View 29 Items
Mike Terry, Deseret News
Henrick from the Foyer de Sion Orphanage peers out the window of an aircraft that will transport him to America from the airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti on Friday.

Peter

Meuzelaar's heart is beating 90 miles a minute. He is so completely

drained after a two-week-long battle to get his three adopted children

out of earthquake-ravished Haiti, that he doesn't dare believe.

Can it be true?

\"It's

true, Pete,\" another adoptive parent's voice squawks through the phone.

\"I am sitting on the plane in Haiti with your three kids and my two

girls. They're shutting the door in 10 minutes. We're coming home.\"

Meuzelaar drops the phone. He's out of his seat, running through the office.

\"My kids — my kids are coming home,\" he tells his boss, the guy in the next cubicle, anyone who will listen.

The whole office in Park City, Utah, is clapping. Meuzelaar can't stop grinning.

Sixty-six

Haitian orphans, including Meuzelaar's three children, arrived in Miami

at 7:10 p.m. Friday, Jan. 29. Their adoptive parents, most of whom live in Utah

and Idaho, spent the evening scrambling to grab last-minute flights to

meet them. For many Utah parents, the plane's landing was a joyful

ending to a years-long journey to adopt.

\"It's

just unreal,\" said Meuzelaar, 39, of Heber City, who has been trying to

adopt Jordan, D'Joe and Abigaelle for 2 1/2 years now. \"It's just been

so long. It's been one delay after another. I can't believe they're

finally here on American soil.\"

11 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 28

When she went to bed Thursday night in Haiti, Lori Rosenlof, who coordinated the children's return, had no hope.

The

Haitian prime minister had run off to Canada. \"Her orphans,\" as

Rosenlof lovingly calls the children she's been trying to evacuate

since the Jan. 12 earthquake, needed his signature to leave the country.

The

plane she and other parents had painstakingly raised $10,000 to

charter, had just 90 minutes on the ground according to Haitian airport

regulations. It would no doubt depart without its precious cargo.

Nonetheless, Rosenlof said, \"I went to bed with my phone.\"

And then: good news.

Ninety

minutes came and went. The Sun Country 737 was still in Port-au-Prince.

The six-person crew, following the lead of pilot Jake Yockers, would

not leave Haiti without the children, they said. Period.

\"We're all in it for the kids,\" said First Officer Mike Pappenfus. \"It was the right thing to do.\"

Rosenlof

declared her undying love for the plane's pilot when she discovered the

development. Another jubilant parent warned, \"If he walks off that

plane, he's going to have a 300 pound man running right at him cause

I'm going to give him love.\"

Hopeful,

Chareyl Moyes, Wasatch International Adoptions program manager for

Haiti, loaded the children into tap-taps, Haiti's brightly colored

little buses, and took a bouncy ride to the airport.

8:30 a.m. Friday, Jan. 29

Stephen

Studdert, a former Reagan administration official, who had arrived on

the same plane with the Utah Hospital Task Force, took charge of the

situation \"like a steamroller,\" witnesses observed.

The

children had already been granted humanitarian parole. Armed with a

sheaf of letters from U.S. and United Nations officials encouraging a

decision to allow the children to leave, Studdert pushed for the needed

signature.

As he waited, agitated,

outside the Haitian president's temporary office, a semi-standing,

former police station, an Irish police chaplain noticed Studdert.

\"You're having a hard time, aren't you?\" the chaplain observed, then, taking Studdert's hands, he prayed.

It may have worked, parents speculate. \"God has had his hands all over this,\" Rosenlof said.

\"The

president of Haiti couldn't have been nicer,\" Studdert told the Deseret

News immediately after speaking with President Rene Preval. \"We are

just waiting for the prime minister to return (he was reportedly in

Canada). We have gone through all (the paperwork) and the ambassador

has signed all of them.\"

9 a.m. Friday, Jan. 29

Crowded

into a red-and-white striped tent in an empty terminal, the children

munched on cookies, seemingly oblivious to their plight.

\"The papers are signed!\" news came.

There was crying. There was screaming. There was laughing.

In Utah, parents safely remained skeptical.

\"I'm

not holding my breath yet,\" said David Aitken, an Eagle Mountain, Utah,

businessman who is adopting three children from Haiti. \"We've been so

close so many times in the past 48 hours. I'm almost afraid to hope. I

don't think I can take it any more.\"

Rosenlof noted, \"It seems too good to be true.\"

And it was — almost.

Once

the prime minister signed, Studdert, aided by Moyes, still had to rush

to the U.S. embassy to obtain visas and then begin the process of

matching children to completed documents.

To their horror, they discovered, several files had been \"misplaced.\"

Sixteen children would not be allowed to leave.

Rosenlof could barely make out Moyes' sobbing phone call.

\"This is awful,\" she said. \"My heart is just breaking.\"

3:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 29

Moyes,

of Ogden, Utah, stood on the flight line next to Homeland Security and U.S.

immigration officials and checked names off a list as they went through

the packet prepared for each child. Many of them are being adopted in

the Intermountain West, with some headed for Utah families.

The list, which had taken volunteers days to obtain, appeared surprisingly unofficial.

It

was a computer printout of names of children cleared to leave. At the

bottom, the prime minister drew a line and signed his name. Each manila

folder, stamped \"Evacuated orphan,\" bore a child's photo, Haitian name

and, on some in parentheses, an American name. Inside are the

\"humanitarian parole\" documents.

4:20 p.m. Friday, Jan. 29

Moyes,

eyes still wet, ushered 66 of the children onto the plane. Children

whose paperwork was not selected stood by, stunned. One 14-year-old

girl buried her head in her arm and cried.

In

Utah, Aitken, broke down crying, too. One of his little boys, Fabrice,

didn't make it onto the plane. How could he be happy two of his

children were coming home when one, a kind-hearted little 8-year-old,

remained homeless in Haiti, where food and water supplies were already

dwindling?

\"This has been unbelievably difficult,\" he said. \"I am caught somewhere between devastation and elation.\"

7:10 p.m. — in Miami

The

children, tired after a long, emotional day, were wide-eyed as they

stepped onto American soil. One little girl smiled and giggled as she

tested the conveyor belt on the moving walkway with her toe.

In

the airport's hectic customs area, children had their first taste of

Americana: Red Cross volunteers handed them plush Mickey Mouse dolls.

Workers also provided juice boxes, pudding and fruit snacks. Others

changed diapers and escorted children to the bathroom.

56 comments on this story

Their parents in Utah continued to stress.

After

going through customs, the children were farmed out to foster homes.

They will stay in Miami until the U.S. government has a chance to run

background checks and confirm the adoption paperwork — a process that

can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days.

\"We

have so much to be grateful for,\" Meuzelaar said, as he and his wife

rushed to make travel arrangements to meet the children. \"But it's not

over yet.\"

E-mail: estuart@desnews.com, romboy@desnews.com