A family court judge in South Carolina has scheduled a hearing on October 25 to finalize of the adoption of Baby Deseray, despite an Oklahoma court ruling last month that granted custody to the Absentee Shawnee Tribe, and ordered her return to that state. The infant, who was removed from Oklahoma shortly after her birth in May by Bobby and Diane Bixler of Irmo, South Carolina, has been the subject of a second heated interstate custody battle between an Oklahoma Indian tribe and the state of South Carolina. The Bixlers are represented by Raymond Godwin, attorney for Nightlight Christian Adoptions of Greenville, South Carolina, and Paul Swain, a Tulsa, Oklahoma attorney. Both lawyers also represented Matt and Melanie Capobianco in their adoption of Veronica, which was finalized in September after a bitter four-year custody battle with the girl's biological father, Dusten Brown.
The story of how Deseray wound up in South Carolina with the Bixlers is a cautionary tale about a mother's desperate yearning for another baby, a fractured family-in-crisis, and the money, friendships and alliances in the legal community that intersect in ways that are reportedly at odds with state and federal laws designed to protect Indian children like Deseray. It is also a chilling bellwether for how the recent Supreme Court Ruling in the Baby Veronica case, in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, is being exploited by the adoption industry.
But most disturbing is the revelation that one of the adult sons of the Bixlers says they were physically and emotionally abusive parents who should not be allowed to raise another child.
This story begins almost 20 years ago. Although Bobby and Diane Bixler already had four children, three sons and a daughter, they had tried for years to get pregnant again in the hopes of having another girl, according to their youngest son, Josh. In particular, Diane was “obsessed” with having another girl, says Josh, and even decorated a nursery in the couple's five-bedroom home in Irmo, South Carolina, outfitting it with baby furniture, clothes, toys, a changing table and a rocking chair. Even as two of her sons shared a room, Diane kept the nursery vacant—hoping, waiting, praying, Josh says. But that baby never came. As the years went by, the Bixler children grew up and left their family home, but the “baby's room” remained untouched for over a decade, Josh recalls.
Finally, the Bixlers turned to adoption, even though they were far from the typical adoptive couple—for starters, Bobby is 64 and Diane is 60, so they would be ineligible for most international adoptions, which have age requirements related to risk factors regarding health and aging. About a year ago, however, they began working with Godwin and Nightlight Christian Adoptions in Greenville, South Carolina. In 2012, the Bixlers tried to adopt an infant in Pennsylvania, but that placement fell through, according to a family member. In April, however, they were paired with Crystal Tarbox, a birth mother in Oklahoma who left the child's biological father late in her pregnancy and put her unborn child up for adoption without his consent or knowledge. Tarbox, a member of the Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, gave birth to Deseray at the Stillwater Memorial Hospital in May. The Bixlers made the trip to Oklahoma from South Carolina to be present for the baby's delivery, and took physical custody of her shortly after her birth. Meanwhile, their attorney, Mike Yeksavich, who is based in Tulsa, asked Oklahoma County Judge Allen Welch to appoint Yeksavich as the child's guardian, evidently to ensure a no-fuss adoption, which Welch granted. According to correspondence from Yeksavich, the Bixlers indicated that Bobby "had to get back to work," and so they packed up and drove back to Irmo, South Carolina with the baby girl they had sought for so long.
But that's when their happy ending started to go horribly wrong. In direct contravention of state and federal law, and with no paperwork or custodial orders in hand, the Bixlers had left the state of Oklahoma with the girl, who turned five months old last week. [Despite repeated requests from Indian Country Today Media Network, Crystal Tarbox, the Bixlers and their attorneys have all refused to comment on this story.] Before the decision in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl had even been handed down by the Supreme Court, Godwin had filed in early June to finalize Deseray's adoption. Neither Jeremy Simmons, the putative birth father, nor the Absentee Shawnee Tribe, for which Deseray is eligible for membership under ICWA, were given notice that the adoption was docketed to be finalized until 24 hours before the hearing in South Carolina in late July, according to lawyers for both Simmons and the tribe. It was in a Greenville, South Carolina family court that the judge in the case noticed that the Bixlers did not have an Interstate Custody for the Placement of Children (ICPC) application from the state of Oklahoma and refused to finalize the adoption. Under state and federal law, potential adoptive parents seeking interstate children must have prior written authorization from the “home” state. Failure to comply is grounds for criminal kidnapping charges, which is a federal felony in all 50 states.
In mid-September, Mike Nomura, the ICPC compact administrator for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, approved the application to remove the child to South Carolina only days after Oklahoma County Judge Allen Welch ordered the return of the infant back to Oklahoma and granted custody to the Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma.
This summer, Nomura told ICTMN he was aware of the situation surrounding the girl's removal to South Carolina and the lack of due process. But he subsequently granted the application anyway—a full four months after the girl was taken from the state by the Bixlers, who are now represented in Oklahoma by Tulsa attorney Paul Swain. On September 24, Nomura declined to comment on the adoption by the Bixlers. Initially, the Bixlers were represented in Oklahoma by Yeksavich, but correspondence between Yeksavich and Godwin, obtained by ICTMN, reveals that the two lawyers fought over fees and job duties, and Yeksavich severed his professional relationship with Godwin. In one of his letters to Godwin, Yeksavich said he “disagreed” with Deseray's placement with the Bixlers, though he did not state what his objections were. Yeksavich and Godwin both declined to comment for this story. While all this legal wrangling plays out, one of the Bixler’s adult sons alleges that his parents are unfit to adopt or raise a child.
A Blind Eye
Josh Bixler, 29, a sergeant in the U.S. Marines Corps, says he was shocked when his sister told him their parents had just adopted a newborn from Oklahoma. He says his sister, who lives in Oklahoma, told him their parents had even stopped by her house on their way out of the state to show the baby off and take pictures. The Bixlers had even given the girl a new name: Merry Rejoice Bixler.
In an exclusive interview with ICTMN, Josh alleges that his mother and father are unfit parents and accuses both of them of mental and physical abuse toward him and his siblings during their childhood.
“It was a reign of terror,” he says. “In my opinion, my mother is completely unstable and her mood is like the wind. We never knew which mom we were going to get when we came home from school: Angry mom, resentful mom, happy mom, crying mom—you just never knew.”
Bixler says his mother was “obsessed” with having another baby to the point that he and his three siblings were forced to pray a specific prayer every night. “It started when I was eight. We had to say, 'Lord Jesus, we pray it would be your will for our mom to have a baby girl'—every single day for years,” he says. “At 14, we got a new house and she put together a nursery and would go in there for hours and sit in the rocking chair, rocking back and forth with her eyes closed, praying. It was creepy.”
Josh says his father, Bobby, was even worse.
“He is an extremely violent man,” says Josh, whose wife just gave birth to their fourth child last week. “My father is the most violent person I have ever known. He was non-communicative until he was angry and then he would just launch out of wherever he was sitting and just come at you. He hit, kicked, slammed, threw and beat me with a belt.
“I have to say I am very concerned for this child. I am the father of four children and I won't even let them anywhere near my own kids.”
Josh says one of his siblings also strongly opposes the adoption and supports his claims of abuse. In a phone interview with ICTMN, that sibling corroborated Josh's allegations and voiced the same concerns for Deseray’s safety. Because the case is still pending before the courts, Josh’s sibling is not ready to go public at this time. Both siblings say that it was their history of abuse and the way in which their parents went about obtaining Deseray that caused them to come forward.
“When I found out last year that they had started the process of adoption, I did everything I could to try and stop it,” said the sibling. “I even went to the South Carolina Department of Social Services to report them and the caseworker told me that because they went through a private adoption agency that there was nothing I could do. They wouldn't even let me file a report. And no one ever did any kind of background check or even bothered to ask their other children if these people were fit to adopt a child—which they absolutely are not. I'm fully supporting my brother and I am scared for this child.”
“As a father, I feel for Jeremy Simmons and I can't even imagine what it would feel like to have someone just come and snatch your kid,” Josh says. “As for the tribe, it's also a shame on the adoption industry. To me it feels like this was the 1700s, when they were raiding Indian settlements and taking their kids. Nothing has changed. But as a Christian, I am opposed to Nightlight because it feels like as long as people pay them money, they're justifying these adoptions and the manner in which they're doing it. It's disgusting.
“The whole thing is highly unethical, starting with the adoption agency right on down the line,” says Josh’s sibling. “They absolutely do not need to be raising another child. I fear for her.”
No Reason to Rejoice
On October 25, a South Carolina judge has scheduled a hearing to finalize of the adoption of Baby Deseray, but the baby's putative father, Jeremy Simmons, and the Absentee Shawnee intend to be present to block the adoption and seek the return of the child to her home state. For Don Mason, Simmons' attorney, the return of Deseray has become a mission.
“Honestly, I believe [convicted serial killer] John Wayne Gacy could walk into a South Carolina courtroom and adopt a child,” says Mason. “That's how little they care about children and how much they care about money. Given the facts of this case, I intend to do everything I can to seek justice for this little girl. She deserves better than she has gotten in her life and we owe it to her and the many others who are slipping through the system unchecked.”