Two years after she almost died, a former Sandy-area foster child is adopted and living happily in Happy Valley
This Christmas, the little girl formerly known as Jordan Knapp plans to wake up in the middle of the night, catch Santa Claus in the act and give him a hug - 'just to see if he's real,' she says.
And if that doesn't work, she'll be happy just to be the first one to wake up and discover the pile of presents in the living room, her annual tradition.
What Jordan, 7, wants for Christmas this year is simple - a hamster and a baby doll that dirties its diapers - much simpler requests than what she might have asked for just two short years ago: the strength to play like other children, a loving family and a forever home. At long last, those gifts are hers.
Jordan, who barely survived injury and malnourishment from a Sandy-area foster family two years ago, was adopted into a loving Happy Valley home on Nov. 1, along with her brother and sister and two new siblings.
On Dec. 10, 2004, Sandy firefighters found 28-lb. Jordan lying on the floor of a doublewide trailer - seizing, malnourished, and near death after her then-foster parents, William and Thelma Beaver of Dodge Park, reported that the 5-year-old was seriously hurt from hitting her head - the culmination of a lifetime of abuse and neglect by both the Beavers and Jordan's biological parents.
The Beavers were charged with first-degree criminal mistreatment, and Thelma Beaver was charged with second-degree assault. The state agency took Jordan's two brothers and sister into protective custody, as well as the Beavers' three biological children.
Jordan was immediately taken by LifeFlight to Doernbecher Children's hospital in critical condition, where emergency responders believed she would later die.
'We put her in the helicopter and I said goodbye,' said Sandy Fire Chief Gary McQueen. 'I didn't think she was going to make it through the night.'
But she didn't die. During her weeklong stay at the hospital, Mindy came along.
Long road to recovery
Therapeutic foster care provider Mindy - whose last name was withheld for privacy reasons - heard about Jordan's story in the news, and asked her Oregon Department of Human Services certifier about the future of the frail little girl from Sandy.
'He said she was about to get out of the hospital, and that (the state) was thinking about therapeutic foster care, which is what I do,' she said. She tried to keep cool, hinting that she'd be more than willing to care for Jordan, but on the inside, she admitted, 'I was saying, 'Pick me! Me! Me! Me! I want her!'
She went to Doernbecher the next day to meet Jordan, who had been in the hospital just a week.
'Jordan just looked like she was on death's door,' Mindy recalled. 'She was so frail; her head was flumped over to the side. She had bruises across her forehead like a band. She was very weak, but she had a great smile.'
Mindy said a day or two after their first meeting Jordan came home with her. But what she had seen at the hospital was only the beginning of the horrors she saw at home.
'When I got her undressed, what I saw was even more extreme,' Mindy said. 'She had no meat on her bones. She wanted to be in the bath every two hours to keep warm. She couldn't even walk from the couch to the bathroom by herself.'
To see such abuse and such pain in a little girl was tough on the seasoned foster care provider.
'I'd go in my room and cry,' Mindy admitted. 'It was so disturbing. I've seen kids in trauma before, but I've never, ever seen a child that thin and frail in all my life. But underneath it all she had so much spirit.'
For Jordan, a strong-spirited lass, immobility was exceptionally tough.
'It was like not fun,' Jordan said. 'It was like really hard. I could just like hardly laugh or anything.'
'She wanted to do anything she could,' Mindy said. 'She would do things until she collapsed. She was so hungry to be interacting and social.'
As part of the therapy process, Mindy gave Jordan everything she was denied at the Beavers' home: food, attention and love. She'd let Jordan eat until she threw up, just to assure her that food was available.
As for the attention, 'She was so hungry to be interacting and be social,' Mindy said. 'She didn't want to be alone. I'd fall asleep on the floor next to her bed, and I'd wake up and she'd be on the floor next to me.'
Jordan found love in Mindy and her new foster brothers and sisters.
'At 4 o'clock about two days after Jordan came, she wanted to go down and eat breakfast,' Mindy said. 'The other two kids had woken up, and by 4:30, they were all set up with breakfast.'
She had gone upstairs to grab something when she heard an unexpected sound: 'Laughter… this contagious laugh; a giggle. And then I thought, 'She is going to be OK.''
It took some time for Jordan to get reacquainted with her two biological brothers and sister - who were living at a foster home in Molalla - due to the trauma of their life with the Beavers.
'Her mindset at the time was that they were all mean to her,' Mindy said. 'Like she was the whipping girl. But when they did visit it was very positive.' Younger brother Jacob told Jordan, 'Sorry I was mean to you,' to which Jordan responded, 'I forgive you,' before the siblings ran off to play.
Mindy said she and Jordan formed a tight bond in the first few months, an attachment that scared her.
'Right off the bat, within the first three months I thought it was going to be really hard to let her go,' Mindy said, not knowing at the time where Jordan would be permanently placed. 'She's just so easy to love. Anyone who meets her feels that way - she just grabs your heart.'
Mindy began the process to adopt Jordan, a procedure that tripled once she fell in love with Jordan's younger siblings. She knew almost immediately that she wanted to adopt Jacob, now 5, and Janessa, 3. Care providers determined that older brother Justin was better suited elsewhere, although he still sees his siblings from time to time.
Baby Janessa, who is now the same height as Jordan was two years ago, wasn't as physically abused as Jordan and Jacob, but she was emotionally traumatized - even though she was a year old at the time, Mindy said.
'She's had 30-minute screaming and crying kinds of meltdown tantrums,' she said.
Jacob, although it was largely unreported in the media, also was very malnourished and underweight when he was taken from the Beaver home. Mindy quickly extended her love, provision and attention to Jordan's siblings.
On Nov. 1, after more than a yearlong process, all three former Knapp children officially took Mindy's last name, joining new brothers Ricky, 3, and David, 9 - also adopted.
Now a household of six, the new family could be described with many adjectives, but 'quiet' isn't one of them.
'It's always busy,' Mindy said. 'Never a dull moment. And generally, they are such a good blend.'
One minute, Jordan is doing flips on a custom indoor trapeze bar that a Sandy firefighter set up in the family playroom. The next minute, Ricky is playing with his VeggieTales manger scene while Jacob and Janessa start playing with homemade play-dough.
Shrieks are common in the house, both from exhilaration and the occasional bump on the head that comes from playing hard.
'It's fun,' Jordan said. 'There's always somebody to play with. We get to play really fun games like hide and go seek and even dress up.'
But her favorite game is 'school.' Jordan, wise and mature beyond her years, easily fits into the teacher's role.
'She is so organized,' Mindy said. 'She's better than me. She's very patient, and she loves to direct. She'd be a great teacher.'
It's almost surprising that Jordan doesn't want to be a firefighter, since she is already Sandy fire's unofficial chief.
'She thinks she owns the fire department out there,' Mindy said. 'Anytime she gets to go out there it's great. She loves going out to Sandy. She's removed enough from the Beavers that she doesn't connect them to that area - she connects to her firefighters she adores.'
An important part of her life continues to be her relationship with the Sandy firefighters who saved her two years ago.
'In all the years I've been doing emergency medical work, I've never once had a patient impact me the way Jordan did,' Fire Chief McQueen said. 'I don't know what it was. I felt the need to get to know this little girl.'
Several months after Jordan left the hospital, she had lunch with Sandy firefighters at the main station, eating chicken strips and fries while making new friends.
'After a few visits, we just kinda got close,' McQueen said. 'She's just my little buddy.'
McQueen has kept in close contact with Jordan. About a year ago, he, his wife and other firefighters helped Mindy put together a play structure in the family's backyard. Last December, McQueen was Jordan's guest at school for 'Dad and Friends Day,' where they built tiny birdhouses together. Jordan was riding high in the Sandy Mountain Festival aboard a Sandy fire engine this past July.
'She just feels that everybody here is her friend,' McQueen said. Those friends include volunteer firefighter 'Grandpa Cliff' Jensen (and his wife Lorinda).
Mom seen as hero, too
While firefighters are often seen as heroes, Sandy's top firefighter sees Mindy as his hero. 'Here's a single individual willing to adopt five kids who are not her own. I don't know how she does it. It's amazing. She's an excellent parent and a wonderful person.'
'Ever since I was a little kid I just wanted to be a mom,' Mindy said. 'I had worked with homeless teens, with teen parents, in early childhood education - it all prepared me for something I had in my heart anyhow.
'This is what I enjoy; it's what I love to do,' she continued. 'It doesn't mean it's easy, but it's supposed to be.'
She credits her lasting energy and sanity to friends and family members who have helped out and given moral support.
Now that Mindy has adopted all of her therapeutic foster care 'clients,' she's hoping to do foster care counseling for families with difficult children. 'It's a great idea,' Mindy said. 'I'd get to work with more people.'
To celebrate the newly formed family, 'Grandpa Cliff' opened an account at Clackamas County Bank, called 'Jordan's Fund,' in hopes of raising money for a Disneyland trip.
'It's something we'd like to see happen for them,' McQueen said. 'They would never go out and pander for donations. We'd appreciate any help we could get to make a trip like this happen for them.'
To contribute to Jordan's Fund, visit any Clackamas County Bank branch.
Jordan has gained nearly 40 pounds since she left the Beavers', now weighing a healthy seven-year-old weight of 66 lbs. She's grown more than 10 inches, too.
'I'm stronger and I used to be weak,' Jordan said. 'I can do a lot of stuff now,' including cooking, painting with watercolor and making it all the way across the monkey bars.
But on the inside, everything has changed, McQueen said.
'Now she's this happy, warm faced glowing little girl with a big smile. What happened was a very horrible thing. It's almost a healing thing for our community to just know she's OK. She's part of our family out here.'