divorced at about the same time as the DeBoers. The couple have joint custody, but Anna and another daughter, Chloe, live with Dan Schmidt.
Baby Jessica's dad in trouble
He can't work, pay bills; may lose kids
March 6, 2001
Detroit Free Press
BLAIRSTOWN, Iowa -- Hard times have fallen on Dan Schmidt, the father of a little girl once known as Baby Jessica, who was in the center of a high-profile custody case involving Schmidt's Iowa family and the Michigan couple who adopted his daughter. Bill collectors are rattling his door, the electric company is ready to pull the plug and Schmidt fears bankers will come for his house soon, the Cedar Rapids Gazette reported Saturday in a copyrighted story.
In losing his house near Blairstown, he may have to give up life as it is with his two girls. "I'm desperate," Schmidt said. "I've let things go. It gets to me. I get depressed. I'm losing everything."
One of his girls, Anna, now 10, was known as Baby Jessica. In 1993, she was at the center of a custody battle between Schmidt and his wife, Cara, and Jan and Roberta DeBoer of Michigan.
The DeBoers adopted the little girl they called Jessica in 1991 after Cara Schmidt, then Cara Clausen, gave up the child she had named Anna for adoption.
Clausen, however, changed her mind and informed Schmidt he was the father. They went to court in the month after the girl's birth to get her back. They married in 1992. The resolution took 2 1/2 years while the nation debated whether the child belonged with her biological parents or in the adoptive home where she'd been raised. The supreme courts in Iowa and Michigan awarded custody to the Schmidts in 1993.
The Schmidts divorced in March 2000. The couple have joint custody, but Anna and another daughter, Chloe, 7, live with Dan Schmidt. Cara Schmidt pays him $50 every two weeks for child support as part of the divorce decree.
Dan Schmidt's life took a downward turn on Oct. 7, 1998, when he was injured while working on a street construction job in Blairstown. A trench caved in around him, separating his pelvis. Schmidt said he hasn't worked since and isn't able to work.
Last May, the insurance company paying workers' compensation cut him off. "They sent me a letter saying the healing period is over," Schmidt said. He continues to fight for what he calls a fair disability settlement from the insurer. He also continues to battle the Social Security Administration for permanent disability payments.
Up to now, Schmidt has made ends meet by refinancing his house, relying on the charity of friends and relatives and by emergency public assistance. Schmidt fears he may have to let his daughters live full-time with their mother while he goes to live with his sister and brother-in-law or his mother.
"If something doesn't happen, my kids will go to her because I can't afford to keep them," he said.
A child's life shows folly of adults, media
February 24, 2003
Detroit Free Press
BY BRIAN DICKERSON
FREE PRESS COLUMNIST
The girl millions of Americans remember as Baby Jessica turned 12 this month, and her story ought to humble all of us who foresaw such a dark future when the Michigan Supreme Court returned her to her birth parents in 1993.
Anna Schmidt was only a few weeks old when she became the object of a nationally publicized custody fight between her biological parents in Iowa and an Ann Arbor couple who hoped to adopt her.
Abetted by media-savvy advisers, Jan and Roberta DeBoer easily won the contest for the hearts and minds of the American public, who almost universally perceived the DeBoers as more responsible, better educated, and altogether more suited for parenthood than Anna's birth parents.
But the law was with Dan and Cara Schmidt, who regained custody of their daughter and brought her home to Iowa after a legal firefight that lasted 2 1/2 years. Even worshipers at the Schmidts' Lutheran church wept for the DeBoers' loss. Then they and practically everyone else waited to see how and when Anna's psychological devastation would manifest itself.
The tragedy that wasn't
Nine years later, they're still waiting. WDIV-TV (Channel 4) reporter Paula Tutman, who recently spent a weekend day at home with Anna Schmidt, found a self-possessed 12-year-old who adores her parents and her 9-year-old sister, makes friends easily and sings every Sunday before the congregation that once looked down its nose at her natural parents.
Not that Anna's life in Blairstown, Iowa, has been a light breeze on the lake. Her dad has been out of work since 1999, when a trench he was working in caved in, injuring his pelvis.
Dan and Cara divorced the following year. Anna and her sister, Chloe, divide their time between Dan's and Cara's residences.
It's not the family Beaver Cleaver grew up in -- but whose family is? Anna doesn't act like someone who's been dealt a bad hand. Maybe she's old enough to recognize that in a world where many children lack even a single adult who cares about them, she and her sister have lucked out.
She seems more bemused than haunted by her extraordinary history. In Tutman's interview, Anna can be seen leafing through a copy of "Losing Jessica," Robby DeBoer's account of her and Jan's unsuccessful adoption bid. Anna has also watched the made-for-TV movie of the custody fight, a maliciously deceitful production that canonized the DeBoers and reduced Anna's parents to hillbilly caricatures living in a hubcap-studded trailer.
A father's lesson
Dan Schmidt's bitterness toward the news media that made him and Cara national pariahs isn't hard to understand, and time has taken only a little of the edge off his anger.
"What I learned," he told Tutman, "is that the media, the papers, they make one person good and one person bad." Journalists who don't recognize at least a kernel of truth in that observation need to look harder
What's clear, nine years later, is that there are no real villains in Anna Schmidt's still-unfolding life story -- just a whole lot of clumsy adults doing their level best to be heroes.
A child can do far worse than that, as Anna seems to have figured out long ago.
BRIAN DICKERSON'S column appears in the Free Press on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. He can be reached at 248-586-2607 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jan DeBoer is starting over. Again.
The father battling for custody of the child who became nationally known as Baby Jessica returned home to his Pittsfield Township apartment on Monday morning - the first time since a New Year's Day fire caused an estimated $550,000 in damage to eight apartments, including his.
DeBoer, 55, was in Florida caring for his parents when he learned about the fire. He flew back Monday, worried about what he would find. His small one-bedroom apartment in the Greenway Park complex off Golfside Road was home to his few belongings - two guitars, his grandparents' Delft vases, his citizenship papers, a couch, a chair and a bed.
It also had his most-prized possession: An original painting of Jessica by a woman who was touched by the DeBoers' story and their battle to keep the little girl.
In 1991, DeBoer and his former wife, Roberta, began a lengthy custody battle that gained national attention after they tried to adopt a newborn they named Jessica. The birth father didn't sign the adoption, and the two couples waged a court battle that reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 1993. Jessica was returned to her birth parents when she was 2-1/2 and was renamed Anna Schmidt.
The DeBoers later adopted a son, Casey, who is now nearly 15. Their marriage didn't survive the stress of losing Jessica, and although they remarried, they divorced again.
And so Jan lost his daughter, his marriage and his home. He even lost the ability to play his beloved guitars in a Christian rock band after he mangled his thumb in a press at work in printing services at the University of Michigan.
After last week's fire, Roberta DeBoer placed the portrait of Jessica in the apartment complex office for safekeeping before Jan arrived Monday. But he was still nervous about what he would find. The hallway walls were black. Insulation hung from the ceilings. The air was still acrid, four days after the fire.
When DeBoer got to the portrait, he was relieved. "I look at it every day," he said of the painting of the big-eyed, curly-haired toddler. "She has never left my heart, and she never will. She will always be my little girl."
Anna Schmidt turns 18 on Feb. 8, DeBoer said. He hopes that milestone could prompt her to call, although he has no reason to expect it. He last saw photos and television news coverage of her about six years ago. ...
Susan Oppat can be reached at email@example.com or at 734-994-6679.