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Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014

Sisters find baby brother in Sikeston after 10-year search

Sunday, January 18, 2009

(Photo)
Terry Hopkins, 22, of Sikeston flips through the photo album of his family. Hopkins was recently found by his biological sisters after being separated from them for 10 years.
(Leonna Heuring, Staff)
SIKESTON -- Every summer for the past 10 years, Leslie Kelsheimer said she and her four sisters would comb through the crowds at Sikeston's annual rodeo, hoping for a glimpse of their younger brother, Terry Hopkins. They would do the same thing again at the town's Cotton Carnival in the fall.

Each time the women left disappointed and without their brother who was separated from his biological siblings at age 12 when the state intervened during a situation with their alcoholic mother.

Before his 13th birthday, Hopkins was adopted by his foster family who lived in Scott County. Despite assurances by the the adoptive mother, his sisters who lived in Ironton could stay in contact him, all communication was cut off by the adoptive family within a short time.

But Kelsheimer said she and her sisters didn't give up. In December an online tip to Kelsheimer led the sisters to their brother, now 22 and living at a group home in Sikeston.

"We had nothing to go on to find him," said Kelsheimer who lives in Fort Worth, Texas.

In Missouri, siblings don't have any rights in an adoption, Kelsheimer said.

"When we called the state, since it was a closed adoption, they wouldn't tell us anything," Kelsheimer said. "When he was adopted, our mom's rights were taken away."

Hopkins' last name had been changed which made it even more difficult for the sisters to track him down. But Kelsheimer said she always had a hunch her brother was living in the Sikeston area.

Kelsheimer said she tried to get private investigators involved, but because it was a closed case, they couldn't provide much help to her.

"Every year I'd visit adoptionconnection.com, and I'd put an ad out there. We made calls and wrote letters, and it would all lead to dead ends. But we weren't giving up," Kelsheimer said.

In December Kelsheimer received four or five contacts through the Web site and she followed up on them. One contact led her to a man who ended up being Hopkins's adoptive father. He told her Hopkins' last name and that he was living with another family.

"I went on 'people search' and found the person who Terry lived with before. She told me who Terry was living with now, and I called her," Kelsheimer said.

Hopkins was living at Melissa's Group Home in Sikeston, which is operated by Melissa Stewart. Stewart wanted to make sure the sisters had good intentions with contacting Hopkins, Kelsheimer said.

"We want nothing from Terry but to have him back in our lives," Kelsheimer said.

Hopkins, who now goes by his biological last name, recalled the moment he learned his sisters had found him.

"I was at work and my mom -- I call Melissa mom -- called and asked, 'Do you believe in miracles? You're not going to believe who I found," Hopkins said. "I was so excited when I found out, I started jumping up and down," Hopkins said.

Hopkins has spoken to each of his sisters and has visited with a sister who lives in Cape Girardeau and another who lives in St. Louis.

"I had a lot of questions. I told them I must be like the '20/20' show I was asking so many questions," Hopkins said.

It was through these conversations, Kelsheimer learned her brother had been physically and mentally abused by his adoptive parents.

Hopkins was taken out of his adoptive family's home and placed in 18 different foster homes and group homes over the years before settling in at Stewart's home a few years ago. Due to the abuse, Hopkins has the mind of a 12-year-old but is employed full-time at the Community Sheltered Workshop.

For Christmas, Kelsheimer sent him an album of photos of their family from the past and present. Hopkins said he looks at the album every day.

"It has been a long journey. The rest of us got married and had kids, and he missed out on all of that," Kelsheimer said.

Since reconnecting with his sisters, Hopkins also learned the truth about the 2001 deaths of his mother, who had gotten sober but then died in a housefire; and his oldest sister who died after falling into a diabetic coma.

"I had hoped deep inside I'd find them -- I knew one day they'd find me and I'd find them," said Hopkins.

But he never dreamed he'd find his family this soon, he said.

It was the thought of him finding his family is what got him through the last 10 years, Hopkins said.

"Don't give up hope," Hopkins advised others who might be in a similar situation.

Hopkins said he's happy with the family he's currently living with but looks forward to getting to know his sisters again and meeting his nieces and nephews to make up for some lost time.

Hopkins' sisters are planning to visit him later this summer so they can get a family portrait made. He's also going to visit Kelsheimer and his other sister, who also lives in Texas.

"A hole has now been filled. We didn't know where he was at or what he was going through. I think we will be OK," Kelsheimer said. "Now we have the opportunity to make new memories and go forward."