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South Jordan couple, stuck in legal limbo, brings home daughter from Russia

Published: Thursday, Feb. 14 2013 6:13 p.m. MST

Wayne Bonner hugs his daughter, 5-year-old Jaymi, as they are reunited at the Salt Lake City International Airport on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — For just a brief moment, just beyond the balloon bouquets and sea of eager family and friends dressed in red and pink, Wayne and Jeana Bonner stood in the Salt Lake City International Airport and held each other for the first time in weeks.

Not two seconds later, a little girl broke free from the other children and ran toward them. She stopped in her tracks and just stared at her new parents, her mouth agape.

She is too young to understand what they had gone through to bring her here, to this airport on Valentine's Day, where she would be surrounded by family anxious to hug her, stroke her hair, teach her to give a thumbs-up.

Jaymi Viktoria Bonner, 5, just smiled and waved, a little American flag clutched in her fist.

"I know how much joy she has brought into our lives," Jeana Bonner said Thursday. "It's so much greater than the challenges."

It had taken more than a year and, most recently, Jeana Bonner spending five weeks in Moscow battling courts and bureaucracies to bring Jaymi here. Having initiated the adoption more than a year ago, the Bonners were given court approval in late 2012.

But during the required 30-day period in which any challenges to the adoption must be presented, Russia passed a new law banning American adoptions. Initially, officials said adoptions approved before the ban would be completed, but the judge who was to issue the decree granting custody said the ban meant he had no way to do so.

Jeana Bonner flew to Moscow in mid-January, and it was there that she and Rebecca Preece, of Nampa, Idaho — both in limbo, seeking to bring home their children, both of whom have Down syndrome — did what they could to tackle the courts and the government. Bonner said it took no small measure of hope.

"We were just two women on a mission, and it was amazing what we could do," she said. "We took on the Russian Federation and said, 'You said these are our children and we're not leaving until we get them.' It was a roller coaster."

The help they needed ultimately came from one of Russia's most outspoken opponents of American adoption, Pavel Astakhov, the ombudsman of the office of Russia's children's rights. It was his office that appointed an attorney for the Preece and Bonner families, leading to a Supreme Court order directing the lower court to immediately issue the adoption decree.

Bonner said she felt the ultimate credit goes to a higher power. While she and her husband "felt inspired" to initiate the adoption, she said they could see the hand of God in what led to bringing their daughter home.

"Heavenly Father was leading the way and taking care of every detail," she said. "I know it wasn't us that softened hearts. … It was greater than us."

Both Wayne and Jeana Bonner said they felt strongly about giving a child with special needs a better life. Jeana Bonner said they knew they would adopt since the birth of their first daughter, Kaelyn, 3, who also has Down syndrome.

They knew that children with special needs in other countries are rarely adopted, unless by international families. Raising Kaelyn altered how they felt about that.

"She's changed our eyes and changed our world," Jeana Bonner said. "We saw these kids as ours. We thought about that being our child. She wouldn't be given a chance to amount to anything."

"We want to give (Jaymi) the opportunities she deserves," Wayne Bonner said.

He was charged with holding down the fort at the couple's South Jordan home with their other two daughters. It was busy and crazy having his wife away, but he said he knew Jeana needed to be in Moscow.

"We knew it was going to be worth it in the end, so we fought through," he said.

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